Jane Pritchard

  • Meeting the supervisor: exploring the experience of and knowledge negotiated in the meeting between supervisors and PhD students in engineering

    Jane Pritchard, University of Glasgow, UK

    Session 1c, Monday 15.45

    Research paper

    Themes addressed:

    • Skills development and lifelong learning
    • Supporting learners

    This paper stems from an interest in PhD students’ learning and socialisation into the culture of academia and their research field and the role of the supervisor in that relation. To date a lot of the research in the arena of PhDs has focused on the process of a PhD, from the relation between the supervisor and supervisee to perceptions of their roles. However, there is no currently available literature that explores how the process and content are negotiated (especially focusing on the knowledge negotiated in engineering PhDs).

    This work has explored the interface between the supervisee and the supervisor (EE-OR) from a number of positions around which many activities in the development of a PhD project revolve or at least relate to – the (physical) meeting(s) with the supervisor. Applying a phenomenographic methodology, semi-structured interviews with PhD students and their supervisors before and after a meeting were conducted. During the second meeting participants were asked also to develop concept maps congruently with responding to interview questions.

    Categories of description will be described that highlight the variation in the relationship between the content of the meeting and the whole of the PhD project for the supervisor and the PhD, respectively. Further analysis brought the students and the supervisors relationships to a whole next to each other, and for example sometimes have implied incongruencies, which can be traced in 'frictional' elements, visible in the meetings. Examples of categories include supervisors talking about a number of activities (eg data gathering, conference paper preparation, attending meetings) as all part of the process of a PhD whereas the PhD students see these activities as time consuming and ‘extra’ to the task of doing the PhD which is about getting results. Some supervisors see the students’ role to become an expert in that field of work and enter into discussions about the concepts and new knowledge being generated, whilst others describe events that clearly indicate a master-apprentice role that will never be surpassed even at the end of the PhD process.

    Bowden and Marton had described research that has been referred to as ‘learning on the collective level’ in that the knowledge developed in research is in some sense ‘new’ to humans. But it is also a ‘learning on the individual level’ for the researchers involved. How do the outcomes for this work address the relationship between these two ‘learnings’ as it manifests in the individuals learning to participate and contribute to the learning on the collective level in the supervisor-PhD student pairs? How does the role of the meeting aid the transition in the ways knowledge is discussed at PhD level (open and unknown answers) compared with undergraduate level where the majority of the learning is by closed problems? This paper will conclude by considering how this focus on the experience of the meeting contributes to understanding the bigger question, that is ‘Where does the learning occur in an (Engineering) PhD?’.