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Monday 20 August 2018 11:34am

The finalists and winners in this year's OUSA Supervisor of the Year Awards. Back row (from left): Professor Peter Dearden (Biochemistry), Professor Haxby Abbott (Surgical Sciences), Professor Holger Regenbrecht (Information Science) and Dr Tony Garry (Marketing). Front row (from left): Professor Keith Gordon (Chemistry), Associate Professor Simone Marshall (English and Linguistics), Dr Sarah Stein (Distance Learning and HEDC), Professor Murray Rae (Theology), Dr David Reith (Medical Education), Professor Jamin Halberstadt (Psychology), Professor Jin Zhang (Accountancy and Finance) and Associate Professor Azam Ali (Food Science and Centre for Materials Science and Technology).

The overall winner of this year's OUSA Supervisor of the Year Award Dr Sarah Stein hopes her win will help to show others that supervising and studying part-time and at a distance is the same high-quality Otago experience.

Dr Stein, who is the University's Director of Distance Learning and also affiliated with HEDC, won the top award at a ceremony at the staff club this month. Best New Supervisor went to Associate Professor Azam Ali of the Department of Food Science and Centre for Materials Science and Technology (CMAST), while a new award, the Graduate Research School Dean's Medal for 'Contribution to Supervision' went to Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman of Public Health at the Wellington campus.

Supervisor of the Year – Dr Sarah Stein

Dr Sarah Stein receives her award from Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie.

Dr Stein is a tireless advocate for quality supervision of distance candidates. The majority of students she works with are often in full-time work, and studying part-time by distance – factors which are often seen as negative for graduate research.

“All study is difficult, whatever the situation,” Dr Stein says. While I do acknowledge that as the Director, Distance Learning I may be seen as presenting a biased view, I do want to point out that the strength of distance learning/supervision and its benefits for both supervisors and students are yet to be discovered by the majority of my colleagues.

“Advantages and benefits for students lie in the ability for them to have flexibility in the way they study. The time factor and the distance aspect are positives – as just one example, many of them would not be enrolled if studying part time and at a distance was not available to them.”

Dr Stein, who has been supervising students for 15 years, and whose nominating students call an “absolute pleasure to work with” says she was not expecting to win this award.

“I cannot tell you how surprised I was. It does mean a great deal to be recognised in this way.

“As a supervisor, I don't feel that I do anything extraordinary – there are far more experienced people out there than me. But I always want to make sure that the PhD experience is a positive and worthwhile one for my students.

“I hope that this award sends a message to everyone about the fact that supervising and studying at a distance, part-time, does not mean that the experience is of lesser quality in any way from an on-campus supervision-study journey.”

Best New Supervisor – Associate Professor Azam Ali

Associate Professor Azam Ali receives his award from Professor Richard Blaikie.

This year's Best New Supervisor, Associate Professor Ali, who has been at Otago over five years, says he was delighted to win the award.

“I am really grateful for my students and their enthusiasm, my colleagues and collaborators and the wider university as well. I enjoy my role as a lecturer and as a researcher and love being an academic. Being a supervisor is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job because it combines teaching and research into one.”

He says his talented postgraduate students are often the catalyst for new ideas and for his continued ambition and passion for the research.

“I have learnt that 'if you want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk together'. I think it is worthwhile considering and following this advice. Building a collaboration team culture consisting of postgraduate students, supervisors and co-supervisors (with colleagues and/or collaborators) which leverage and complement each other's knowledge and expertise is something that overcomes supervision difficulties.”

Contribution to Supervision winner – Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman

For Professor Howden-Chapman winning the inaugural Graduate Research School Dean's Medal for 'Contribution to Supervision' was wonderful.

The award recognised Professor Howden-Chapman's tireless work in guiding a doctoral candidate who faced significant hurdles for 12 years through to completion.

“I was surprised, but delighted,” she says. “I never expected our long journey to be formally acknowledged.”

Professor Howden-Chapman has supervised almost 60 thesis students.

“Some of these students have required very little supervision and fly through the examination, but with some students I have entered a very close professional relationship – part mentoring, part psychologist to help them submit a thesis they are proud of. Being awarded a doctorate can substantially change a candidate's life and sometimes their children's.”

The Supervisor of the Year Awards are held annually as part of the University's Graduate Research Festival to celebrate and recognise excellence in supervision at the University of Otago.

Graduate Research School Dean Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith says providing supportive and high quality supervision is so important to the research journey of our students, “so it is important that students get an opportunity to nominate supervisors who they feel are doing a top job”.

This year 136 supervisors were nominated by their students, which Professor Spronken-Smith says is a testament to the high quality supervision that is provided at Otago.

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