The FreshEd Questionnaire, Vol. 1
Today we are going to do something slightly different. Over the past six months, I’ve asked FreshEd guests how they approach writing, reading, research, and supervision. Listening back to the responses, I realized there is no one way to do any of this! There isn’t a “right way” to do higher education.
What I hope is that by compiling these voices here, we can start to appreciate the diversity within higher education, potentially opening spaces for new futures. So today we air the first episode devoted to these questions. This episode focuses on supervision and advice for graduate students. You might want to grab a notebook because there are a lot of good tips that are going to come up. I hope you enjoy the show!
Citation: Perry, Laura, Dryden-Peterson, Sarah, Sowton, Chris, Sciffer, Michael, Economy, Elizabeth, Rudolph, Sophie, Robinson, Natasha, Popp Berman, Elizabeth, Drake, Sean, Gerrard, Jessica, Oleksiyenko, Anatoly, Sriprakash, Arathi, & Bryan, Audrey Bryan, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 285, podcast audio, June 27, 2022. https://freshedpodcast.com/285-questionnaire
Laura Perry 1:03
Hi, I’m Laura Perry. And I’m based at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. My supervision method is to be as informative and supportive as possible. I certainly have opinions about some things, but I take it more as my job is to inform the student and then let the student make decisions based on that. So, I’m almost like a physician that will tell you the pros and cons of different things. And I might steer you one way and say this is what I really think is the best. But at the end of the day, it’s the student’s decision. It’s just a matter of me informing that person. And I really tailor my supervision to the needs of the student, for other students that need much more structure and much more kind of formal guidance. And so, for those students, that’s what I provide. And I can kind of sense who those students are. And I might say to them, listen, I think it might be good for us to schedule some meetings for the whole semester, or once a month. And that’s what we do. There are some students that don’t need that but want that. And again, I’m there to support them. So, they’re not there to support me in my career. I’m there to support them in their career. In terms of advice, this is something that someone could act upon, right. So, I can’t say be brilliant, you know, because that’s just something -that helps, but it’s not sufficient, actually, you need other things. And so, I guess the one piece of advice I would say is to be active and committed, to take it seriously. Get involved. Get involved with your own study, get involved in as many ways as you can as well. And just do it. Don’t do it kind of half, but just go into it and do it. Even if you’re doing it part time, you can still have your heart and your soul into it.
Sarah Dryden-Peterson 2:33
I’m Sarah Dryden-Peterson, an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of Refugee Reach. I really value the idea of apprenticeship in supervision. But I say this not with the idea of students doing the same work that I do. But the core of apprenticeship, which I think is being able to spend lots of time together actually doing the work. And making the work of research, the work of teaching, the work of engaging ideas with public audiences really visible and helping each other to shape that over time. I think that there’s just no model of what to do. I think the best and most important work for the world follows a trajectory that any one graduate student co-creates with their research participants, with their peers, with their mentors, with communities of practice that they value.
Chris Sowton 3:25
I’m Chris Sowton, and I’m an International Educational Consultant. So, when I’ve worked with students before, I guess, the most important thing for me is to try and be a good listener and being supportive but trying to provide as much information or guidance as possible so the individual can try and sort those issues out by themselves. So, in my own work as a current doctoral student, I suppose it’s to try and find ways in which you can make your research or interests relevant outside the academy in practical terms.
Michael Sciffer 4:34
I’m Michael Sciffer. I’m a PhD student and I also work as a school counselor. My research is very much focused at looking at our school segregation effects, and the effects of school contexts on the effectiveness of school systems. In my study, I’m quite self-directed. I went into the program with a particular interest around school compositional effects after learning about them. I sought out supervisors who knew this area and had done research in this area. And so, for me, it’s about having supervision that can help me achieve those goals and address barriers that I come up against, I guess, working towards some research goals that I already have set for myself. I think just take the time to really explore what you’re interested in and spend lots of time investing in your research skills. Obviously, they are very critical to be able to develop that new knowledge, and obviously they’re very useful in being able to participate in debate around research and continuing a career in academia.
