The Supervision of Undergraduate Research Students: Expectations of Student and Supervisor

Susan Jamieson, Craig Gray


There exists a considerable literature on the supervision of postgraduate research students and on problems arising from conflict in the student/supervisor relationship, but relatively little is known about the supervision of undergraduate research students. This study aimed to survey student and supervisor expectations of undergraduate research supervision and to determine the degree of mismatch between these, if any.

The quantitative aspect of the study used a modification of Student Perceptions Of Research Supervision (SPORS), a research tool developed by the University of Western Australia, to survey a group of undergraduate medical students undertaking an intercalated science degree, and their supervisors. A focus group of students who participated in the survey subsequently provided insight into their expectations prior to and during the undergraduate research project; also, some reflection on the value of SPORS and on mediated discussion of disparity in student/supervisor expectations.

The modified SPORS tool (GM-SPORS) identified aspects of supervision accorded high and low priority by students and data from the focus group was consistent with this. GM-SPORS showed that, collectively, expectations of students and supervisors were fairly well-matched. This tool was also able to identify potentially mismatched student/supervisor pairs, in which conflict might arise. Nevertheless, most student respondents would not have wished to discuss their expectations with their supervisors: focus group participants suggested this might be due to, e.g., fear or discomfort. Nonetheless, GM-SPORS may have value if used at the outset of the research project, when it could provide a mechanism for airing student and supervisor expectations.

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