Fact and fiction: a case history of doctoral supervision

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40 Citations (Scopus)


There exist a number of textual sources of advice concerning the provision of effective doctoral supervision. This academic material aimed at both supervisors and students makes assumptions both about the conduct of science and the contemporary nature of higher education as a setting for inducting students into the academy.

This paper aims to explore and critique received ideas about supervision, and seeks to elucidate their implications for intellectual originality and the nature of research-based knowledge production. This aim is situated in the context of governmental discourses of performativity.

The sample consists of one doctoral student who is advanced in the progress of her studies. She is based in a Scottish university and is of overseas origin. She is a mature student whose previous education took place outwith the UK.

Design and methods
A case-study design is adopted within which a supervisor has the stance of a participant observer. It is through participant observation that the data are collected. These qualitative data are then subjected to an appropriate analysis which aims to characterize their meaning.

The findings suggest that the conflicting array of ideological discourses exercising authority over the university sector may undermine the concept of scholarly originality and the underpinning academic skills as well as dispositions. It is concluded that supervisory strategies vary, but the received ones premised upon a different historical landscape which championed academic autonomy may bring supervisors into a tense relationship with their institutions and policies of performativity.

The evidence indicates that current models of research degree supervision, as presented in published textual sources, are guilty of neglecting to engage properly with the effects of discourses of performativity and commercialization which now, arguably, exercise a controlling influence over significant parts of higher education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-278
Number of pages12
JournalEducational Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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