Elizabeth Economy 5:03
Liz Economy, I’m Senior Adviser to the Secretary of Commerce for China, on leave from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution where I’m a Senior Fellow. So, I haven’t supervised that many PhD students -just a couple. I think the most important thing is first to steer them to a question that they’re excited about. Writing a dissertation is a long-haul process. It’s essentially writing a book and so choosing something just because you think it is a hot topic, or it’s likely to be a hot topic, which I think can sometimes sit in the back of PhD students’ minds is not a good reason. Choose something that you’re truly fascinated by. You never know when something is going to burble up and become important. I did my dissertation on Chinese and Soviet strategies for global climate change in the early 1990’s. I can tell you, nobody cared about it that much. And then all of a sudden, I was briefing the Vice President of the United States because he was going to China to talk to Li Peng about climate change. So, you never know when an issue that seems like a sleeper issue becomes something truly important. So, choose something that you care about, that’s interesting to you, because that’s what’s going to sustain you over the long haul. Most important, though, don’t even go for a PhD, unless you’re excited about it. Just make sure that you love what you’re doing. And don’t be afraid. I think one thing that I found recently among young people who would be interested in pursuing a PhD is that some of them shy away from it because they think the job market is so restrictive, that there won’t be a job out there for them. But for me, if you’re truly passionate about your field of study, first of all time flies, when you’re working on it. It’s really an extraordinary opportunity that you have to delve deeply into something. You really don’t get that chance ever again. But beyond that, when you’re excited about something, that’s what you’re going to be good at. And you’ll find something at the other end of that six-year process, or however long it takes you. So, just stay true to what you love.
Sophie Rudolph 7:04
Hi, there. I’m Sophie Rudolph and I work at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne. My method of supervision is relational and dialogical, I would describe it as. And so, it’s very contextual. It depends on the person that I’m working with and the problems that they’re working through. And so, there’s a lot of dialogue and understanding that, and it’s all about that relationship. What we’re both bringing to the problem. And in trying to understand that and doing that through the relationship. I think it’s really important to build community. So, have research community that you can grow with and challenge ideas with and build solidarity with. And I think that’s really valuable. A lot of my research is trying to understand things that I’m angry about. And so, it’s about channeling that anger, to understand deeper, to go deeper. But also doing that with a curiosity and an openness. And so, that’s the advice I would give: channel your anger with curiosity and openness.
Natasha Robinson 8:22
My name is Natasha Robinson. I’m a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. Something that I really try to do as a supervisor is to really help the student to understand why their research is exciting, and why their research has real world consequences. And so that often involves encouraging them to build partnerships and links with organizations that they might be collaborating with, or working with, writing for public audiences, getting in touch with politicians or decision makers who might be interested in their research. And I find that by helping students to really ground in why their research is valuable and helping them to understand that even as a masters student, their research can have positive consequences for those that they’re working with, I find just motivates the students to kind of take their work very seriously and have a kind of whole person approach to their work. I think I’ve been extremely lucky in the supervisors that I’ve had. My supervisors, David Mills and Jason Todd at the University of Oxford, everything that I asked, everything that I suggested, every crazy idea that they had, they were always saying yes. And that was just hugely energizing and really helped me to feel like I had control over my own research. And I guess it’s almost a process of having stabilizers and then slowly taking those stabilizers off. There was definitely a point where they were allowing me more and more to kind of overrule them, and to really step into my own expertise in this subject. And then they just kind of threw tons of opportunities at me -teaching opportunities, supervision opportunities, conference opportunities- which again, was extremely energizing and empowering as a PhD student. My one piece of advice would be to get really comfortable with writing and to think about writing carefully. It’s not just something that you sit down and do. There are lots of books about how to write, about how to write well, about how to motivate yourself when writing to really understand your own energy levels when writing your own moods when writing. And then to find a really good, structured writing group. I had the great fortune of writing my PhD thesis throughout the constrictive lock down of the pandemic. So, there wasn’t a huge amount else to do when I was writing up. But I had just a fantastic writing group that met twice a day for three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon. They really held me accountable and proofread my work and I proofread their work, and I’m still in touch with them. It was just -I needed that community. Writing can be very lonely, and finding community around writing, I think, is very important for graduate students.
