Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Director, Advisor, Partner? Find Your Type of Committee Head

This is the second post of a two-part series on choosing a thesis or dissertation director. The first post was called “To Choose or Not to Choose … A Director, That Is!” published on March 24, 2016. Today's post focuses on models of working arrangements with advisors.

Sonja K. Foss and William Waters note that such working arrangements often wind up being one of the main disputes between a student and his or her advisor. (For more information on what Foss and Waters call the “three common misalignments” between advisors and students, see  Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation, starting on page 298.)

In fact, I recently talked with a student who encountered some problems working with her committee head. This director instructed this student to conduct her research on an entirely different subject group than the group she had proposed to study, and the student had to change her project as a result.

While the student above was satisfied at the conclusion of her dissertation, she was upset that she couldn't pursue the exact study-avenue she had wanted to. So we hope to reach those early in the thesis/dissertation process. Perhaps in knowing the different working arrangements that are possible, you can ask more relevant questions at the outset of setting up your committee.

Advising Models

Foss and Waters define an advising model as “the basic approach to mentoring that the two of you will use to do the work of the dissertation,” and they describe three working models: “replication, apprenticeship, and cocreation” (299). 

The Replication Model

In Foss and Waters' “Replication Model,” a director “supplies the basic plan for your dissertation" (300). This model might even lead to the student’s researching of a question of interest to the director as opposed to one of the student's own interests. With this arrangement, the student should “listen to the instructions of [his] advisor” and try to “perform as close to [the advisor’s] ideal” as possible, say Foss and Waters (300).

  • I’ll call this committee head a “director,” then, based on the connotative control inherent in that term.

The Apprenticeship Model

In the “Apprenticeship Model,” according to Foss and Waters, “you have some freedom in how to accomplish the tasks involved in the dissertation, but [these tasks] are assigned and directed by your advisor” (300). Foss and Waters say that with this arrangement, a student’s “primary job is to perform an insightful and credible interpretation” of the study while the advisor “monitors [the] work” (300). This plan calls for the student to attempt to complete “the processes [one’s director] recommends, listening to her critiques and … negotiating places where [one’s] own vision … can come through” (301).

  • I’ll call this committee head an “advisor” based on Foss and Waters’ description that this person also gives “mini-lectures on best practices “as well as her recommendations” as to “how far you can deviate from the boundaries she has established” (300 – 301).

The Cocreation Model

Finally, Foss and Waters describe the “Cocreation Model” of direction, where both student and advisor “contribute in substantial ways to the plan for [the] dissertation”; the advisor and student work together to synthesize ideas, but the student “drive[s] the research agenda” (301). Foss and Waters say that in this model, “communication is reciprocal” and that an advisor may “deliberately hold back” on offering advice (301) in order to urge the student towards taking on more responsibility.

  • I’ll dub this committee head a “partner,” being a literal interpretation of the model described.
My Experience

Obviously many committee chairs will employ working models that fall somewhere in the middle of these "types." If I had to choose the model of the working relationship I have with my advisor, I'd call it an “apprenticeship,” though it may approach a partnership in some respects. My advisor has always given me direction on my proposed study, she has sent me relevant articles, and she did once become concerned that I was deviating too much from the original plan (after I had changed my focus a bit). Here, she indeed indicated to me how far I could deviate from my proposal, but overall, she has allowed me to take my research where it needs to go.

From what I've heard from others, the "apprenticeship" is probably the most common working arrangement between student and committee head. However, the director mentioned at the start of this post obviously followed something like the “Replication Model.” 

Which model does your committee head follow? We'd love to hear from you about your experiences, especially if you have advice that could help others (without mentioning professor names). Please comment or post to our Facebook group!

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