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2nd May


priority. The thesis itself is often much more than a three-year project; it's the beginning of a much larger intellectual venture that will evolve and change over a lifetime of scholarship.

The committed and critical form of intellectual dialogue that takes place in PhD supervision is among the most rewarding aspects of the intellectual vocation but it can also be mysterious, fragile and risky. Student and supervisor, each in different ways, put their ideas and judgments to the test and open themselves up to critical scrutiny. When the student eventually goes before her examiners in the viva voce she isn't alone, the advice and judgments of her supervisor are also being assessed with her. This is acknowledged by the examiners because they read the thesis not only for the candidate's ideas but also to see if the student has been well advised about form and structure. Examiners might explain or even condone the weaknesses of a thesis because "it wasn't supervised properly" or the student "should never been allowed to submit." As a supervisor you can never really be sure that you are getting it right. Also, the reactions or behaviour of students don't always feel like appreciation. I know that some of the actions of my own supervisor that I hold up as an example to emulate are not quite how she reflects upon them. A few years ago I wrote an article for a newspaper that included a discussion of how difficult and painful it was to read my supervisor's critical comments on the literary shortcomings of early drafts of my

 


thesis. The piece included, what I thought, were some quite nice metaphors - "red pen marks like a form of intellectual blood letting", for example. I sent the piece to Pat expecting the comments to raise a wry smile. When the article arrived through her letterbox she was nearing the end of her career as a supervisor and reflecting on her life as a university teacher. She feared that the article might be evidence of a longstanding grudge and I am ashamed to say I think it hurt her. I mention this as an example of the vulnerabilities at play in the supervisory relationship that are by no means confined to the student. Along the way both students and supervisors will make mistakes. By the same token, they will get many things right, together they will get to the end of the thesis which in many respects is not an end in itself but a beginning. It is the beginning of a scholarly career but it is also a moment to formulate, assess and reproduce the ethics of scholarship itself. The former student will carry what they have learned by example. They might also decide to do things differently as through the course of time they in turn become supervisors.

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