Elizabeth Popp Berman 10:47
I’m Elizabeth Popp Berman, and I am an Associate Professor in the Organizational Studies Department at the University of Michigan. I think it’s evolved over time as I’ve been in different positions. There was a really nice stretch for a while where I had possibly more graduate students than I could manage but we had a really nice sort of weekly lab meeting where everybody came and sort of talked through their work. And it was really good for providing a little bit of structure. Sort of letting younger students be exposed to older students. I really thought that was a good way of doing it. It works best if you’ve got a relatively large group of people. Otherwise, I guess I would say that I tried to adapt the style of advising a little bit to what the student actually needs, right? Different students have different approaches. I wish I didn’t have to give this piece of advice but to think very carefully about how your own research interests and what you really want to do align with the realities of what the job market is. I think there are often ways that people can find ways to follow the things that really motivate and captivate them in research that also do tune into those realities. But at the same time, I think that as faculty, we really do a disservice to students if we’re also not totally upfront about how hard it is to get an academic job right now, don’t encourage people to look at other kinds of options and all the things they can do beyond academia, and go into that with open eyes. And then great, do the stuff you want to do and hopefully it will be successful. But you have been thinking about that from day one.
Sean Drake 12:18
My name is Sean Drake, and I’m an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University. And I’m also a Senior Research Associate in the Center for Policy Research, also at Syracuse. My method of supervision is somewhat tailored to the individual students. So, some students need more support, more attention, as it were in terms of trying to help them maybe narrow down the focus of a project, talk through certain ideas. Some students need more help editing drafts of manuscripts, or abstracts to submitting to conferences, things like that. And then other students, it’s more of a hands-off relationship where they might contact me when they need me. And otherwise, maybe we say we’ll check in as needed. Or maybe just once or twice a term. So, I think it depends. It also depends on whether I’m working with undergraduate students or graduate students, whether I’m simply kind of mentoring and advising, or if we’re collaborating maybe on research. So, I think it depends a lot on the individual student. But I think overall, my goal is just to be supportive, to be positive, have a glass half-full mentality, and just try to help them to sort of do what they want to do and be successful. One piece of advice I would give to graduate students in terms of research would be, questions are really important. Make sure that you’re taking time on the front end to think about your research questions. Certainly, if you’re an ethnographer, those questions will probably change as you move through your project. So, take the time to record those changes, and to really kind of dig in and think about what those questions are, and how they may be evolving. And then overall, you know, choose the method of research based on what those questions are.
So, the questions I tend to have that are my research questions tend to be about process -how is something happening? Why is something happening? How are people experiencing something? How are they making meaning of something? How are they framing certain events in their lives, certain things that happened to them or to others that they may come in contact with or know? And so those questions necessitate qualitative inquiry. They necessitate observation, they necessitate interviews. Those are the sorts of methods that can answer those types of questions. So, I think that in terms of research, the questions that you have dictate methods that you’ll use to answer those questions. And the only other piece of advice I would give about research is to read. Make sure you’re reading. Make sure you’re reading examples of well-done research because you can learn a lot from that. I once asked an anthropology professor of mine -because I took some anthropology courses in grad school. I was new to ethnography- how do I learn to be an ethnographer? There’s no like equivalent to like a statistics textbook for this, like how do I learn how to do this.? Her name is Lilith Mahmud and she’s a brilliant professor at UC Irvine. And she said, “You know, one of the best ways is to read examples of ethnography. Like read these books”. And so, she gave me a list of some books. And I learned a ton about their process and how they did what they did from the books. So, I think reading -then not only do you sort of learn about what to do, and maybe how to do it, you also learn what’s possible. I didn’t even know that sociologists could study some of the things that we study until I started reading some of these books and articles. Like, oh, you can study that? You can study that? I think reading is really important. And also, when you read, especially kind of, in your subject area, you know, what’s out there and what’s not out there. You start to formulate those questions, you start to get those ideas. And I think too often people will sort of dive into research almost in an impatient way. And then without a kind of a thoroughgoing understanding of the literature. I think it’s really important to kind of slow down, ease your way in, and really be grounded in that literature pretty strongly before you dive headlong into any research project.
