Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Remote dissertation supervision

I started a new blog this morning, but you probably will never see it. One of my students is participating in the modular MSc programme, which involves a residential week four times per year over two years. Thus, when he was transferred from London to Zagreb, it was not going to be too challenging for him to continue with his studies, because getting here from Zagreb is not particularly difficult, and probably quicker than driving down from Scotland. However, he is embarking on a dissertation, and the first thing we needed to do was agree what his topic would be, figure out the basic references for him to look at, and figure out how we would interact for the purposes of supervision while he was in Zagreb.

First, the topic. We shared our ideas about what to study and how to go about it. Given that his interest was in construction contracting with particular reference to resourcing at senior site management level, my advice was that his desire to focus on the site management processes in Croatian construction projects was going to prove interesting as it would enable him to make observations of what happens in practice, comparing them to practical guides such as the CIOB's Code of Practice for Project Management (and similar documents about site management) and to look at both observations of practice and the practical guides in the context of organizational and management theory, as it has developed from the early seminal writers such as Galbraith, J (1973) Designing complex organizations. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley and Cleland, D I and King, W R (1975) Systems Analysis and Project Management. New York: McGraw-Hill. Later writers, such as Dawson, S (1996) Analysing Organizations. 3 ed. Basingstoke: Macmillan provided really strong, theoretically robust guidance for how we should think about organizational structures and management processes. This also connected well with research published in two of my own books: Procurement in the construction industry and Roles in construction projects. Thus, we had a project that I could supervise and that should generate some useful and interesting insights.

Second, the question of how we would work together while in different countries was soon settled because I was interested in trying out a blog which only the two of us could access. We can both read it and post to it, and there is the potential for use to invite others, such as a local professor from University of Zagreb, or colleagues in Reading, or even other students on the programme. One great advantage is the ability to go back and edit and refine a post, adding links and correcting grammar and spelling mistakes. Another is that the blog whould grow as the supervision progresses, and it is always there to backtrack and pick up things that might have got forgotten. It is an interesting substitute for notebooks and a good way of augmenting our supervision meetings that will inevitably be too infrequent. I'm going to try this with some other students now, to see how suitable it is at BSc, MSc and PhD levels of research.

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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