Tuesday, 30 July 2013

MSc supervision

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Although it is now vacation time for the undergraduate students we still have the postgraduate MSc students here working on their dissertations, which means regular supervision duties.

In some cases this is quite straightforward as the students are enthusiastic and well-prepared. But in others the students find the whole thing rather daunting which also makes it hard work for the supervisor. They just don't seem to know how to go about the process of identifying a topic, formulating relevant hypotheses, collecting suitable data and applying appropriate tests. Even producing a literature review seems beyond them. This year two of the four students assigned to me appear to be in this category.

Both are Chinese and I have some sympathy with them. Neither had to write a dissertation or complete any independent research as part of their undergraduate degrees that they did in China. However they have both completed the Research Methods module here at USE which should have given them some idea about how to go about things.

In supervising dissertations it is always difficult to know exactly how much help to give the student. Really our job is to help them achieve their own chosen project, not to do any of the work for them. We have been provided with guidelines concerning how much help we should give and how often we should see them. However it appears that not all supervisors provide the same amount of assistance to students. You do hear students complaining that while some supervisors give very little help (and may not be that easy to get hold of) others are much more generous with their time and advice.

One problem for us supervisors is the students' choice of topic. It can be easier to supervise a student who has chosen a topic with which you are familiar. Unfortunately this can't always be the case, especially as a lot of our students seem to want to work on finance and banking topics and we are not all experts in that area.

So somehow I have to get these students going. My first meetings with them were quite difficult but we have tried to agree a timetable for completing the various stages of the work. Rather than have a clear formulation of the aims and objectives of their work for our next meeting in two week's time I have suggested that they prepare a draft literature review (and given them some guidance about what this will require). With any luck they will then be able to get a clearer idea about what to do in specifying an exact title and getting on with their investigation of it.

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