- Postgraduate researchers
- Premia- resources for disabled researchers
- Practicalities of completing a doctorate
- At the start
- Starting supervision
- Case studies
The following two case studies detail the experiences of two researchers as they discussed the barriers they faced in the supervision process:
Case study 1 - Josh
Josh starts a PhD and goes to see his supervisor for the first time. Josh has tendonitis which radically affects his writing. In fact, most of the time, he cannot write by hand. When he is able to grip a pen, intensive writing causes pain and disrupts his concentration.
At the first meeting Josh wonders if he should mention to his supervisor the problems that note-taking in supervision meetings will pose for him. He decides that he will refer to it in passing. But he worries that his supervisors will think he is a nuisance.
When Josh met his supervisor for the first time, he mentioned that he would be unable to take notes during supervision meetings. His main supervisor said, ‘OK.' No notes have been taken during any subsequent supervision sessions. The researcher relies on his memory of the discussions and the agreed actions.
He is aware that he misses out crucial detail because it is impossible to remember all the nuances of the discussions or recapture the creativity of the exchange of ideas. He has not used any alternative, like taping the meetings. Nor has any alternative been suggested. As he says, it seems to be too late to ask for adjustments a few years into his doctorate.
Case study 2- Heidi
Heidi is dyslexic and, for her, taking notes during supervision is a non-starter. She will find it very difficult to listen, process information and ideas and condense the discussion into useful, legible notes.
She decides to be upfront and talk through the issues with her supervisor from the outset. The prospect of disclosing this particular barrier makes Heidi nervous as she does not want her supervisor to think that she is incapable of writing.
Heidi decided to be very open about how difficult note-taking would be during the meetings. Her supervisor offered to be the scribe and asked what form Heidi would like the notes to be in.
It led to a more detailed discussion of her requirements and a request to Heidi that she inform both supervisors if they were overlooking the difficulties which intensive reading, planning and organising, managing fieldwork and writing the thesis would present.
These two researchers had very different outcomes from their early meetings. Both continued with their doctorates successfully, but expressed very different feelings about the support they had received. The key contrast between those early meetings is that one supervisor made reasonable adjustments to their practice - taking notes on behalf of Heidi - but the other did not pick up on the issue at all.
While it is the university's responsibility to anticipate your requirements and provide reasonable adjustments, not all staff will have adequate knowledge to recommend appropriate adjustments for you. You may need to explain what you feel would be helpful to overcome the barriers you are facing. The university disability adviser will be able to assist in the process should you wish to consult them.