The second part of this case study contains extracts from the student’s letter to her supervisor and from the supervisor’s report to the University.
Read the case study, formulating your own recommendations and reviewing others’ suggestions for preventing such a situation. Most workshop participants feel some sympathy for both parties, and everyone is anxious to figure out ways to avoid such a situation or to stop it getting so far out of hand.
You can then compare your own recommendations with those identified by workshop participants who have used this case study.
Case study: From the student’s letter to her supervisor
I was shocked to experience your inclination to line up with the verdict the examiners have made.
…What really disturbs me is not so much that my work has been overlooked, as your acceptance of the examiners’ criticism without questioning its validity. I am surprised that there is nothing you could or can do to prevent such a clear case of injustice.
As you know it is with your approval that I submitted my work. After five years of hard work supervised by an authority in the field, I find it incomprehensible that the work is worth nothing. I do not, of course, mean that your approval should guarantee the total success of my work, but can you sincerely believe that I have no reason to expect that my work is not even worthy of re-submission?
I was shocked to learn outright that I had failed when you yourself, of course at my request, had promised me that you would find out the position of my work before the examiners had made their final decision. Reading through the reports it is quite obvious that most of the confusion the examiners had (which they interpreted as defects in my work) could have been resolved had this been done. Even though this may not be an ‘official practice’ I am aware that there are situations when students are given this opportunity.
Case study: From the supervisor’s report to the University
At the stage when she considered her work ready for submission, I had already gone through it twice, in almost final draft, quite apart from the many readings and criticism of earlier stages. I could not, at that stage, feel that further criticism and aid from me could result in much improvement, and she had been working on it (though I think that she had a good deal less than her whole time to devote to it) for over five years. I made the judgment during the final six months of preparation of her work that in order for it to be submitted within a reasonable period of time, I should attempt no further major criticism or advice and concentrate on helping her attend to details. The examiners point to faults in her English, for example, and it might reasonably be thought that she should not have been allowed to present her thesis in a form which would allow such criticism. I must admit that having already given a great deal of time to detailed literary criticisms of trial sections of her work, I had to leave it up to her to use those sections as a model, and to cope with the rest herself….
With respect to the substantial criticisms of her work, I had, as I have explained, my own reservations about the overall quality of the work but it seemed to me, after a certain stage, that it would be fruitless and, indeed, damaging to confront the candidate with them. This, more that anything, I think, explains her present shock that I did not seriously object to or question the examiners’ reports….
The most serious criticism…is that the thesis is repetitious, contains too few examples and, as I would put it, contains too few points. These are the faults which, as supervisor, I could not see how to correct. The thesis was repetitious just in that it contained too few good points….
Make your recommendations
What can be done to avoid such situations? A good recommendation is always directed to someone specific, not just thrown up in the hope that someone will take responsibility.
A response to the above was
2. Serious milestones – by which I mean milestones that it is possible to fail if the student is not making progress
3. Requirement of asociate supervisors, who are engaged in the process of supervision and whose role is to provide indepdent feedback
4. Close supervision by school head or RHD chair of all students who haven’t submitted within 3-1/2 years