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Reactions prompted by the work of other doctoral students may, depending on your personality and role in the group, seem like a waste of valuable time. Moreover, a supervisor or group of supervisors selected to guide your work, and your work only, will likely have greater expertise that is directly relevant to your needs, compared with supervisors chosen to meet the needs of your co-doctoral students as well.


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If your department allows you to choose individual rather than collective supervision in your first year, you are likely to be acting against your own interests. Our recent research suggests that individual supervision, at least in the first year, will lead you to lose time to undertake new research or otherwise advance your career.

Moreover, by committing to your individual supervision your department may use more time and resources than if you were to be supervised as part of a collective.

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Before arriving at this conclusion, we investigated doctoral students in political science at Stockholm University, admitted between and When it comes to assisting doctoral students to complete their theses on time or even as quickly as possible, this research has led us to believe that collective supervision in the first year of study significantly out-performs individual supervision.

But before detailing our results and procedures, let us rewind and provide some background.

Supervision of independent research projects is a key practice at universities worldwide. It is used to transfer knowledge among individuals and encourage the development of new ideas, as well as for a range of other purposes. That said, there has been little systematic research into which kinds of supervision are more effective than others at attaining any given set of objectives. Research has devoted much time to describing a variety of ideals, problems, and practices in supervision, while not actually testing the effects of the differences observed.

Individual and collective supervision is one of several critical but as yet untested distinctions. Quite frustratingly, but also interestingly, previous research holds competing expectations regarding the consequences of individual and collective supervision.


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While doctoral students often have their reasons to prefer individual over collective supervision, there are plenty of arguments that point in the opposite direction. The research literature suggests that collective supervision may enhance peer learning , broaden the academic learning context and the pool of knowledge, facilitate acquisition of the values and behaviours of a research practice community , reduce the risk of linking doctoral students with a single supervisor before topic selection has been finalised, and resolve disagreements among senior staff responsible for providing supervision.

Such factors would seem to shorten, not prolong, the time to completion. To examine what actually happens in different kinds of doctoral supervision we found ourselves in the lucky position of having been directors of a doctoral studies programme which, back in , shifted its teaching model from individual to collective supervision during the first year. We could therefore create data which makes it possible to test empirically whether the introduction of collective supervision in this case had a positive, negative, or no effect at all on the time taken for doctoral students to complete their theses.

All we had to do was compare the time to completion of doctoral students admitted before and after , and, of course, to control for the alternative explanations we knew from our own experience and existing research are likely to affect time to completion.

For example, it is well-known that time to doctoral completion depends on funding opportunities, the academic discipline, and the integration of doctoral students into ongoing research projects. Studied in this way, it appears that collective supervision of first-year doctoral students is correlated with significantly shorter times to thesis completion compared to individual supervision. Students who received collective supervision in the first year averaged 57 months in the programme, while students receiving individual supervision averaged 92 months.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss possibilities.

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If you are already a PhD student elsewhere but would still like to collaborate, distance supervision is often difficult to do and provides few incentives for the supervisor in terms of institutional recognition. However, it may be possible to schedule an academic visit for a few weeks or months. Get in touch if you would like to discuss this possibility. I usually collaborate with visitors on a paper or method to make it worthwhile for both parties. However, it is usually necessary to bring your own funding for the duration of the stay.

From students' discussions of times when supervision did not go well, five themes emerged: lack of clarity, inconsistencies, power imbalances, inequities and overworked supervisors who are under pressure to publish. Each of these themes, along with definitions and example quotes is presented in Table 2. Underlying these themes are differences in expectations between students and supervisors. Table 2.

Themes relating to students' perceptions of supervisory challenges. The key differences emerging between honors and pass stream students related to the group composition. Honors students choose their own supervisor s and topics at least to some degree while pass stream students were assigned to groups and had limited choice of supervisor or topic. Overall, pass stream students expressed less passion about their topics at least in the early stages and sometimes experienced conflict with other group members e.

This research aimed to explore students' conception of good supervision of undergraduate dissertations. Encouragingly, all but one student were able to highlight a time when supervision had gone well, with students able to identify both the supervisors and their own contribution to positive experiences. In accordance with previous research in this area Todd et al. Most students were also able to describe a time when supervision had not gone so well, and these experiences were characterized by differences in expectations between students and supervisors. Consistent with Todd's finding of students experiencing uncertainty, lack of clarity and inconsistences were key themes to emerge in this research.

However, unlike Vera and Briones finding of upwards of a third of students not being satisfied with their students, a more nuanced picture emerged in this study with students able to identify both times when supervision was going well, and times when it did not. Of concern, the findings indicate that the pressure to publish experienced by academics within a neoliberal university setting is in some cases being transmitted to students and has the potential to impact upon supervisory experiences for undergraduate students.

While only a minority of students interviewed referred to this tension, the findings highlight the need for supervisors to not let their own disappointment translate into poorer supervision when students' research is not publishable. Student engagement in questionable research practices has also been documented earlier in the undergraduate degree Rajah-Kanagasabai and Roberts, , further highlighting the need for supervisors to clearly articulate best practices and demonstrate these in their own research.

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The primary purpose of the undergraduate dissertation is the research learning experience for the student, and potential publication needs to be viewed as a bonus rather than an expectation. Whilst publication in high impact peer-reviewed journals may be a priority for supervisors, students can also benefit from other avenues of dissemination, such as presenting findings at conferences or publishing in student research journals. This research was conducted within one university that is repositioning as a research-intensive university. Supervisory practices may vary across universities according to the focus of the university teaching vs.

Master's thesis at the Department of Social Anthropology - Faculty of Social Sciences

Given the range of supervisory arrangements single vs. This is an area that warrants further research. Despite these limitations, the findings provide insight into what students' value and find challenging in their undergraduate dissertation supervisory relationships, and may have some transferability across different academic settings. The findings from this research, along with interviews with new supervisors and workshops with experienced supervisors see Roberts and Seaman, informed the development of a range of supervisory resources.

This guide covers preparing for supervision, forms of supervision and getting the most from supervision, along with advice for specific stages of the project from the first supervision meeting through to data collection, analysis and interpretation, with a section on overcoming difficulties in managing a research project. We encourage readers to access and use these materials. The raw data supporting the conclusions of this manuscript will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation, to any qualified researcher.

LR was responsible for designing the research, conducting the interviews, reviewing the analysis, and leading the writing of the paper. KS analyzed the interview data.

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The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Ashwin, P. How does completing a dissertation transform undergraduate students' understandings of disciplinary knowledge? Bastalich, W. Content and context in knowledge production: a critical review of doctoral supervision literature. Besley, T. Besley Rotterdam: Sense Publishers , 27— Google Scholar.

Braun, V. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Butterfield, L.

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