Teaching @ Sydney

March 2014

What creative practice offers: 8 principles for research supervisors

What are some great ways to build research supervision capacities in higher research degrees across the creative practice fields – that is, the visual and performing arts, music, new media, creative writing, and design? A final report has just been released of an OLT-funded project that examined this question, with a view to better addressing the growth in post graduate enrolments in the creative practice fields.

The project involved studying the perspectives of research supervisors and administrators, identifying models of good practice, and establishing common understandings of effective research supervision. The project findings – which may be applicable in other fields, too – support the notion that supervision development initiatives can benefit from a focus on local, disciplinary contexts; the use of case studies; and the facilitation of dialogue between supervisors.

One practical outcome of the project was a booklet for research supervisors, entitled 12 Principles for the Effective Supervision of Creative Practice Higher Research Degrees. The booklet drew on the reported experiences of 25 research supervisors in creative practice areas. Below are 8 of the principles outlined in the booklet, alongside quotes from supervisors who were interviewed for the project:

  1. Adopt a student-centred approach: ‘I have yet to find a single student I have ever taught who doesn’t have something to offer; the question is how do you bring that out?’
  2. Embrace diverse projects, practices and working method: ‘With creative practice, they’re always working across borders. I like to think that at PhD level the practitioner is innovating or renovating the question of what the field is… they’re kind of pulverizing a discipline.’
  3. Ensure your students believe in the validity of creative practice research and its experimental nature: ‘There were students constantly asking ‘is this research, can I write like this?’… [T]he difficulty in pinning it down is that this goes against the grain of what we were doing.’
  4. The theory and practice need to speak to each other: ‘[T]he exegesis can’t sit alone without the practice. And the practice is enriched by the research.’
  5. The theory and practice might not be done simultaneously, despite the need to work together in the completed work: ‘The creative practice is a form of expression and a way of renumerating an idea, argument, position.’
  6. Balance the big picture and attention to the detail: ‘They keep going outwards, but I keep pulling them in at different points to explore the centre of where the research is.’
  7. Provide frequent, constructive feedback: ‘The first draft is concept and content – what do they have? Are they missing anything or… have they gone off on tangents? … The second review is structure – is it structured in a way that makes sense of what they’re doing and … is most persuasive as an argument? The third draft is the final editing, looking at the sense of sentences.’
  8. A supervisor should also attend to the practice in the studio: ‘Respond to where the work is, always. Sit with the work and out of that engagement – not without an awareness of milestones – you must respond to the work.’

The final report for the project, entitled Building distributed leadership for effective supervision of creative practice higher research degrees, includes the booklet quoted from above and much more. This project was led by Associate Professor Jillian Hamilton, Queensland University of Technology, and involved academics from that university and from The University of Melbourne, The University of New South Wales, University of Western Sydney, and Auckland University of Technology.