Co-supervision in postgraduate training: Ensuring the right hand knows what the left hand is doing

  • Elly S. Grossman Faculty of Health Science Research Office, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Nigel J. Crowther 1. Department of Chemical Pathology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa 2. Department of Chemical Pathology, National Health Laboratory Service, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Keywords: research higher degrees, novice supervision, cross-discipline, health science, contracts


South Africa is experiencing a steep rise in postgraduate candidature and a backlog in research training and supervision. Co-supervision is a means to address such challenges. This study investigated how co-supervision could effectively and efficiently be implemented within a Faculty of Health Sciences. Supervisors and postgraduates brainstormed co-supervisory practice to identify: (1) the reasons for co-supervision, (2) what co-supervisors should discuss to facilitate their interactions and (3) how best to initiate the novice supervisor into supervisory practice. Co-supervisors are formally appointed for different reasons and all co-supervisory activities should be directed towards meeting the purpose of that appointment. Points to consider in facilitating a co-supervisor memorandum of understanding and novice supervisor training were discussed. Our findings provide suggestions to develop accountable co-supervisory practices, enhance novice supervisor training and to design discipline-specific best practice policy at institutional level to enable a common understanding of co-supervisory roles and responsibilities. Threats to effective co-supervision identified were the implications of co-supervision in staff promotion, inequitable workload recognition and no official acknowledgement of informal supervisory activities. Unless these issues are addressed, the full potential of co-supervision will remain unrealised. Supervision pedagogy and research teaching is a sophisticated skill worthy of professionalisation.

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