Supervising Practice-led Postgraduate Projects

A selection of resources for academics who are supervising practice-led postgraduate student projects in the creative industries.

Headline for Postgraduate Supervision and Creative Practice Research
Digital Dissertations in an Increasingly Welcoming Landscape

This audio+slides presentation describes my recent, uniquely non-monograph digital humanities dissertation, which consisted of design, code, blogging, user-testing, and a whitepaper written during just the final month before the defense, without accompanying written chapters of proto-monograph. See below the video for a transcript.

The Advising Project

The Advising Project is an in-depth initiative focused on improving the advising experience of master’s and PhD students at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. The Project is designed to support effective advising relationships that allow our diverse community of graduate students to flourish as scholars and develop as professionals in their chosen fields.

No laughing matter: Ethics and human research in the arts

Evans, S. (2007, November 21–23). No laughing matter: Ethics and human research in the arts. Paper presented at a meeting of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, University of Canberra, Canberra.

How does ethics screening affect research in writing programs? The Social and Behavioural Research Ethics Committee (SBREC) at my university has recently been dealing with an increasing number of applications regarding projects based around the writing of life stories. While there are necessarily sensitivities about the feelings and rights of the human subjects, an insistence on ethical screening is sometimes seen as antagonistic to research in the creative arts. I have previously considered the way in which creative writing programs deal with the emerging ethical 'intrusion' in activities that, hitherto, had been regarded as requiring only an informal code of conduct (NHMRC Ethics in Human Research Conference 2005).

This paper updates that earlier work, including a review both of U.S. ethical guidelines for conducting oral history interviews and the events this year at QUT regarding a controversial documentary film project on disabled people. It points to some future actions that could address the emerging situation as it concerns research in life writing.

Enhancing Student Wellbeing for Learning

Welcome to Enhancing Student Wellbeing – a suite of resources to assist university educators to develop policies, curriculum and teaching and learning environments that better support student mental health. The growing prevalence and severity of mental health difficulties across student populations in higher education is an issue of significant concern for universities. This project supports sector-wide conversations, a whole-of-institution approach and pedagogical innovations that promote mental health and wellbeing, enabling all students to realise their academic potential.

Effective supervision of creative practice PhDs

Effective supervision of creative practice higher research degrees was a collaborative project involving Queensland University of Technology (Lead), The University of Melbourne, Auckland University of Technology, University of New South Wales and University of Western Sydney. An Office for Learning and Teaching: Leadership for Excellence Program project, its goal was to develop an understanding of supervision practices in the emergent field of ‘creative practice’, ‘practice-led’ and ‘practice-based’ higher degrees by research (HDRs) in disciplines such as visual arts, performing arts, music and sound, design, creative writing, film and new media.

Identifying, developing and disseminating best practice in supporting honours and coursework dissertation supervision...

There is a paucity of material available to support supervisors of honours and coursework dissertation students in Australian universities. Most universities provide policy and procedural documents relating to undergraduate, honours and master’s dissertation supervision, but limited information is provided on the practice of supervision. Previous research suggests a mismatch between supervisor and student expectations of the supervisory relationship and uncertainties surrounding good supervisory practice.

In 2013 Associate Professor Lynne Roberts at Curtin University was granted an Office for Learning and Teaching National Teaching Fellowship to identify, develop and disseminate best practice in supporting honours and coursework dissertation supervision. Lynne interviewed new supervisors, students and dissertation coordinators to identify common supervisory issues and perceptions of what 'good' supervision entailed. Workshops with experienced supervisors identified best practices for dealing with issues surrounding supervision. On this website you will find a range of material resulting from this project:

  • Guide for New Supervisors
  • Information and tools for dealing with supervisory issues
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Information on related projects
Research Supervision - Modes of Teaching - Toolkit for Learning and Teaching - LeTS - The University of Sheffield

Research projects introduce students to the rewards and problems of undertaking research, help them to develop critical thinking skills and lay the groundwork for further study. Due to the particular nature of instruction and guidance, research supervision can be considered a unique form of teaching ─ one that requires personalising your teaching approach to the individual student.

Whether supervising research at the undergraduate or postgraduate level, you are supporting students on their path to independent study. No matter the level, research supervision requires a commitment of time and energy. In your capacity as supervisor, you are aiming to: provide support and guidance to ensure the project is manageable with appropriate research question and methods; help students with time management and ensure realistic timescales; make students aware of intermediate and final deadlines; ensure that students get the most out of their project and have all the resources that they need.

