Reflecting on a doctoral supervision : from scepticism to friendship

Waghid, Y. ; Davids, N. (2013)

Please cite as follows:

Waghid, Y. & Davids, N. 2013. Reflecting on a doctoral supervision: From scepticism to friendship: Initiating the debate. South African Journal of Higher Education, 27(4):769-780.

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In this article two colleagues are in conversation regarding doctoral supervision: The first author acted as a doctoral supervisor, while the collaborative author was a doctoral candidate during three years of study. The first author offers a narrative account of his sceptical encounter with the candidate while the candidate offers an account of her experiences during her doctoral studies. Drawing on the seminal thoughts of Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell (1997), particularly on his ideas on 'living with scepticism', the first author argues that postgraduate student supervision ought to be an encounter framed by scepticism. He points out that supervising students sceptically might engender moments of acknowledging humanity within the Other (autonomous action); attachment to the Other's points of view with a readiness for departure (deliberative engagement); and showing responsibility to the Other (recognition of the other). Not necessarily in response, but certainly in conversation, the candidate presents her own experiences of encountering two unknowns, namely, the writing process demanded by a doctoral dissertation, and the unknown Other of a doctoral supervisor. She journeys her shift from naïve attachment to a writing that she thought she owned to one of mature detachment, strong enough to stand on its own. In exploring the necessary sense of completion and arrival that ought to accompany the doctoral process, the candidate singles out elements of trust, belief and the knowledge that the doctoral supervisor ought to attach the same value to a student's work as he/she does. Finally, in recognition of the unexpected of the doctoral journey, the candidate reflects on the flourishing of a friendship, which emerged from an encounter of scepticism.

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