An investigation of students' experiences of student-supervisor relationships at postgraduate level

Master Thesis


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This thesis investigated the supervisory experiences of 20 PhD students in a single department at the University of Cape Town. This was a case study to establish the prevailing models of supervision, students' expectations, and factors considered important for successful completion of their degree. To provide a conceptual framework for the research, the thesis reviewed some of the existing models of postgraduate research supervision with particular emphasis on research conducted in the United Kingdom and Australia because South Africa and Australia have largely followed the UK model of one on one supervision. A questionnaire was developed from this literature and administered to the students. The key findings emerging from this study were: The majority of the students saw their relationship with their supervisors as semiformal, a mentorship style which was based equally on contract and trust, and which incorporated a balance of academic and personal support. The students expected this to be mediated with appropriate organizational arrangements. Surprisingly, the factors that students considered most important for completing their degrees were aspects of the affective or personal domain over academic or organizational aspects of the supervisory process. These factors included full time study, cultivating skills of confidence boosting, and matching compatible personalities. Factors such as lack of supervisor's support, financial cost and family commitments were highly considered most inhibiting for the completion of degrees followed by lack of supervisor's expertise in the subject area. Most students were highly or very satisfied with their supervision. "Where they made suggestions for improvement these were largely in the area of improved organization of the experience. On the basis of these findings, the research indicates that students prefer semi-formal relationships, namely, a 'merged' model which means a balance of the organizational, academic and personal aspects of a supervisor's role.