Supervising Practice: Perspectives on the supervision of creative practice higher degrees by research

Because the traditional conventions of supervision are ill-suited to the diverse contexts, mediums and outputs of creative practice; because of the rapid growth in enrolments and pressures on supervision load; and because of a lack of sector-wide consensus, postgraduate supervision in the creative arts and design is particularly complex. Thus, supervisors have to be flexible, innovative, and able to solve new and often unanticipated challenges in what remains an emergent, contested and highly differentiated field.

Yet, until now, few collections have brought together a range of perspectives on the supervision of creative practice HDR. To enable capacity building of leadership in research education for supervisors and schools, it is time to consider the subject from the perspective of a spectrum of stakeholders—supervisors, administrators, examiners and allied HDR support services, as well as researchers who have captured the experiences of supervisors. This special issue of ACCESS brings together such a range of insights into supervising creative practice PhDs.

The (research) supervisor's friend

The authors’ lived experience of devising a professional development programme for research supervisors and securing SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association) accreditation informs this paper. Our first purpose is to outline the programme and discuss its uniqueness in using a community of practice model (Wenger, 1998) in conjunction with practitioner inquiry (Stenhouse, 1981) for developmental and for assessment processes simultaneously. The second purpose is to discuss the challenges and benefits in securing SEDA accreditation for the programme, and how we managed to do this whilst retaining the richness of the conversations that colleagues find rewarding and useful. In sharing our model, we aim to encourage others to think about how dialogic and community of practice approaches might be embedded in professional development and accreditation opportunities in their own institutions.

Illuminating the Exegesis

The 'creative thesis' model has become well established within Research Higher Degrees in a range of creative disciplines. This thesis model, of creative work plus written exegesis, emerged against a background of debate and contestation regarding art and research. Tensions between ideas of 'art as research' and 'art as professional practice' gave rise to a range of debates regarding the status of art practice as research, the recognition of art practice as publication equivalent, and even the appropriateness of Research Higher Degrees in the creative disciplines. These debates ran during the 1990s, and in some areas are still being debated.

Raising Creativity - FULL DOCUMENTARY

How can we nurture creativity in education? The Raising Creativity documentary project answers the why, who, how, what, and now what about creativity in education respectively (i.e., why is this topic important, who has spoken/written on this topic already, how will this issue be investigated this time, what was observed during the inquiry, and now what will this mean going forward?). Tweet, post, comment, and share!

Raising Creativity is a 5 part documentary-style YouTube video series produced in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Rebecca Zak's PhD in Educational Studies.

Supervising Practices for Postgraduate Research in Art Architecture and Design.pdf

Supervising Practices for Postgraduate Research in Art, Architecture and Design offers insights into supervisory practices in creative and design-based research by academics at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, Australia. The book focuses on practices of supervising candidates who are undertaking postgraduate research in art, architecture, design and creative writing. It addresses a decisive shift in the academy towards an emphasis on applied practice-led research undertaken through project-based investigations. This model articulates an effective means to conduct research on knowledge both embodied in, and discovered through creative and design practices. Such knowledge can be understood in the context of broad socio-cultural changes in which creative and applied practice is defining and leading cultural, scientific, technological and creative economies. The contributors to this book investigate a range of supervisory strategies and wider concerns to do with knowledge and its formations. They focus on diverse pedagogical models and methodologies of supervising practices through applied practice-led research, exhibitions, ethics, writing, theory and practice, language and design. The authors are experienced supervisors of creative and practice-led research who have engaged in scholarly reflections on selective aspects of their supervisory practices with the aim of providing insight to others regarding what they do, and how and why they do it. The overall aim of this collection is to open up dialogue and debate around emerging modes of postgraduate research and supervisory practice in universities of the twenty-first century. This is a very astute and valuable contribution to the literature on supervision in the applied arena with a series of excellent discussions on creative practice-based research, pedagogical practices of supervision, creative writing and the creative work in process, ‘generative praxis’, distance supervision, doctoral exhibitions, supervision of designers, and a range of related issues and concerns. ‘It is a path-breaking, path-finding book that will be of great assistance to all kinds of professionals and students across a wide range of disciplines and with important lessons for all doctoral supervision. It is an exciting and accessible book and a great achievement for a group of colleagues in a leading institution.’ Michael A. Peters Emeritus Professor, University

A connective model for the practice-led research exegesis: An analysis of content and structure

