Students need to be able to trust their supervisor to understand the nature of the

In document Exploring resilience (Page 47-49)

journey involved in work across disciplines to

help them make judgements about the

scope, difficulty and timing of their work.

When faced with these issues, students can

often feel insecure about the project and, at

these points, demand a significant amount

of reassurance and support.

(ibid, p.174) There is certainly an element of truth here regarding the responsibility of a supervisor to remain both aware and to be able to comment suitably on a subject that may test the bounds of their scholastic expertise and professional knowledge. Furthermore,

such moments undoubtedly offer an opportunity for the student’s own pedagogical development via their ability to express, comment upon and critically dissect ideas. A practical point which must also be raised is the simple fact that supervisors are not omniscient: a research topic which is deemed suitable for any mode of doctoral research is, after all, supposed to maintain its own individually innovative qualities. Ultimately, my experience of PhD supervision as the supervised was exceptional. It is a difficult process to achieve, a balance between teaching and direct guidance, and ‘hands off’ observation and

developmental discourse. On the part of both the supervisor and the supervised it is also important that each recognises the strains and responsibilities that the other labours under. As I have already said, a PhD is at its heart an isolated and isolating programme of investigative research, a fact which both the student and the supervisor should ultimately recognise.

Author details

Raymond Cummings is a member of The Pushkin Trustand of the St. Mary’s University College’s Research Ethics Committee. He is an affiliate of the Medieval Research Clusterof The Queen’s University of Belfast and is a contributor to the Literary Encyclopaedia Online, module convenor for the first year English module at St. Mary’s University College.

His research interests lie with Geoffrey Chaucer’s self-displayed disciple, Thomas Hoccleve; female writers of the Middle Ages such as Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and Christine de Pisan; the role of medieval dramatic forms in European cultures of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries; dream visions of the Middle Ages, in particular Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchessand The House of Fame; and the Gothic. He has recently initiated a research project on the potential for podcasting in education.


Adkins, Barbara. (2009) ‘PhD pedagogy and the changing knowledge landscapes of universities.’Higher Education Research & Development28.2 165-177.

Heath, Trevor.(2002) ‘A Quantitative Analysis of PhD Students’ Views of Supervision.’Higher Education Research & Development21.1.41-53.

Murphy, N., Bain, J. D. and Conrad, L. (2007). ‘Orientations to higher research degree supervision.’Higher Education53 209-234.

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2008) ‘Challenges of supervising part- time PhD students: towards student-centred practice.’

“I won’t leave without what I came for!” I can clearly recall uttering this outburst as I challenged the opinions of a temporary replacement supervisor who had kindly offered to guide me while my main supervisor was on sick leave. Looking back I am a little shocked at my impertinence and forwardness. However, I had not given up a full-time, permanent teaching post, the opportunity of purchasing my own home and financial security to achieve anything other than a PhD. It had been a long-held ambition of mine and one that involved many personal and

professional sacrifices. I did not take the more traditional (and perhaps sane) route of completing a Master’s degree part-time and then transferring to a doctoral programme. I jumped straight in to studying a PhD from primary school teaching, not having studied since leaving college eight years previously. I was thirsting for an academic challenge but one that I could give my full attention and time to and dare I say it – enjoy. I had heard so many horror stories from friends and colleagues who had struggled and stressed their way through higher degrees while working full-time and in many instances raising

families, running businesses and providing elder-care while trying to maintain happy, harmonious marriages. Although I had the shared responsibility of helping to care for elderly and infirm parents, it seemed like a worthy risk to take. Besides, is there ever a ‘right time’ to embark on such a huge undertaking? Shortly after commencing the course, it came time to meet with my supervisor and although we had not yet spoken, I was acutely aware of ‘Jude’s’ reputation. She was considered a formidable and well-respected academic who was not shy and retiring about giving her opinions. This image was borne out when we had our first meeting in a local coffee shop which was to become our regular meeting place. As we drank coffee and exchanged pleasantries the conversation turned to the business of supervision. I recall telling her that I would find it very difficult to receive heavy criticism since I really did not know where or how to begin this mammoth task of writing a thesis. The thought of having a sea of perhaps harsh annotations across my work in red pen really unnerved me. Obviously I knew this was part and parcel of the deal

Publishing papers

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