22 SES 11 C, Student Learning and Evaluation
How do international master’s dissertation students experience supervision? What highs and lows do they encounter on their journey? Why? And what are the implications of their experiences for universities in terms of their supervisory policies, the kind of students they enrol, the nature of the dissertations they require, and the curriculum of their master’s programmes in general? These were the questions that drove a larger study of 10 supervisees’ experiences of dissertation supervision across social science and humanities departments at a UK research-intensive university. As master’s and doctoral programmes expand, a growing body of research (e.g., Acker et al 1994; Anderson et al 2008; Amundsen & McAlpine 2009; Delamont et al 1998; Deuchar 2008; Dysthe 2002; Gatfield 2005; Grant 2008; Hockey 1996; Krase 2007; Lee 2008; Murphy 2009) has focused on a major component of these programmes: the dissertation/thesis candidates write, and the experiences and practices of dissertation/thesis supervisees and supervisors. This body of work, which mainly focuses on doctoral study, has pointed up a high degree of variability in both supervisory experiences and practices. In this talk we focus on the less-researched arena of master’s study, and on a single Mexican supervisee, Clara, who enjoyed her master’s programme and obtained a distinction grade for her dissertation. In terms of the grades she achieved, her own evaluation of her programme and of her time spent as a master’s student, Clara’s case constitutes a success, and this talk investigates the anatomy of a successful dissertation experience.
The main theoretical framework we use to understand Clara’s dissertation supervision experiences in this research is Weidman et al’s (2001) socialization model. Weidman et al (2001) define socialization at graduate level as referring ‘to the processes through which individuals gain the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for successful entry into a professional career’ (p.iii), whether academic or non-academic. In the course of this socialization, students are transformed from disciplinary ‘outsider to insider’ (p.6). In reviewing previous models of socialization, Weidman et al (2001) critique what they term the linear models of socialization. As they explain, these traditional models take for granted that the process can be represented by a predictable sequence of admitting the student to a study programme, socializing them, and then allowing them to graduate/be licenced in their field. Weidman et al point out that such models assume all students will respond in the same manner to attempts to socialize them, and that, with the growing diversity of the student population, especially on postgraduate programmes, such assumptions can no longer go unchallenged. Weidman et al duly highlight how differences in students’ profiles, personalities, predispositions, values, and prior and current educational experiences and interactions can profoundly impact on the manner and success of their socialization experience. Similar differences in the characteristics of supervisors should also be considered, and the likely effects when supervisee and supervisor, with their different profiles, attempt to work together. Both formal and informal contacts with faculty and peers on the programme will have a similar impact, as will the student’s interactions with social networks outside of the university. As we show in the findings section below, our results can be explained through the lens of these ideas about socialization. Clara’s lack of knowledge of her chosen dissertation analytical method, her supervisor’s lack of knowledge of this same method, and Clara’s interactions with other lecturers all had an impact of her dissertation and on her experience of supervision.
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