Enhancing the Practice of PhD Supervisory Relationships Through First- And Second-Person Action Research/Peer Partnership Inquiry


  • Judith McMorland University of Auckland
  • Brigid Carroll University of Auckland
  • Susan Copas University of Auckland
  • Judith Pringle University of Auckland




PhD supervision, peer partnership, action research, multiple role relationships, reflexivity, subjectivity


Our experience in the University suggests that individual and collective reflection on the practice of PhD supervision is under-developed amongst the community of academic supervisors and students. Whilst there is growing interest in research about higher education practice and supervision in particular, few studies inquire into practice "from the inside". In this two-semester exploration, supervisors and students used some of the disciplines of peer-partnership inquiry, to seek ways to improve our respective PhD supervisory relationship practices. The group comprised supervising staff and PhD candidates, with a network of sociometric links that reflected well a complexity of multiple academic relationships. First- and second-person reflection, and intentional, engaged, focused conversation, gave us insights into these multiple dimensions of supervisory relationships both with candidates, amongst co-supervisors and into our own practices. The richness of the insights generated through these meaningful conversations surprised us all. Our paper discusses the ways in which we were able to access understandings through peer partnership inquiry methods, the integrity of the materials generated, individual responses to such subjectivities and our attempts to communicate these to wider audiences through the frames of typical academic presentations: conference settings, departmental and university wide seminars and web-page dissemination. There are implications for institutional practice arising from our findings. We suggest that much greater intentionality has to be paid to the multiple and complex relationships that exist amongst students, staff and institution if the PhD endeavour is to be a fulfilling creative enterprise for all. We advocate that staff and students need to develop skills and courage in reflecting on their own capabilities, to develop skills in peer learning and peer engagement, and to strengthen a culture of learning across multiple role relationships. Sustained reflectivity of this nature is radical in the academic context and the nature of the PhD supervisory relationship is called into question at many levels of inquiry. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0302371


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Author Biographies

Judith McMorland, University of Auckland

Judith McMORLAND has been actively engaged in action research and organisational learning for many years, and combines teaching at post-graduate and post-experience levels in the University of Auckland School of Business with consultancy and voluntary work in a range of organisations. She has been involved in a number of collaborative endeavours (co-authorships, peer partnering, business partnerships, consortium membership) as well as co-supervision and seeks to understand better how we can work and learn together effectively. She is an international committee member of ALARPM (Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management) Inc., an accredited sociodramatist with Australia New Zealand Psychodrama Association, Inc. and a member of the editorial panel of ARI (Action Research International). Her qualifications are in Education (MA 1st Class) and Sociology (PhD in organisational change, Auckland).

Brigid Carroll, University of Auckland

Brigid CARROLL is completing a doctorate (Management and Employment Relations) in the area of professionals and management with a particular focus on professionals who combine management responsibility with their professional capacity. Her research is strongly shaped by a narrative approach and circles around issues of identity and identity construction. Brigid has a BA and MA (First Class Honours) in English Literature from Auckland University and a MBA from Fordham University, New York.

Susan Copas, University of Auckland

Susan COPAS is undertaking interdisciplinary doctoral research (Management and Employment Relations/Sociology) into the relational aspects of organisational life focusing primarily on the "customer service" role in front line work. Her research explores how peoples' identities, motivations and relationships are shaped, and how they shape organisational imperatives within a call centre environment. The recipient of two prestigious postgraduate scholarships, Susan has a BA in Sociology and Education and a MA (First Class Honours) in Sociology.

Judith Pringle, University of Auckland

Judith PRINGLE is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management and Employment Relations. She teaches in the areas of "women and organisations" and gender and diversity. Specifically her recent publications and research endeavours have been the inquiry into: influences of gender and ethnicity in women-run organisations, senior women managers, feminist businesses and reframing careers. She has supervised a range of theses in these areas and more broadly in organisation studies. Judith has a B.Sc. (Hons) and PhD in social psychology.




How to Cite

McMorland, J., Carroll, B., Copas, S., & Pringle, J. (2003). Enhancing the Practice of PhD Supervisory Relationships Through First- And Second-Person Action Research/Peer Partnership Inquiry. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-4.2.710