Scenarios - Expectations of Supervisory Relationship

Background information

Jasmine, 23, started her PhD in cultural studies 6 months ago. Prior to this trip, Jasmine had never left her home country before and relied very heavily on her family for support and encouragement with her research aspirations.

Amata, 42, is an independent researcher in Australia. While she has the same cultural background as Jasmine, she has rarely travelled outside Australia and identifies primarily with the Australian way of life. She has 4 other PhD students at various stages through their degrees.

The candidate’s perspective: Jasmine

“When I decided to come to Australia to do my degree I researched potential supervisors very carefully. I decided to approach Amata, because she has the same cultural background as I do, although I understand she has lived in Australia since she was a little girl. I thought choosing Amata was an excellent idea as she would understand my needs and concerns more than any other supervisor could.

Amata hasn’t been as helpful as I expected. I thought I would be treated as part of her extended family, but she keeps quite a distance from me. The other day I had a problem with my research and so I went to her office to ask for her help. She said we had an appointment the following day, so I should wait until then to discuss it. But I needed to discuss it right away, I really needed her to tell what to do next. But she didn’t help at all! She is always saying I need to think for myself and see if I can work out problems for myself. Especially personal ones. Several times I have asked for her help with changing my accommodation, but she just refuses. I don’t mean to criticize, but I also think she has been a bit rude, I thought she would invite me into her home, to meet her family. I feel very isolated here and I think she could help me with this if she were more welcoming towards me.

I approached her because I thought we would have a good understanding of each other but it seems she just wants to treat me like all her other researchers in her department.”

The supervisor’s perspective: Amata

“Jasmine is a very conscientious student, but I feel like she needs to develop more independence as a researcher. She is very connected to her culture, and I think finds it hard to understand why I am not so involved. Jasmine tends to come into my office, sit down and say ‘OK I’m ready to listen’. I keep having to say ‘No, no, no, I’m ready to listen. You talk to me’. I understand that that’s a huge change from her perspective. We share a cultural background and she tends to behave like a typical woman from my original homeland. She really would be a better researcher if she adopted a more independent attitude.

Even small things can make Jasmine feel unsettled. She seemed especially upset when she came to me and, without making an appointment, asked if she could talk to me immediately. We had an appointment scheduled for the following day, but she told me she couldn’t wait. So I thought for a moment whether I should let her talk or advise her to go away and think about the problem. You know, to give her time to find her own solution. So, I decided to go with the second choice. I suggested she go home and analyse her problem and come back to me tomorrow. It was a joint conversation, I asked her come back to me tomorrow and to put the problem as the first item on the agenda for tomorrow.  She looked a bit disappointed, but I don’t think I can let her in and hold her hand and always say ‘Ok, what’s your problem this time?’ I can’t do that for her every time.

I like the fact that we have the same cultural heritage, but I don’t want her to depend on me more than the other candidates. It is in her best interests to learn some autonomy so that she can return home as an independent researcher. Of course, in some cases a candidate’s personal issues can be really critical to their study, then I do my best to listen to them and try to help them as much as I can.”

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