The supervision of postgraduate students generally follows institutional guidelines such that policies or procedures (sometimes confusing and contradictory) are in place to produce PhD graduates. From the students’ perspective, on the other hand, the path leading to the doctorate is unclear and filled with all kinds of hurdles and uncertainties. Most importantly, and especially at the early stages of the degree, support at all levels is a necessity.
The concept of mentoring is a universal phenomenon and certainly not a new one! In almost all cases the challenges faced by post-graduate students appear to be dealt with more effectively, or rather with a greater sense of personal satisfaction, when such individuals have someone to rely on. During the course of their postgraduate studies, and particularly in the early stages, students are required to make an intellectual and, more importantly, an emotional leap from being Bachelor’s and Master’s students to becoming PhD candidates. In some instances, as with individuals with professional qualifications, the primary degree is earned without much exposure to formal instruction in research, ethics and knowledge of the requirements for proceeding towards a doctoral qualification. Primary degree supervision typically consists of structured courses, with the student enjoying direct instruction and regular contact with the team of lecturers concerned. PhD candidates are, however, expected to be more independent, self-sustaining, with little access to their supervisor and less structured than in their prior degree. For the PhD student, contact and feedback with supervisors depend very much on the rate of progress of the individual student concerned and on the commitment of the supervisor to the process.
The PhD researcher is immersed in a ‘writing-centred pedagogy’ that requires critique and encouragement from experienced researchers. While writing is central to the research process, so is thinking, imagining and relating. The learning and teaching strategies needed in supervision are varied and complex – even ‘chaotic’! These supervision interactions ideally stretch and support the PhD researcher, whilst enriching and expanding the world of the supervisor. Painted with such broad brush strokes the enterprise promises colour and boldness – but it also requires finesse, detailed attention and precision of focus.
An interesting parallel to the qualities needed in the research journey are those needed by accomplished scientists. Fensham, in interviews with leading scientists in China, distinguishes the characteristics needed to succeed in both independent research and in science. These include (in order of priority): creativity, personal interest in the topic, perseverance, desire to inquire, ability to communicate, social concern and team spirit. It is particularly these qualities, on the one hand, that mentoring and coaching focus on. Supervision, on the other hand, takes greater responsibility for the formal managing of the degree process, quality checking and teaching. Whilst workshops and programmes for PhD students usually provide formal training in the academic content towards thesis production, mentoring and coaching fosters qualities essential in a scientist, researcher and intellectual. A holistic approach takes into account the complexity of a large research project.
6.1 Mentoring and Coaching: Complementary Resources
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where –’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
6.2 Comparing Supervision, Coaching and Mentoring in Practice
6.2.1 Gaining competence
Supervision of a PhD candidate has been described in terms of models, personality, formal institutional structures and contract agreements. Supervision is often learnt through experience: one’s own – from having been supervised, from external examination of theses, from serving on post-graduate committees, from participating in PhD student-presentation sessions, from sitting in on a PhD student’s advisory committee, from serving on post-graduate committees, from co-supervision with a more experienced academic and from supervising different students. Supervision skills are also developed from workshops on supervision and through reading ‘how-to’ books or research into PhD work. A supervisor also draws on a certain amount of pedagogic content knowledge as well as, of course, discipline content knowledge.
The books, journals and related resources listed below have played an important role in the compilation of this handbook and many have proven to be invaluable in our day-to-day interactions with postgraduate students.
Argyris, Chris; Schön, Donald A. (1974) Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. ISBN 0875892302, 9780875892306
‘This book is a landmark in two fields. It is a practical guide to the reform of professional education. It is also a beacon to theoretical thinking about human organizations, about their interdependence with the social structure of the professions, and about theory in practice.’ — Journal of Higher Education.
Badenhorst, Cecile. (2006) The Scribe’s Journey. New Voices Publishing, Cape Town, South Africa. ISBN-13: 978-1-920094-30-0
The Scribe’s Journey contains over 150 writing exercises. Each one is designed to take you away from the world of to-do lists, priorities and products, and into the realm of possibilities, exploration and colour. The writing activities will tap into your creative source and begin to free your mind from the restrictions and limitations which so often accompany writing tasks. Whether you write reports at work, or poetry, or family histories, this book will help you write with a fresh eye.
Sanpad and its RCI programme
Having examined the statistical, demographic and institutional and equity characteristics of the cohort the outputs the research findings were as follows:
-The total cohort number under investigation stands at 191.
– All in all there have been 127 Ph.D.’s confirmed.
– This means that more than 1 in 2 cohorts graduated with a Ph.D. during the period under investigation.
– This also means that in a period of seven years, 16 Ph.D.’s were produced per year.
In terms of social categories the percentages of Ph.D. graduates 21 % were African females, 20%, African males, 17% Coloured females 1% Coloured males, 8% Indian females, 2% Indian males, 19% White females and 11.5% White males.
41% of the graduates were African, 19 % were coloured, 12.5% were Indian and 30, 5 % were Whites. In terms of gender 65% were females and 35% males.
On 13 November 2007, some thirty Dutch and South African practitioners, policy makers and academics, all working on the subject of governance and development in southern Africa, came together for a day of discussions. Although all grappling with similar subjects in their respective professional lives, these three groups of professionals seldom meet each other in forums that are explicitly designed to foster debates and cooperation across the professional boundary lines.
The Proceedings from the Third DPRN regional expert meeting on Southern Africa (2007 – published 2010) .