Playing the game

While it is relatively easy to nominate the mechanics of playing the academic game it is also important to signal that politics, egos and BS1 can be encountered from time to time.

Power games are always in play in probably all institutions and universities are famous for developing and honing these skills in most of their academic employees. Some play the game brilliantly. Usually because they have learned by trial and error and the odd painful bruise.

So one of the things to work out relatively early on is just what rights you have as a RHD student. What is the chain of command above you?

To illustrate with an example. I grew up academically speaking, in what might be broadly labelled the science model or tradition. If you wanted to do research in paleontology you would identify paleontologists, typically in the university at which you were studying2, who might be suitable supervisors. What you would not do is go to the Astronomy department to look for a supervisor3

What you needed most was access to expertise, know-how and experience in the field in which you were proposing to research. These are the basic minimum requirements. This does not guarantee that you will not end up with a supervisor who is, shall we say, less than ideal.

Typically the most difficult component of a thesis is the theory and related method space in which a study is located. Trying to work in a theory space with someone who knows little or zero about it is one of the worst things to encounter. Finding out what your supervisor is good at, knows a lot about, other than supervising is crucial. Whatever that space is, that is what they can best help you with. If you are fully into drawing upon theory from the non-representational family4, then having someone who does not understand, or like or is threatened by the performative ain't a good idea!

There are real advantages working in a science-like model. Typically your supervisor will have other students working on related or similar problems or projects. These people are a hugely significant resource. You can find global groups that operate in this manner. For example, there is a wonderfully supportive group that is based upon drawing on the resources of actor-network theory (ANT), or the sociology of translation as it is sometimes known. It's a fine example of students and recently completed PhDs with ANT as their common theory space sharing resources, helping newbies and asking and answering questions.

There is however, in education, an extremely odd belief in some Schools and Faculties: that literally anyone can supervise anyone doing anything. A claim like that is simply indefensible IMHO. It is intellectual fraud. Imagine how useful a person with an excellent research background in astronomy would be for a would-be researcher in paleontology!! But in some education sites it seems that pattern is what you find.

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