Since the formal recognition of practice-led research in the 1990s, many higher research degree candidates in art, design and media have submitted creative works along with an accompanying written document or exegesis for examination. Various models for the exegesis have been proposed in university guidelines and academic texts during the past decade, and students and supervisors have experimented with its contents and structure. With a substantial number of exegeses submitted and archived, it has now become possible to move beyond proposition to empirical analysis. In this article we present the findings of a content analysis of a large, local sample of submitted exegeses. We identify the emergence of a persistent pattern in the types of content included as well as overall structure. Besides an introduction and conclusion, this pattern includes three main parts, which can be summarized as situating concepts (conceptual definitions and theories); precedents of practice (traditions and exemplars in the field); and researcher's creative practice (the creative process, the artifacts produced and their value as research). We argue that this model combines earlier approaches to the exegesis, which oscillated between academic objectivity, by providing a contextual framework for the practice, and personal reflexivity, by providing commentary on the creative practice. But this model is more than simply a hybrid: it provides a dual orientation, which allows the researcher to both situate their creative practice within a trajectory of research and do justice to its personally invested poetics. By performing the important function of connecting the practice and creative work to a wider emergent field, the model helps to support claims for a research contribution to the field. We call it a connective model of exegesis.

Illuminating the Exegesis

TEXT Special Issue No 3 April 2004, Journal of the Australian Association of Writing Programs, edited by Julie Fletcher and Allan Mann.

Jeri Kroll
The Exegesis and the Gentle Reader/Writer

Nike Bourke and Philip Nielsen
The Problem of the Exegesis in Creative Writing Higher Degrees

Estelle Barrett
What Does it Meme? The Exegesis as Valorisation and Validation of Creative Arts Research

Barbara Bolt
The Exegesis and the Shock of the New

Donna Lee Brien
The Problem of Where to Start: A Foundation Question for Creative Writing Higher Degree Candidates and Supervisors

Barbara Milech and Ann Schilo
'Exit Jesus': Relating the Exegesis and the Creative/Production Components of a Research Thesis

Robert Nelson
Doctoralness in the Balance: The Agonies of Scholarly Writing in Studio Research Degrees

Exegesis - The Debate in TEXT
Papers published in previous issues of TEXT

the (research) supervisor's friend

I work at a university helping university academics who are supervising research students. I am a research supervisor myself. This blog is intended to share some of the experiences I have as a research supervisor to encourage other supervisors to share their practice. In my work helping research supervisors I have learned that most people come into this particular academic practice strongly influenced by the ways in which they were supervised. Sometimes it involves adopting what you have observed from your own research supervisor and at other times you are adamant that you will supervise very differently from the ways in which you were supervised.

I have developed my own framework for investigating research supervision. The theory behind this framework is documented in a chapter from a book edited by Kumar, V & Lee, A Connecting the Local, Regional and International in Doctoral Education, Serdang, Universiti Putra Malaysia Press.


fIRST provides access to a range of resources that help supervisors improve the quality of their postgraduate research education.

The Supervision Whisperers

The Supervision Whisperers is dedicated to the topic of supervising a thesis. Like many great ideas, this blog grew from a conversation among fellow academics over dinner – with margaritas! We agreed that there needed to be a space online to discuss the highs, lows and challenges of supervising higher degree by research students (PhD, Professional Doctorate and Masters by Research/MPhil).

We built this space to share, reflect on and help improve research supervision practice around the world. For those beginning their supervision practice, this blog provides some insight into life on the other side and an opportunity to share what you have learned. Together we’ll explore how best to supervise students through their own exciting, often unpredictable, research journey.

The Supervision Whisperers is co-edited by Dr Inger Mewburn, founder of The Thesis Whisperer and Director of Research Training at the Australian National University and Dr Evonne Miller, Director of QUT Design Lab, Creative Industries at Queensland University of Technology.

Content, structure and orientations of the practice-led exegesis

The emergent field of practice-led research is a unique research paradigm that situates creative practice as both a driver and outcome of the research process. The exegesis that accompanies the creative practice in higher research degrees remains open to experimentation and discussion around what content should be included, how it should be structured, and its orientations. This paper contributes to this discussion by reporting on a content analysis of a large, local sample of exegeses. We have observed a broad pattern in contents and structure within this sample. Besides the introduction and conclusion, it has three main parts: situating concepts (conceptual definitions and theories), practical contexts (precedents in related practices), and new creations (the creative process, the artifacts produced and their value as research). This model appears to combine earlier approaches to the exegesis, which oscillated between academic objectivity in providing a context for the practice and personal reflection or commentary upon the creative practice. We argue that this hybrid or connective model assumes both orientations and so allows the researcher to effectively frame the practice as a research contribution to a wider field while doing justice to its invested poetics.

How does ethics screening affect research in writing programs? The Social and Behavioural Research Ethics Committee (SBREC) at my university has recently been dealing with an increasing number of applications regarding projects based around the writing of life stories. While there are necessarily sensitivities about the feelings and rights of the human subjects, an insistence on ethical screening is sometimes seen as antagonistic to research in the creative arts. I have previously considered the way in which creative writing programs deal with the emerging ethical 'intrusion' in activities that, hitherto, had been regarded as requiring only an informal code of conduct (NHMRC Ethics in Human Research Conference 2005).

