Situating Reflective Commentary in the PHD student – Supervisor Relationship (2014)

Henry Lennon & Laura Kilby

In this talk we introduce and outline the merits of an approach to reflexivity that has been adopted within the PhD process as a means of nurturing the student/supervisor relationship. This approach manifests through the PhD students’ provision of a commentary of supervisory guidance and academic experience which, at the discretion of the student, is made accessible to the supervisor. The commentary, informally named the ‘Living Document’, has developed as an alternative to a more typical form of reflexivity traditionally witnessed in the PhD journey, whereby students are required to present some level of reflexive discourse within the final thesis as a means of demonstrating awareness of their academic growth. The ‘Living Document’ endeavours to circumvent this ‘evidential’ approach and instead seeks to embed reflexivity as a more experiential element of the PhD journey.

The aim of this approach is to create a reflexive space within the PhD journey which is managed and maintained by the student. In this sense, it offers an emancipatory potential for the student, allowing some redress for the unequal relations of power that exist in the institutional norms of the student/supervisor relationship. Moreover, the ‘Living Document’ presents an opportunity to document the development of identity throughout the PhD. A brief exemplar of the ‘Living Document’ will be presented with some points of analytical consideration offered by both the student and supervisor. Both members will also offer insights as to how this approach has thus far provided a mediating role in the student/supervisor relationship.

We will briefly conclude with some best practice considerations for the practical use of such an approach, including emphasis on the importance of deriving a mutual understanding of its aims and use, input on what might be included and subsequently discussed, and a separation between the contents of the ‘living document’ and it’s performance and positioning within the PhD course directly.