University of Sussex
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Labour of love: emotions and identities in doctoral supervision

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posted on 2023-06-08, 13:52 authored by Jannie Roed
Nature and scope of enquiry This thesis explores how emotional dimensions of supervising doctoral students are accommodated in supervisory identities. It aims to answer two key questions: What is the nature of the emotional labour involved in doctoral supervision? To what extent does an acknowledgement of emotional labour in the supervisory process have implications for the academic development of doctoral supervisors? The conceptual framework for the study is developed from Woods’ (2010) definition of emotions as physical responses to situations involving an element of risk to self, Butler’s (2005) notion of accounting for oneself, and Archer’s (1995; 2000; 2003; 2012) model of identity formation based on the ability of human beings to reflect on their social situation through internal conversations. Archer states that identities are formed through the way we monitor, prioritise and accommodate our concerns about our social reality. It is on the basis of this priority of concerns that we embark on our life-projects and it is these concerns that shape our behaviour and actions. It is believed that all humans strive towards a modus vivendi which Archer defines as a set of practices which at the same time respects what is unavoidable and privileges what matters most to the person concerned (Archer 2003: 149). In this study I apply Archer’s theory to doctoral supervision by viewing the supervisory process as a project and exploring the nature of the emotional labour involved in this project. Based on interviews with doctoral supervisors, I identify three supervisory identities from Archer’s typology of reflexivity – the autonomous reflexive supervisor, the meta-reflexive supervisor and the communicative reflexive supervisor. These identities are constructed around the ways in which individual supervisors accommodate emotional labour in their practice. The thesis goes on to consider appropriate ways of supporting academics in dealing with emotional dimensions of doctoral supervision. Contribution to knowledge and practice This thesis makes a contribution to knowledge in two ways. First, it identifies the nature of the emotional labour that is invested in supervising doctoral students, and by doing so adds empirical evidence to the small number of studies that exist in the field. Second, it develops a conceptual framework that includes emotional dimensions and accounting for one’s own practice. This framework can be applied as a theoretical foundation for discussing supervisory practice in an academic development context. The study contributes to practice within the context of academic development. Conventional academic development for doctoral supervisors focuses on procedural and managerial aspects of the supervisory process. This study proposes addressing emotional dimensions as well in such development. Method The thesis is based on interviews with fourteen supervisors from five universities – three post-92 and two pre-92 institutions. Between them they represent eleven disciplines, three from the social sciences, six from the sciences and five from arts and humanities. All interviews were transcribed and analysed through close reading and thematic analysis. Principal arguments in this thesis are that: emotional labour is a key feature of doctoral supervision emotional dimensions of doctoral supervision should be included in academic development for doctoral supervisors timely completion is increasingly becoming a performance indicator for supervisors, and a need may arise for structures to be set in place to provide better support for academics, in particular, in the early stages of their supervisory practice Conclusions The findings suggest that the doctoral supervisors interviewed in this study invest considerable effort in managing emotions – their own, those of their students and those of their colleagues - as part of the supervisory process. Three supervisory identities can be mapped against Archer’s typology according to how doctoral supervisors accommodate and manage these emotions in order to achieve a modus vivendi. The thesis concludes that acknowledging, articulating and addressing emotional dimensions of doctoral supervision should be included as part of the academic development offered to staff planning to supervise doctoral projects.


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