supervision

A quick guide to what you need to know about honours supervision. YMMV. Confusions, additions, please ask…

Get this Supervisors Guide as a PDF.

Introduction

The honours program accepts applications from anyone who has completed a relevant undergraduate degree. We routinely receive applications, and accept, students from other universities, locally and nationally. The academic entry requirement for our honours program is a distinction average in their final year of study, as competition for places increases this is a minimum distinction average across their degree.

Approximately 35 full time places per year are available.

My view after managing honours for several years is that honours is more intensive than a higher degree because:

  • Students are new to research
  • Time is highly limited (2 x 12 week semesters)
  • The work is externally examined
  • The external examination is not Fail, Pass, Amend (as for HDR) but requires a numerical grade that directly affects their HDR and scholarship opportunities

Honours can be completed by thesis, or project + exegesis. Currently approximately 75% of students choose to do it by project + exegesis, which reflects the applied, industry orientation of our undergraduate programs.

Responsibilities

Students in honours are very (very) strongly discouraged from undertaking work that is not directly related to their undergraduate discipline. This is because honours is an advanced year within a specific discipline or field and not where you change your academic interest. Because of this focus it is more important that a supervisor has disciplinary expertise in the field that the student is working in than content expertise, for instance a journalism student writing literary journalism features about global warming needs an expert on journalism much more than they need an expert on global warming.

Research Question
The research problem or question that frames the individual research project is the responsibility of the supervisor. As supervisor you sign off on the completed work, you nominate examiners as the work is in your field and they are working on things that are relevant to you. If you’re happy with the research question, then that’s that. Time is not spent in honours developing a research question — students are expected to more or less begin with a viable question so that they can begin their research immediately, rather than spending several weeks undertaking preliminary research to see if what they want to research is possible, viable, or relevant. A research question must produce knowledge claims that are contestable, able to evidenced (particularly for project based research — how will the project provide evidence for the question/problem?), are relevant to the discipline, and are answerable. Supervisors are expected to know how to frame a viable honours research question (and of course ask for help if needed), not students.

The research strategies subject helps students to be able to do what they need to do to answer their question, but it does not do the work to create the question.

Supervision Meetings
Supervisors are expected to meet their students a minimum of four times during semester one, and at least weekly during semester two. The program dedicates semester two to the completion of the student’s individual honours research, and so this is when they are expected to work full time on their research. This requires very regular meetings, in particular to read and critique work in progress.

Feedback
A supervisor is a mentor and the candidate is learning how to do research. Continuous constructive feedback is essential for thesis and project + exegesis work. It is much more productive to provide feedback on work done (for you and your students) than to spend time talking about what will be done. Your role is to provide scholarly critique and support primarily about work that has been done, not on what might get done.

Ethics
Honours research is required to comply with the university’s ethics regulations. Therefore if your student’s research project requires ethics approval, then it must be applied for and received. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to sign off on any submitted ethics application. In addition where project work may involve the use of models or actors there is now a standard ethics clearance form that needs to be used, even where an existing form may already be commonly used.

Examination
As the content expert it is the supervisor who nominates examiners for the student’s work. The model of examination in honours is the same as HDR, which means all formal communication about the examination happens between the program manager and the examiner, and not via the supervisor.

Assessment
Supervisors have no assessment responsibilities in honours. There are two assessable tasks students do that produce things supervisors should read. The first is the bibliography they compile from semester one, which will be distributed to supervisors from Research Strategies. In semester two students are expected to submit a draft exegesis or thesis by week 6, which you will also be sent.

Academic Style
Supervisors can define the academic (citation) style to be used for their students, as this is often discipline specific. The default style within honours is MLA.

Writing Style
Honours has no formal requirements in regard to writing style. Work can be in first, second, or third person. It can mix these. It can use personal pronouns. An exegesis (or thesis) does not have to conform to the generic scholarly form of objective third person. There has been very successful honours work that has been written as autoethnographic fictocriticism, reflective scholarly writing that mixes project and exegetical writing into the one document, and theoretical work that is explicitly personal. What is expected is that thesis and exegetical writing makes an academic argument, using appropriate evidence from appropriate sources.

