Supervising part-time doctoral students: Issues and challenges

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2010). Supervising part-time doctoral students: Issues and challenges. In: Walker, Melanie and Thomson, Pat eds. The Routledge Doctoral Supervisor's Companion. London: Routledge, pp. 123–130.



The supervision of part-time doctoral students is a long-term academic enterprise requiring stamina both on the part of the supervisor and the student. Because of the fractured identity of the part-time doctoral candidate, who is usually balancing a range of family and work commitments, strategies to support their progress have to be proactive, well planned and sensitive to the student’s situation which may well change over the course of their candidature. Much of the emphasis on good practice in research supervision, however, seems to relate to guiding full-time students through the process, most of whom are being funded for a three or four year period of intense research and scholarship. Interest in the particular challenges of supervising part-time and often ‘absent’ research students has not been widely debated in the literature with these students’ learning and support needs not well understood. Neuman and Rodwell (2009) develop this point arguing that part-time research students are overlooked in both policy and research terms to the point that they are ‘invisible’.

This chapter begins by considering some of the recent literature that debates pedagogic practice within postgraduate research education, particularly shedding light on different understandings of the supervision process, to contextualise discussion of the practical and affective elements of supervising part-time students. This will be followed by consideration of some of the characteristics of part-time students to reveal that they are by no means an homogeneous group but rather have a plethora of circumstances and motivations that frame their identity as research students. The last sections of the chapter will present ideas about possible approaches to successful supervision of part-time doctoral students that is predicated on a student-centred perspective incorporating the concept of an interventionist pedagogic approach to supervision that operates on a fluctuating continuum of student/supervisor led initiative.

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