Scenarios - Supervisor Teams - Roles of Primary and Associate Supervisors

Background information

Malik, 38, was a successful financial manager at home when he decided to come to Australia to start a project with Huang. He was thrilled about the opportunity to work with one of the world’s best academics when it comes to financial management. He is increasingly frustrated by the supervision process he has ended up with, as it involves very little interaction with Huang, and a lot of interaction with Narelle, his associate supervisor.

Huang, 55, has had a glittering academic career and is approached by students and colleagues regularly, all of whom are very keen to work with him. He chooses his students carefully and enjoys playing a mentor type role in overseeing the overall direction of their projects. He always asks Narelle to serve as associate supervisor to look after the day-to-day issues candidates might have.

Narelle, 37, finished her post doctoral studies 5 years ago and since then she has worked as a project coordinator in Huang’s unit. She has enjoyed the role, and has served as an associate supervisor to 5 of Huang’s PhD candidates.

The candidate’s perspective: Malik

“When I first decided to do a masters degree in finance, I spent hours trawling the internet to find the most famous expert in the world to approach as my supervisor. I decided if I was going to travel anywhere in the globe, it should be to work with the best. Huang was clearly the best known person in the area, as he has literally hundreds of publications and is asked to speak at international conferences all over the world. So, I sent Huang a friendly email describing my interests and giving him my resume. He wrote back straight away saying he would love to supervise me.

I got organised and flew over as soon as the paperwork was organised. Since then, though, I haven’t had much to do with Huang and it has been 6 months since I arrived! You know, we had that original meeting where we sat down and just sort of introduced ourselves and discussed our interests. He was very polite and friendly. He brought Narelle with him and suggested she be my associate supervisor, which I agreed to as she was nice enough. Now, apart from a couple of things that Huang’s pointed out, and a few emails, Huang has just been completely unavailable. For starters, he’s only been in the country for half the time as he travels constantly. So, all the contact we do have is via email. We are never physically in the same room to really be able to discuss matters thoroughly. You just can’t have the same level of working relationship electronically. I want to be able to have a real discourse and be able to debate ideas, rather than just get him to proofread my work and make some slight changes to it.

Narelle pops in to my office and emails me all the time, checking on me. She is very nice, but she is not very senior and to be honest, I don’t feel I should have to answer to her.

I gave up a very lucrative career and comfortable home life to be able work with the best academic in the world in my area and Narelle is certainly not that.”

The primary supervisor’s perspective: Huang

“When Malik emailed me I was happy to supervise him. His resume was very good and I took that to mean he was an independent worker. He seemed like the sort of person who would fit in well in our working environment. I have set up quite a good system for looking after my students, whereby I meet them for a first informal discussion and then introduce them to Narelle for all the intensive supervision they need.

Narelle is excellent. She works so hard and I think she has a great future, especially as a supervisor. She has the time to put into helping students with all their issues with settling in, introducing them to other academics, even helping them with practical things like sorting out accommodation and finding resources in the library, ethics clearance, all kinds of things really. I am happy to help with the bigger picture- reading final drafts of manuscripts and answering higher level methodology questions. All my students know that is how I work. They all know when they approach me that I travel constantly.”

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