Why Supervise Graduate Students?

Lagretta Gradgrind’s Chronicle column has been grist for the blogger mills this past week, with noteworthy posts and discussions at New Kid’s, again atNew Kid’s, from The Little Professor and even tangentially at Ianqui’s, as well.

It’s from the last of these links that the best insight comes. Because, really, why do we supervise graduate students, anyway?

Seriously, people. Graduate teaching? It’s usually rewarded with pay (I’m so pleased with myself that I’ve taken my own graduate program from being offered entirely on unpaid overloads to now being either taught as part of the faculty’s regular load or as a paid overload). But graduate supervision? It’s peanuts, baby:

The supervision of a research Master’s or Ph.D. thesis in a programme offered by the University, where such supervision is over and above normal workload, shall be recognised upon its successful defence as equivalent to one (1) credit as a teaching load reduction for the supervisor of the thesis. [. . . .] If circumstances within the academic Unit make the teaching load reduction undesirable, an amount of $1,000 per credit shall be added to the amount a Member may spend for professional expenditures upon consultation with the Chair of the Unit and the Dean.

We also have an essay stream in our M.A. program which earns the supervisor half of the above offering (.5 credit or $500) upon the student’s completion. (Note: I’ve yet to see a situation where someone got a teaching reduction for supervision. Maybe in another department, but not ours!)

Let’s be honest, the money’s nice but it’s, quite literally, a drop in the bucket compared to the work and effort I see most supervisors pour into the grad student supervision. I’d pocket about four times that much teaching a three-credit summer course, two nights a week for six weeks which is a lot less effort than supervising a graduate thesis.

So what reward do we get from supervising graduate students? We look for something different from this relationship. All of a sudden, I can understand why Gradgrind wants to have her students beholden to her, forming a coterie or school of Gradgrind studies. (Not that I agree with her, mind you, but I comprehend her motivations.) Having the adoration of her graduates, all carrying on her intellectual legacy at prestigious schools? Well, at least it’s something to which she could point to as an adequate reward for the time, energy and effort.

That said, I can understand her viewpoint, but not agree with it. (Of course, this might have something to do with the fact that nobody comes to Small Regional University to specialize in My Sub-field of History. I am not exactly swamped with supervision requests.) Supervising graduate students is service to the discipline that comes with its own rewards — helping out an advanced and, presumably, more capable than average student. Cultivating a professional relationship that benefits them far more than it benefits yourself because it’s the right thing to do.

However, faculty members still have to guard themselves. It’s easy, especially for popular, capable professors in high-demand fields to be snowed under with graduate student supervisions. Here, I have no easy answers beyond improving the admissions system and also having a program coordinator who’s mindful of the burdens and seeks to minimize them, as much as possible, for the various professors.

One Response to “Why Supervise Graduate Students?”

  1. sm Says:

    “I’ve taken my own graduate program from being offered entirely on unpaid overloads to now being either taught as part of the faculty’s regular load or as a paid overload”

    My hero!