The thesis and internship are special parts of a study. Students largely work independently and as a lecturer you have intensive contact with students to guide them. The supervision relates to the content students are working on and the process they are going through. The content of every internship or thesis is different and students all go through a process unique to them. This asks for some flexibility in your approach as a supervisor. How do you make sure your supervision correctly connects to a student’s situation?
The supervision process
Structuring your supervision
The way you design your supervision depends on the type of research or internship a student is doing, what phase of their study they are in, and characteristics of the student themselves. There are a few ways to vary your supervision:
- Individual or group supervision: The advantage of supervision in groups (2-4 students) is that students can learn from one another. They can explain things to each other and provide feedback. Moreover, as a supervisor you can use your time more efficiently by talking to the whole group instead of each student individually. On the other hand, individual supervision allows for more attention for students’ personal needs and making sure every student receives sufficient guidance. If both methods are suitable, then you could consider alternating between group and individual meetings.
- Intensity of your supervision: At the start of an internship or thesis there might be moments that require more supervision, such as determining what assignment a student will be working on or composing a research question. Near the end of the process they might require less supervision. Students also often require more supervision and feedback when handing in intermediate assignments or products.
- The time between supervision moments. The first moment of contact and rules on deadlines are often predetermined. After that it is up to you and the student to decide whether you want to meet at fixed moments or only when the student needs it. It is important to talk about this during the first moment of contact: who takes the initiative to set up meetings? Also make agreements on what these supervision moments will be about. You could, for example, ask the student to draw up an agenda and point out where they need or want help. That way you shift the responsibility to the student.
Internships and theses often serve as the capstones of a study. That is why, as a supervisor, you are allowed to expect a good amount of independence from the student. However, some students might require more structure and guidance than others. A good starting point in your supervision is to first see how well a student can manage on their own.
To ensure a well-working collaboration it is important to talk to the student and have a clear view of how the supervision will go and what you are both working towards. Talk about what you both expect of each other at the start of the thesis or internship:
- Expectations of you as the supervisor. Tell the student what they are allowed to expect of your supervision, for example how much time you have allotted and what kind of help you are able to offer. Also ask students what they expect of your supervision.
- Expectations of the student. Tell the student what you expect of them, for example in terms of independence and how they prepare for the supervision moments. It might also be interesting to ask students what they expect of themselves, for example which parts they already master and where they expect to need some help.
- Expectations of the assessment. Explain how the thesis or internship is going to be assessed. You can use the assessment criteria or rubric to show what aspects are taken into consideration when assessing and what level is expected of students.
The roles of supervisor and assessor
As thesis supervisor you alternate between the roles of supervisor and assessor. This can sometimes be difficult, for you but also for students. Students might, with the final assessment in mind, be hesitant to ask feedback on products they’re not happy with or to ask questions on things they can’t figure out on their own. On the other hand, you as the supervisor/assessor might be inclined to give students some extra help so they pass the final assessment or to assess them on how much effort they put in.
To prevent the supervision and assessment from intermixing, you could pay attention to a few pointers:
- Determine what frameworks you want to use in your supervision and discuss this with the student. You can base your frameworks on rules set by the programme, such as a maximum number of moments of contact, and on things you find important yourself, such as how accessible you want to be for students.
- Be clear on how a student’s work process is weighed in the final assessment. Tell students there is nothing wrong with making mistakes; it’s about how they handle them and how they make improvements.
- Work with a second assessor. They can adopt a more objective perspective during the assessment.
Product and process
When assessing a thesis, you as the supervisor/assessor assess the product (thesis) as well as the work process a student went through. The second assessor only assesses the product. The thesis must always receive a pass; the process can not be decisive. When assessing the process, you could take into consideration how independently the student worked, how they handled feedback and how the student grew during the process. It is important for students to know how you assess these things, so discuss this in advance and give students intermediate feedback on these aspects of the work process.
Internal and external internship supervisor
It is often the case that students do an internship outside the university. In that case, students have two supervisors: you as an internal supervisor and a person at the internship as an external supervisor. The external supervisor handles all the daily affairs. Make sure to contact the external supervisor before the start of the internship to talk about the goals of the internship and the internship contract. During the internship you can keep in touch with the external supervisor to keep an eye on how the student is developing and to answer any questions about the internship.
Assessment and completion of the internship
The assessment of the internship usually consists of three parts: an internship report, the internship products and an assessment of the whole process. To take the internship’s perspective into consideration, you can ask the external supervisor for input for the assessment of the products and process. At the end of the internship you can also organise a moment to reflect on the achieved results and the cooperation between the internship and the student. You could, for example, have the student make a presentation to reflect on their experiences or have a final interview with both supervisors.