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Supporting MRes and undergraduate project students Professor John Kirby Faculty Postgraduate Tutor.

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Presentation on theme: "Supporting MRes and undergraduate project students Professor John Kirby Faculty Postgraduate Tutor."— Presentation transcript:

1 Supporting MRes and undergraduate project students Professor John Kirby Faculty Postgraduate Tutor

2 Who can be a supervisor? Lead/academic supervisor (principal investigator) – Must be an experienced supervisor (perhaps by previous co- supervision) – Usually responsible for project design – Responsible for funding Overall academic responsibility Research Associate (post-doc) – Can be a formal co-supervisor – Project design – Attends supervisory meetings What’s in it for me? PhD student – Not formally a supervisor But can provide valuable day-to-day help/advice – Project design? – Perhaps attend supervisory meetings What’s in it for me

3 MRes student PhD student PhD student

4 Why do you want a student? The upside – Students have a high degree of motivation Can be easier to attract good PG students than post-docs! Generate data very quickly – Good value for money Projects often lead to new areas and large grants – Positive contribution to research environment! Seminars Publications – Can be highly productive Some groups report up to 1/3 of their REF submissions stem from student research

5 Why do you want a student? The downside – You must help all your students to maximise their opportunity (not just the good ones!) Students pay staff wages (no staff, no future students…) Student feedback matters (PRES survey) You are responsible even though you might not have chosen your student – Students may disrupt your research How can you mitigate this? – Students make expensive and/or dangerous mistakes How will you respond? – How much time should you allocate to supervision? – When a student succeeds you get little recognition If they fail, they may blame you (appeals process….)!

6 Managing expectations (job of the PI) The student: – Where is my desk, computer, technician?… – Where are all the expensive reagents I need? – Why won’t my project work? – Why isn’t my supervisor available 24/7? Do you answer an at 11pm on Sunday night? – Why hasn’t my supervisor corrected the dissertation I gave him/her yesterday? Can/should a PhD student do this? – Health and safety is up to my supervisor to sort out This is often true….

7 Managing expectations The supervisor: – Where is my student? No joke – overseas students must be accounted for (Tier 4) Make normal hours of work and holiday entitlement clear – Out of hours policy? – Why do students always need help when I am busy? Should your office door always be open? – Explain the realities of project funding The cost of research is part of training (efficiency) – You are not a prooof reeeder Agree who should comment on one reasonably complete draft document (probably the lead supervisor) It is not your dissertation – we know you can pass the degree!

8 The formality of supervision Supervisory problems generally stem from informality – A “laddish culture” is never appropriate Don’t expect everyone to meet in the pub on Friday night – Not all students respond equally to informality Show personal/cultural sensitivity – Maintain a professional relationship (friendly if possible although not essential – we’re all human) When a student makes an expensive error respond carefully (and without anger) – It may be your fault for not explaining clearly – Explain the problem to ensure it doesn’t happen again Consider doing this in private to avoid humiliating the student in public Keep a record of formal contacts with your student – What do I mean by formal supervision?

9 Formal supervisory meetings What is a ‘formal’ meeting? – You pass your student in the corridor and say ‘is everything OK’ – Your student politely answers ‘Yes’ Nice, but NOT a formal meeting

10 Formal meetings - 1 What is a ‘formal’ meeting? – You are working in the lab/office/field/clinic next to one of your students – You ask how the work he/she is doing today is progressing and offer to help – You give practical advice or delegate this clearly to someone else Should happen, but NOT a formal meeting

11 Formal meetings - 2 Formal meetings are the most vital part of the project Frequency – I try to have a formal meeting with my MRes students every week – A supervisor should initiate formal meetings and set a time – Ideally all supervisors (and perhaps PhD student helpers) should attend

12 Formal meetings - 3 What happens at the meeting? Ask the student to bring all results and interesting papers and discuss these in detail Maybe the student should present a paper? – Make plans – Discuss problems – Be encouraging (your student might start to panic if things don’t work out - and the clock is ticking….). Stress “negative data” can be good data! Plan to use as many techniques as possible – Use a “clutch start” to help a dispirited student (more later) – Ensure the project is more than a series of small experiments The thesis will ultimately tell a story

13 Formal meetings - 4 A good management strategy – Remove your ego (we know supervisors can make plans and have all the answers – you don’t need top prove this) Try not to tell students what to think! – Lead the student to a point where they believe they had the good idea first! They will then have “ownership” of the concept They might feel more motivated to explore “their” idea

14 Formal meetings - 5 During the meeting – Ask the student to take notes After the meeting – The student should write minutes of the meeting with lists of what was agreed (e-portfolio) – Circulate these to all supervisors for additional comment – Bring the minutes to the next meeting (they become the agenda) Next meeting – Don’t worry if the experiments didn’t go as planned!

15 Nothing is working…. Your student has stopped because nothing is working. – Complete loss of confidence and motivation Student can become resentful and blame the supervisor! – What do you do? Try a “clutch start”. – Ask the student to do something useful but simple (perhaps with someone watching) – When this works (fingers crossed!), the student can follow up with something more challenging.

16 The supervisor’s dilemma You must stop the project and allow the student to write up just when the work is reaching its most interesting phase! – Essential but frustrating Is there a possibility of publication? – But papers are secondary to the dissertation Ownership of data – A PhD student involved in the project can’t present an MRes student’s data as his/her own.

17 The degree course timetable Make sure you know what is required when – Abstracts (MRes) – Talks Arrange rehearsal sessions – Posters (MRes) – Dissertation Students always underestimate the time needed Plan how you will help your student with the above – Don’t leave things to the last minute This is a common cause of friction

18 Absence: due to illness Inform the Graduate School if your student is absent for any significant period – It is hard to grant a retrospective extension! – Your student will need to provide evidence (doctor’s note or equivalent).

19 Disability Support Dyslexia is a common example where help can be important

20 The Study Code of Practice You appear powerful - your student can easily feel threatened. Be sensitive.

21 Graduate School policy for addressing supervision difficulties Means of Identifying Supervision Difficulties unofficial feedback from student student complaints procedure confidential supplementary section of annual progress report form annual assessment letter from student comments on examiners’ report forms confidential letter from external examiner repeated poor completion rates pattern of problems occurring with a supervisor

22 Possible outcomes of investigation 1.Not considered to be a case. 2.Problem considered to be minor. There will be a meeting with the supervisor to discuss the issues and to point out the effect their supervision is having on the student and to consider how matters could be improved 3.Problem considered to be substantial. The supervisor will be placed on probation for a period to be determined by the panel, but not exceeding 12 months. This will involve clear written guidelines being issued to the supervisor and close monitoring by the panel and feedback to the supervisor. There will be a final review of performance at the end of the probationary period with two possible outcomes. If performance is deemed to have improved sufficiently no further action will be taken. If not, following consultation with the PVC, the supervisor will not be permitted to supervise any further students and supervision of ongoing students will be transferred to an alternative supervisor. 4.Problem considered to be very serious/pattern of problems occurring with supervisor. Following consultation with the PVC, the supervisor will not be permitted to supervise any further students and supervision of ongoing students will be transferred to an alternative supervisor.


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