Working with your supervisor: follow-up 4

Your question about the likelihood of getting a supervisor who is an expert in the precise area of the student’s research area piqued my interest. (Forgive my informal tone as I’m on a long-distance bus armed only with an iPad-mini and no reference manager.)

I suppose that a lot of the choices that underpin this Ed.D. course relate to it being fully online. Many students select face-to-face doctorates precisely because of the faculty members that they have access to. A few of my colleagues cannot fathom this course because we do not know the faculty beforehand. In their minds, this devalues the experience significantly. One wit quipped that we’ve lost our faculties! The serious point being that the notion of becoming a leading expert in a specialty without the assurance of actually studying with a leader places serious questions onto the student-supervisor relationship, and with that, perhaps strains as well when the student expects to enter the academic world with a set of discipline-specific attitudes and knowledge which may not be forthcoming from the supervisor.

Related to this is the concern that we do not select our thesis topic until year three of the course. (Typically Ph.D.) Students have very clear ideas at least of the area of this research at the entry point. Such a student is at a disadvantage in this course as the nature of disciplinarity in HE is not yet stable. While linguists may go to ABC uni to study vocabulary acquisition with so-and-so professor, how many people in this group were fully aware of the exact course contents prior to matriculation? That we cannot select our thesis topic until later is a result of that nebulousness and being fully online.¬†Another facet of doctoral training lost to us is, ironically, team work. We cannot be a part of so-and-so professor’s vocabulary acquisition lab. Also, fields such as chemistry, nursing and music are unthinkable as purely onlinedoctorates, both practical and theoretical. The hands-on aspects of training must be done at a distance; the result being that a necessary limitation on the content of the doctorate.

I think that students need to be fully aware of these points and more in order to avoid tensions with their future supervisors. There is much we have sacrificed in favour of the comfort of an online degree. But to expect the best of both worlds will sure and up in frustrations on all sides. Personally, I am forever jealous when I read things like ‘So-and-so got their doctorate with so-and-so professor and continued as a post-doc in the lab’s, effectively setting up that researcher. The contacts they will have made, the relationships they will have developed, the social capital they will have accumulated are all facets that are mostly lost to us.

But I do not think that our degree is necessarily invalidated. Far from it. However, we do need to be aware of potential, or hidden, grievances as we enter the thesis stage.


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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