Key Tasks

The following tasks are described in the order in which they usually happen during the honours year (and not in order of importance!).

Agree to Supervise
Students initiate contact with supervisors either through their previous experience within their undergraduate program, by looking at profiles listed on the School web site, or through selecting a defined topic that has been submitted by the supervisor. Generally this is completed within the first three weeks of semester one. A form is completed which is placed on the student file as a record of the supervision. It’s probably useful too as evidence for workload things.

Agreement on Research Topic
Along with agreeing to supervise, a record of the agreed upon research topic/question is also happens by the end of week three, semester one. Where students and supervisors have developed a question together this is what is recorded. The topic will evolve during the course of the year, but confirming the topic at this point orientates and grounds the research for the student so that they have direction.

Ethics
If an ethics application is required, then the student is expected to work through the forms. Support is given within research strategies, though often the discipline specific nature of individual research projects requires input from the supervisor as their experience is paramount. The sooner ethics is completed the better off you, and your student, will be. As ‘principal’ researcher you will need to co-sign the ethics form.

Research Bibliography
During semester one students will compile a research bibliography as part of Research Strategies. This will be shared with you as their supervisor so you know what they’ve been looking at.

Supervision Meetings
A minimum of four meetings are expected in semester one, and weekly during semester two. Students are encouraged to treat the six weeks between semesters as work time, with two weeks ‘off’ somewhere in there.  Students are expected to have an agenda for supervision meetings which the supervisor receives in advance. This makes the time more useful for supervisor and student, particularly as supervisors you are time poor. Honours students spend a lot of time in class discussing their work. They will want to discuss their work with you, but particularly as semester two progresses the most effective strategy for honours is to read and discuss their written and project work.

Progress Report One
A progress report is completed after semester one. This is largely to confirm that research is on track.

Draft Writing
Students receive an assessment reward if they submit a draft of their thesis or exegesis at the end of week 6 in semester two. This draft does not usually include an introduction or conclusion. The draft is for supervisors and is one of the incentives offered to ensure students complete work to a high standard. (A complete poor draft is 100% better than a ‘perfect’ first chapter in terms of completion, the quality of the final work, and progress.)

Progress Report Two
A second progress report is completed mid way through semester two. This is late in the piece, but a significant concern in honours is that the semester is so brief that we need to be able to monitor, and address, concerns immediately. The progress report coincides with the student’s submission of an optional draft of their written work, and this draft is an excellent indicator of progress to date.

Students also complete two progress reports at the same time as their progress reports indicating their judgement about how the supervision is going.

Nomination of Examiners
Supervisors nominate examiners. You are expected to make initial contact to confirm the examiner’s availability and willingness, and if they consent then to provide contact details to the program manager. The examination process in honours is the same as HDR so all communication occurs via the program manager. Examiners usually receive an AUD100 amazon gift voucher as an honorarium.

Final Sign Off
Supervisors sign off on the final work. This indicates the end of supervision, and the form allows for a supervisor to indicate if there are any concerns about the submitted work. At this point there should not be. However, historically there have been cases where a supervisor thinks the work is not good enough for examination and are concerned that nominating examiners and signing off on the work would be regarded as an endorsement of the work. Where a supervisor indicates this concern then, usually, this is not communicated to examiners.

Timeline

TimeLineCropped

Examinations

Honours, while the standard pathway to a higher degree, is for the most part regulated by undergraduate rules and policies. The exception to this is the examination of the research component.

Honours work is examined under HDR procedures. The completed and printed work is due on the Friday of week 13, semester 2, and extensions are not usually given. Three printed copies are submitted, with an electronic copy sent to the program manager. Physical copies are sent to the examiners with a cover letter outlining the program, assessment requirements, and an assessment template. This includes the explicit instruction that if the examiner thinks the student’s work is of sufficient quality to merit being in the running for a PhD scholarship then a grade of 90 or greater is warranted. (This is to make the work competitive for scholarships within the university and to slip past the humanities glass ceiling of 85.) A slightly different template is used for project + exegesis assessment to that used for thesis based research.

