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The Australian National University

Supervisory styles: supervisory model

 Ideas & tools

A framework for reviewing how to relate to your students, is based on interviews with experienced supervisors at the ANU.

This model of the supervisory process is common to all disciplines. The following are the basic elements of that model:


The move from dependence to independence. This involves different degrees of direction at various stages. For instance, it can become very directional in the final stage when one almost feels they are "forcing" a student to complete, or if a student is floundering and losing confidence the supervisor may break the task down for them, and there is often an effort to get them to write up their research to full advantage. In this way, the student's move to independence is coupled with a bi-modal pattern of time allocation from the supervisor.

Varying the supervisory approach 

To suit the individual student's needs and personality, disciplinary differences and so on, even though some interviewees expressed a preference for a particular approach and preferred students who suited that approach. In one such instance a supervisor preferred students who did not want timetables, lots of regular contact, so these students were identified as 'better' students.

Recognising the importance of formulating a problem/question

It was suggested that this process ensures focus and engagement. The tension comes from providing enough direction to stop students going down paths which are non-productive (which is a problematic judgment in itself), without taking over. In other words the student has to 'own' their thesis. There was a suggestion that where a student completed a thesis but did not 'own it', the supervisor would be disappointed with that as an outcome.

about this site Updated: 29 July 2010/ Responsible Officer:  Director, CHELT / Page Contact:  Web publisher