This paper updates that earlier work, including a review both of U.S. ethical guidelines for conducting oral history interviews and the events this year at QUT regarding a controversial documentary film project on disabled people. It points to some future actions that could address the emerging situation as it concerns research in life writing.

The Effective and the Evocative: Practice-led Research Approaches Across Art and Design

We find ourselves at an interesting intersection. As supervisors of practice-led research higher degree students in both art and design, we find ourselves consciously using different vocabularies when we teach our postgraduate students research methods. We encounter stark differences in project designs and we find ourselves switching hats as we alternate between draft exegeses and consider, for example, the poetic goals of an installation artist one day and the pragmatic aims of an interaction designer the next.

Hamilton, Jillian G. and Jaaniste, Luke O. (2009) The effective and the
evocative : reflecting on practice-led research approaches in art and design
. In: Interventions in the Public Domain, 30 September - 2 October 2009, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland.

Speaking of Supervision: A dialogic approach to building higher degree research supervision capacity in the creative ...

In the emergent field of creative practice higher degrees by research, first generation supervisors have developed new models of supervision for an unprecedented form of research, which combines creative practice and a written thesis. In a national research project, entitled ‘Effective supervision of creative practice higher research degrees’, we set out to capture and share early supervisors’ insights, strategies and approaches to supporting their creative practice PhD students. From the insights we gained during the early interview process, we expanded our research methods in line with a distributed leadership model and developed a dialogic framework. This led us to unanticipated conclusions and unexpected recommendations. In this study, we primarily draw on philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogics to explain how giving precedence to the voices of supervisors not only facilitated the articulation of dispersed tacit knowledge, but also led to other discoveries. These include the nature of supervisors’ resistance to prescribed models, policies and central academic development programmes; the importance of polyvocality and responsive dialogue in enabling continued innovation in the field; the benefits to supervisors of reflecting, discussing and sharing practices with colleagues; and the value of distributed leadership and dialogue to academic development and supervision capacity building in research education.

Writing the Practice/Practise the Writing: Writing challenges and pedagogies for creative practice supervisors and re...

There is now an increasing body of knowledge on creative practice-based doctorates especially in Australia and the United Kingdom. A particular focus in recent years has been on the written examinable component or exegesis, and a number of studies have provided important information about change and stability in the form and nature of the exegesis and its relationship to the creative project. However, we still know relatively little about the pedagogical practices that supervisors use to support these students’ development as scholarly writers, nor of how supervisors view ‘writing’ in relation to the creative practice components of the degree endeavour. This paper draws on data from a recent study of supervision in creative practice higher research degrees and it highlights the transformative nature of writing for the development of creative practice research scholars in the context of competing discourses on research writing. In contrast to institutional silencing of writing, the study relates numerous examples of effective writing-rich supervisory pedagogies illustrating how successful supervisors work with their students to bring their creative projects into articulation.

12 Principles for the Effective Supervision of Creative Practice Higher Research Degrees

In late 2012 and early 2013 we interviewed 25 experienced and early career supervisors of creative practice higher research degrees. This journey spanned five universities and a broad range of disciplines including visual art, music, performing art, new media, creative writing, fashion, graphic design, interaction design and interior
design. Some of the supervisors we interviewed were amongst the first to complete and supervise practice-led and practice-based PhDs; some have advocated for and defined this emergent field; and some belong to the next generation of supervisors who have confidently embarked on this exciting and challenging path.

Their reflections have brought to light many insights gained over the past decade. Here we have drawn together common themes into a collection of principles and best practice examples. We present them as advice rather than rules, as one thing that the supervisors were unanimous about is the need to avoid proscriptive models and frameworks, and to foster creativity and innovation in what is still an emergent field of postgraduate supervision.

Postgrad [R]evolution: Supervision

The research investigation must come from the practice. My supervisory approach necessitates an understanding of the artist’s creative process. This involves: (1) observing the idiosyncrasies of the candidate’s artistic practice; (2) identifying the salient features of that practice; (3) identifying hidden strengths, patterns and weaknesses; (4) addressing any technical issues that may be causing a hindrance; (5) problem solving by reviewing the candidate’s previous work, discussing other artists’ works, or developing a familiarity with existing works relevant to the enquiry. For some people these indicators are not necessary to research supervision. I consider all to be important. They lay the foundations for a viable research investigation and methodology. Sometimes, the candidate is totally aware of their practice and area of research investigation. While this makes the early stages of a PhD journey relatively easy, the representation of the work as a research enquiry still demands a lot of input and interrogation.