Exploration of Psychology Masters students' subjective experiences of establishing a working alliance with their research supervisor
Mullins, Tarryn B.
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The state of postgraduate studies in South Africa has come under renewed enquiry in recent years as concern is placed on the inconsistency between postgraduate enrolment and graduation rates. The discrepancy between the enrolment and completion rates is attributable to a range of factors. Literature identified the supervisory relationship as an important and significant factor in predicting completion. The establishment of a good working alliance in the beginning of the thesis process has been identified as a crucial task. As a result, it is useful to gain insight into how students set about establishing working relationships with new supervisors and how they rate the quality thereof. The present study was conducted with Psychology Masters students who were in their first semester of the first enrolment in the Community and Health Sciences faculty at the University of the Western Cape. Attachment theory provided the theoretical framework for the study as it posits that the quality of current relationships are a function of early relationship experiences. Thus students were thought to draw on earlier experiences when setting about establishing new relationships such as the supervisory relationship. The study was exploratory and descriptive in nature. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eleven eligible participants who have been selected purposively. Transcriptions have been subjected to a Thematic Analysis. Ethics clearance has been requested from and granted by the Senate Research Committee and all relevant ethics principles such as, confidentiality, anonymity, voluntary participation and informed consent, have been adhered to. Findings indicated that supervision was a central component for graduate completion, underscoring the importance of early supervisory sessions to form a strong working alliance. Furthermore, the findings indicated that the supervisor's role in providing the expertise and support largely contributed to the success of establishing strong and productive supervisory relationships. Participants perceived strong supervisory relationships as necessary to foster completion of higher degree requirements. The development of a new supervisory relationship activated relational patterns for students that underscored the importance of recognizing the supervisory relationship as a relationship.