Supervisors should not communicate with examiners about the examination outside of making initial contact. At least one examiner must be from outside the School of Media and Communication, though it is common for both to be. Sending work internationally for examination is routine (work has gone to Britain, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Mexico, Spain, New Zealand, and the United States, and to academics in I think all eastern state universities, except ACU and Bond). Examiners can be industry based where this is appropriate for the research.

Examiners are given two weeks to provide their result and report. In the majority of cases we get very useful reports. In a small number of cases the only thing we will get, and then it requires a crowbar, is a numerical score. Reports are distributed to the student and supervisor and a copy kept on file. Examiners can elect for their report to be anonymous. If this is done then in all cases both reports (by logical necessity) will be anonymised. This applies to the student and supervisor copies. If a disparity greater than 15 marks occurs between two examiners then a third examiner is used. Given that this often arises in late November, the third examiner is usually an academic within the School. Examiner’s results are final.

The overall grade for the research component is the average of all examiner’s results.
Honours students receive a degree that is awarded with a specific level of honours. The levels are H1, H2A, H2B and H3. Current policy states that this level is to be determined by the honours committee. Current practice in BH066 is for individual results to be collated and weighted according to their credit point contribution to the degree, and this informs the final grade. A student cannot receive an overall H1 if they did not receive a H1 (80% or higher) in their examination.

The university deadline for final results entry is set to meet schedules for the December graduation ceremony. For students who hope to attend graduation additional effort often needs to be made to get results in on time to meet these deadlines. If a third examiner is required then often the graduation deadlines will be missed and the student cannot attend graduation, in spite of everyone’s best efforts and intent.

What Happens in Honours

In semester one students are enrolled in four subjects, three of which have classes.

Research Strategies
This is for two hours a week and is taught as a single large group. Given the diversity of disciplines and research this is not a survey subject and works on a) developing and embedding skills to manage research (writing, project management, citation, bibliographic searches, etc) and b) learning what sorts of knowledge claims your discipline makes, how they are made, what counts as evidence, and so what sorts of artefacts and practices come to matter.

Media and Communication Futures
This is for three hours per week and is taught as a single large group. This is currently an introduction to critical theory, rather than a communication specific subject. (After two years of it being communication specific it became apparent that many students entering honours have little understanding of critical theory so the subject has evolved to provide this.)

Research Practice One
This is a placeholder subject that students are enrolled in. It has no contact hours and is where we are able to allocate a quarter of their load in semester one to their honours research.

Research Lab One
This is for three hours per week. There are three different labs in honours and students do one of these. Which lab they participate in is based on their research topic/question. The lab themes are collective futures, nonfiction, and media objects.

Collective futures looks to change and various forms of social, political, and activist engagement sits. It commonly has social advocacy research, as well as communications research that is about communicating or enabling change. Nonfiction includes all nonfiction forms, including documentary, writing, journalism, radio, essay writing and a variety of new media forms. Research within this lab generally concentrates on nonfiction practice and the analysis of nonfiction.

The media objects lab looks toward recent media studies themes around ‘new materialism’. This lab is interested in thinking about and critiquing the form and/or function of media institutions or artefacts.

In semester one the labs are orientated more toward content. Lab leaders are active researchers in their lab’s theme and their role in semester one is to develop everyone’s understanding of key issues (theorists, works, ideas). This understanding helps individual research projects as it provides more context and ’thicker’ theoretical material for each student.

Semester Two
In semester two students continue the lab they started in semester one (Research Laboratory Two), which is now a 24 credit point subject. They are also enrolled in Research Practice Two, which is a 24 credit point subject that has no scheduled classes and is dedicated to their individual research. Labs in semester two are dedicated to working on student’s honours research.

