Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wouldn't it be nice?

In the online grad student support group I belong to, we post each day to detail the goals we set for ourselves, whether or not we achieve them, and to discuss other research-related struggles and questions. We comment on each others' posts, sometimes just with brief encouraging comments; other times with more detailed advice, helpful links or suggestions for new ways to approach our problems.

And I've been thinking lately about how awesome it would be if supervision followed this same model.

Imagine if you posted every day to a blog chronicling what you had been working on, what you were struggling with, and what you wanted to work on next. And your advisor could comment to encourage you, make suggestions or point you in the right direction when you were getting lost. If you had to post at least once daily, that would be huge motivation for working on your thesis every day.

Then, if your supervisor had to comment on every post, that would force them to be more supportive, remember who you are, and they would also have a much clearer idea of what you were going through with your research (especially how much of your work each day did not lead to productive results, so that they wouldn't give you That Look when you had only a few pages of new work to present at a face-to-face meeting).

Hah, better yet, imagine if your supervisor had to be equally accountable with posts about his/her own research! The best discussions I've had with my supervisor have been when she has admitted she is struggling with something in the book she is writing, and I've been able to use that as a jumping off point for talking about problems with my dissertation.

Now you might argue that this would be too time-intensive for supervisors. But this strategy could replace face-to-face meetings almost entirely, so that you'd only really have to get together to discuss draft chapters, and (be honest here) how often do you have one of those? The few minutes a day that it took for your supervisor to read your post and comment wouldn't add up to more than the one hour per week that supervisors are expected (at our university at least) to be available to their students for meetings.

And an unexpected bonus: if you have the sort of scary supervisor who is likely to be unsupportive and make mean comments, you'd have them in writing to show people if you needed to make a formal complaint.

Well I think it would be an improvement anyway. Online interactions are so much less difficult than real life conversations.

Is it obvious I have a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow?

9 Comments:

Anastasia said...

This is a freaking brilliant idea! I mean that honestly. It's a great way to keep on top of what's going on day to day. It wouldn't replace having a place where you could bitch about your advisor, but it would definitely serve a purpose.

I wonder if it would it backfire if a supervisor/advisor had all of her students join a group blog? Then she could keep up with all of them at once and watch them interact, therefore learning something about them. It might cut down on hallway posturing if everyone were semi-publicly accountable for what they're working on and have to admit that they sometimes have a bad day.

Either way, I love this idea as a way of keeping up with students. And not only because I have a meeting with my advisor next week that I'd just about rather die than show up to...

turtlebella said...

I think this is a great idea. It would only take the advisor/supervisor a couple of minutes a day. And if they read on there something that gave them pause or started to freak them out, they could request a face-to-face meeting with you. So much better!!!! And it would be helluv motivating to have to write what you did every day. I had a pretty flexible advisor in that she was willing to meet almost any time I wanted to and wasn't scary at all. Thank god! I never would've gotten through grad school. But I knew plenty of people whose advisors were NOT like that at all. Always horrified me to see advisors who really thought that leaving their grad students to sink or swim was a grand idea. Hello, you are an "advisor" not some random other scholar that happens to be in the same department!!!

Good luck with you meeting today! Since meeting with advisor anxiety is what brought this all on...

sheepish said...

I kinda thought that most advisors did this - not in a blog, but IRL. My advisor would make his rounds at the end of each day before going home to see how everyone was doing and to see what progress and problems had arisen that day. Of course, "end of each day" could be 6-7pm, so one would be totally busted for leaving "early". I'm pretty sure it was planned that way.

Lucy said...

Wow. That is a great idea. You guys are sadly not scary enough to make me do any work, but if my advisor were actually checking up on me, I might be motivated. That, or I'd just completely freak out...

StyleyGeek said...

Sheepish, your advisor sounds awesome.

Mine wanders around at 3:30 or so each day, but she's looking for people to talk to about HER research, or people to go for coffee with her. So not really a checking-up thing.

I thought about the group blog idea, Anastasia, but wondered if it might lead to intense competition between the students to be the one who sounded most productive and hard-working, which would mean that the struggling ones wouldn't want to admit to their problems.

Anastasia said...

yah, I had the same misgiving...it might very well lead to lying and competition and ugliness. it would only work if you had the right students and you couldn't count on that.

not everyone is as great a group as we are :)

even as an individual thing, I think it's a great idea. My advisor is perpetually annoyed that he doesn't know what's going on with me. I half think he's waiting for me to drop in on him in his office or something. I don't know. This would define everything, clarify everything, and make it really easy to keep up.

Psycgirl said...

I have to echo everyone else's comments: genius! I would love my advisor to do this

Weekend_Viking said...

Some form of this would be a great idea (seeing as I used to have a chat with my advisors about once every six months, between which they generally ignored me.). But it could become very competitive. During my honours year, as we were all in the same set of cubicle farms and in constant contact, (the early nineties equivalent of a group blog, really) the competition was stupidly intense, leading to honours projects ballooning out to 150 pages as we competed with each other to produce more work. (I managed to limit mine to 75 pages, but only by ignoring people.) Some people essentially produced masters theses in less than six months.

StyleyGeek said...

W.V. -- if it leads to more impressive, higher-quality projects being completed in a short time, I find it hard to see how that's a bad thing :)