n South African Journal of Higher Education - Managing the student-supervisor relationship for successful postgraduate supervision : a sociological perspective

Volume 21, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



Supervision is an intensive, interpersonally focused one-to-one relationship between the supervisor and the student. In this process, the supervisor is designated to facilitate the student's academic development. This article will address supervision as a complex process that is influenced by many factors, including the social setting, the personalities of the supervisor and the student, the relationship that develops between them, the expertise of the supervisor, and so on. Patterns of thinking that have influenced supervision will be discussed, while an interactionist framework to project possible strategies concerning the importance of relationship skills in supervision will be highlighted. The article's thrust will be to highlight the social nature of the interaction between supervisor and student. This entails recognizing that as a social process, interaction is as much subject to limits imposed by the structural parameters within which supervision occurs as it, in turn, shapes them. In other words, whilst the interaction between supervisor and student allows a considerable degree of free expression, it is enacted within a wider context of institutional power which itself is continuously modified by that interaction. These arguments are based on the findings from a study that I carried out in the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance of Africa University in July 2006. A qualitative research design was employed to establish how to manage the student-supervisor relationship for successful post-graduate supervision. The study revealed that supervision is a complex social encounter which involves two or more parties with both converging and diverging interests. Therefore, balancing these interests is very crucial to the successful supervision of post-graduate research projects.

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