Jessica Gerrard 16:04
Hi, I’m Jessica Gerard and I work at the University of Melbourne. I don’t think I have a method. But I will say that the two words that came to mind is: solidarity and independence. And what I mean by that is that I feel like I am in an act of solidarity with students in that I’m invested and interested and want to work alongside them. But also, really give them the independence to own it. Like it’s not my project. And so, it’s really like empowering the person to make their own decisions and to feel the power of those decisions as a researcher. To care about what you’re doing. To see it as being something that is important and that you will potentially have something to contribute, even if that sometimes comes from a place of anger. If you’re angry about something that’s okay. But also, to bring curiosity and openness to the possibility of seeing things otherwise. My advice would be to listen and to listen carefully and slowly and to take your time with it. And to take really great notes, and then to listen again and listen some more. That would be my advice. Not just -presuming that people are doing interviews, but like listening to whatever method they’re doing, whatever they’re working with, to really immerse and attune yourself to it.
Anatoly Oleksiyenko 17:21
My name is Anatoly Oleksiyenko. I’m an Associate Professor of Higher Education, and director of Comparative Education Research Center in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong. I tried to nurture a balance of intellectual autonomy and interdependence where self-organization and collaborative writing come hand in hand. Graduate students should learn how to be independent intellectuals but also, they need to understand that they are part of the greater web of science and collaborative opportunities can be tremendously important for their growth, for their abilities to conceptualize the world of problems that they explore and contribute to a more synergized, more consolidated problem-solving approach. I would argue that it’s important to take leadership in learning. Students have to demonstrate their agency from the first day or from very early days of their graduates’ studies. And they learn by leading their supervisor. And sometimes offering collaborative writing projects to the supervisor or to other people in the field and just become really a significant contributor to making science. So, it’s about agency and leadership. Most importantly, I would say there are three emphases that I would like to make: critical thinking, number one; selective reading, so you have to be selected what you read; and collecting data before you begin to write -even some pilot data that would already show that you are able to really cope with the research project. But then also I guess, you have to write regularly and also engage in editing projects, collaborative projects, and assignments so that you understand how science actually works in the larger construct of relations among sciences.
Arathi Sriprakash 19:22
Hi, I’m Arathi Sriprakash and I work at the University of Bristol. I don’t have a fixed method of supervision as such because I think it is contextual. But one of the things that I think is really important is building a relationship where it’s possible to ask questions on both sides. So, I’m continually asking my students questions, prompts, for them to push their thinking further, and I’d like to think that my students are doing the same to me. So, it’s a co-learning process. I think it’s to create communities because the people around you -the people you’re reading with, learning with, writing with, talking to, during your graduate journey- will be people who you will be sharing the field with. You are actively shaping the field as you go. I think the advice I would give to a graduate student -it’s something I’ve been reflecting on- is what a privilege it is to do research. The time, often for qualitative research, research with participants, or ethnography. You know, we’re sharing this relationship with others, right? So, of course there have been questions about -lots to be said about our ethical responsibility in that relationship. So, I think it’s just about honoring that and really feeling grateful that we have this opportunity to learn from others who are part of our research.
Audrey Bryan 20:41
Audrey Bryan, Associate Professor of Sociology in the School of Human Development at Dublin City University, Institute of Education. I don’t think I have a one size fits all method to supervision. I try to tailor it to the particular student. But I think for me, the key thing is really around helping the student to determine what they’re most passionate about but ensuring that what they’re most passionate about is engaged with in a way that is researchable. So, enabling them to marry their passion with researchability because on a pragmatic level, your doctoral thesis is not going to be your life’s work. So, you have to be passionate about it in order for it to sustain your interest, but it also has to be feasible. It has to be researchable. It has to be amenable to research and it has to have interest to a wider audience beyond your own passion. I mean, this may seem really, really obvious, but I think reading is so important. And I think just in today’s social media world, it’s almost like reading has become this luxury. Like reading an entire text. And particularly, I would encourage students to read older texts of seminal works, classic texts, to stay with them with a view to becoming initially critical consumers of research. If you want to produce high quality research, you really have to look at exemplars and as well as be able to critically engage with research. I think, oftentimes, as a novice researcher, as a grad student who’s starting out it can be really overwhelming to think that you’re in this position of having to critique somebody else’s work -somebody’s work who’s already been peer reviewed, who’s already an established scholar- but that is the way that you figure out what’s missing? What is the contribution that I’m going to make? How am I going to advance this existing body of knowledge? So, always having an eye towards criticality and not being afraid to be critical of others’ work?
Want to help translate this show? Please contact email@example.com
Have any useful resources related to this show? Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org