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Graduate Student Supervision

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Traditionally, faculty development efforts have focused on the improvement of undergraduate teaching. In recent years, the supervision of graduate students has received more attention. Since graduate students are recognized as the potential professoriate of tomorrow, graduate schools have a major responsibility in ensuring the best possible graduate student experience. Graduate students differ in a variety of aspects from undergraduate students. As a rule, they are:

  • more self-directed in their learning
  • more knowledgeable in their subject area
  • older and more mature, or simply more "adult"

Graduate school, however, offers many challenges to these students. While developmental psychologists tell us that people grow and mature as a result of being challenged, challenges may also be experienced as overwhelming, and may in fact be the reason for "stuckness" rather than for development. Graduate school offers students the unique opportunity to conduct a piece of research from beginning to end under the guidance of an experienced researcher. All too often, however, graduate students are expected to work entirely on their own. Meetings with their supervisor are rare and short. While this does not constitute a problem for some graduate students, neglected student supervision may cause feelings of isolation and disorientation for others. Graduate students may also be more reluctant to admit their confusion than are undergraduates. When working with graduate students, it is therefore important to remember that these people have already acquired considerable expertise in their area and are generally more self-directed and goal-oriented (otherwise they would not pursue the graduate degree). Graduate student supervisors should be sensitive to the graduate student's current situation. The following recommendations are made:

  • make yourself available for consultation
  • provide support and challenge
  • share your expertise
  • acknowledge the student's expertise
  • become a skillful questioner; do not tell them what to do, but open up new ways of thinking

Graduate students should also be encouraged to follow a "collegial approach" with their peers. Regular discussion groups in which they can inform each other about the current state of their research, or the encouragement of joint research projects, are promising ways to enrich the graduate student experience.

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