Labs and Supervision
Sometimes supervisors are confused about the relation of the lab, particularly in semester two, and supervision.The labs provide content expertise but are not intended to provide disciplinary expertise. This is the role of the supervisor. For example a journalism student may be working on a project to rethink journalism as an industrial practice in the the face of social media. The lab leader is not expected to be an academic expert about journalism — they are expected to be an expert about enabling and theorising engaged change, and this is the content and discussion that would be expected to happen in the lab. The disciplinary expertise, how, why, in what ways, this is journalism research, lies with the supervisor who would be expected to be a journalism academic.

Supervisors trump labs. The supervisor signs off on the completed research, they have the disciplinary knowledge from their field that matters, and are working directly with the student on their topic. The lab supports this, and while there may often be specific feedback from staff and other students within the labs, this should be treated as feedback.

What the Program Manages

The only administrative role for a supervisor is the supervision of individual students and completing the necessary forms. All other administration occurs at the program level. There is no assessment, teaching, or program administration work undertaken by supervisors.

Student Records
Most correspondence is kept on the student’s file, this includes email. The various forms that honours uses, and the examination reports, are all kept on each student’s file.

Examinations
The program manager contacts all examiners to confirm their availability, distributes all work for examination, and collates results. The program manager oversees the distribution of reports to students and supervisors once the examination is complete.
Recording of Results
All results, including examination outcomes, are recorded by the program manager.

Archiving of Research
The program manager archives honours research online via the main (unofficial) honours website.

Student Management
Staff Student Consultative Committee, enrolment, administration of extensions, Leave of Absence requests, and Disability Liaison Unit matters are all done through the program manager.

Peer Support
Honours has an embedded model of peer support. This is primarily through the year long research lab, where particularly in semester two work is shared and critiqued by peers weekly. It is also developed through the development of study and writing groups within honours. The framework for this sort of collaborative support is developed and modelled in the labs and Research Strategies during semester one.

Honours Research Day
The program holds an all of program research retreat at the end of semester one where every student presents work in progress and all other students provide feedback, with teaching staff. This is usually held off campus.

Publication Design
All honours theses and exegeses are expected to be printed and designed to a high standard. This is supported through inDesign templates for honours students to use, with additional workshops held in semester two as necessary to teach students how to use them. Students fund these costs themselves, and we are able to print work to the standard expected on budgets that range from $0 to a rather foolish historical high of $1500.

HDR Applications
Workshops are held late in semester two for all students interested in applying for a HDR place. These are done as the HDR closing date coincides with the honours research due date, and students tend to let applications slip as they concentrate on completing their research. The workshops concentrate on developing their research question, writing the justification for their alignment to the school, and where necessary finding a supervisor.

Forms

Supervisor Registration
You, your student, the working topic,. This formalises you as supervisor and so is handy for workload stuff. It goes on the student file.
Supervisor Registration Google Form

Progress Report One
That you’re OK (or not) with work done to date. This is of course premised on you having met with the student often enough during semester one to know where they are up to. It goes on the student file.
Progress Report One Google Form

Progress Report Two
This coincides with the draft writing and indicates how you believe the student is progressing. As semester two is where most of the individual research in honours is situated, and it is only 12 weeks, any concerns about progress need to signalled immediately. It goes on the student file.
Progress Report Two Google Form

Examiner Nomination
Supervisors make initial contact with examiners, and then once you have their agreement their details are recorded on this so that they can be formally contacted, and we have their details to be able to send the work to them. It goes on the student file.
Examiner Nomination Google Form

Submission Form
Supervisors sign off on the finished work. This can be before, or after, the work has gone to the printers. This is a way to indicate the end of supervision, and indicates that you think the work is finished. This form does allow for a supervisor to indicate if they have any concerns about the work, prior to its examination. These concerns are not communicated to the examiners. It is possible that these concerns may lead to the work not being submitted for examination.
Final Submission of Research Google Form