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Burger, N 2016, 'Liminal spaces, the tacit dimension of the doctoral supervisory relationship', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright N Burger 2016


This investigation addresses the tacit dimension of doctoral supervisory relationships. Using Naturalistic Inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) as a methodology, the investigation seeks to illuminate the nature of the dispositional qualities that supervisors embody in highly valued supervisory relationships. The experiences of nine doctoral supervisors, selected on the basis of being well regarded as supervisors at the site institution, and of eight of their PhD candidates, are explored in depth. The setting is a research-focused Australian university.

The notion of threshold concepts and liminality provides a lens through which to view the nature of the challenges commonly associated with doctoral candidature. Existential humanism provides a further framework for examining the nature of supervisory relationships that are viewed as being supportive.

Three important insights emerge from the investigation. First, participants reported qualities in the supervisors and supervisory relationships that are highly consistent with the therapeutic approach advanced by existential humanists, particularly by Carl Rogers (1902-1987). Second, well-regarded supervisors embody qualities in their interpersonal communications with candidates that are effective in establishing positive rapport. These qualities are perceived by the candidates to be characterised by respect and, when consistently applied, as providing a strong basis for the establishment of trusting relationships. Third, the ways in which well-regarded supervisors embody these qualities are conveyed by tacit means, and relate to their commitment to collegiality, collaboration and reciprocity.

Previous investigations of effectiveness in doctoral supervision have given insufficient attention to the ways in which supervisors establish rapport in supervisory relationships. This investigation points to tacit ways in which rapport is developed. Based on the investigation, a model for raising the level of emotional support provided by supervisors for doctoral candidates is proposed. Its implications for how supervisors are inducted to the responsibilities of supervision are wide-ranging.