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It’s all about the journey for Supervisor of the Year

Thursday, 30 October 2014 11:26am

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Associate Professor Ruth Fitzgerald. Photo: Graham Warman

Associate Professor Ruth Fitzgerald can’t recall how many research candidates she has supervised over the years since she gained her own PhD.

“There are pages of them,” she says. “It would take too long to count.”

Recently declared the OUSA 2014 Supervisor of the Year, Ruth clearly still finds the supervision process an exciting two-way journey. “It’s a pleasure, to watch them become so confident and competent.”

Ruth is an Associate Professor in Social Anthropology, specialising in medical anthropology and particularly human reproduction and moral reasoning.

Her supervision starts off with lots of attention to the student’s interests and by giving them the tools they needs to fulfil their intellectual ideas.

"It’s very much like a relationship. It takes time to build, and each supervision relationship is different."

“Over time I can slowly move back from guiding it so forcefully, and as they complete their degree they emerge as their own expert – original contributors to international knowledge.”

Ruth is a big believer in helping her students obtain more than a piece of paper and a maroon gown.

“That’s really key, to me. Otago graduates need to be multi-skilled and fully prepared to enter the workforce when they complete their PhDs, whether they want a career as an academic or not.

“I model their development on service, teaching and research, so they are all developing their curriculum vitae as they go along. It makes them much more employable and many of my students have gone on to get cracker jobs.”

A little like a parent, Ruth says supervisors need to model good life choices and help candidates develop strategies to overcome the obstacles in their way, and to share those with each other.

“It’s very much like a relationship. It takes time to build, and each supervision relationship is different.”

While delighted to be named Supervisor of the Year, Ruth says the way supervision works means that the award is not hers alone: “When you win an award like this, the students, and your colleagues – they all win. It’s recognition of all the people in your network.”