13.1 Good practice supervision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher degree by research students

Supervision is a critical element of the higher degree by research ( HDR) experience for all students. An understanding of culture and Indigenous knowledge systems is needed by supervisors, as well as an appreciation of the different approaches to research and research design that may be needed to support research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

13.1.1 Critical success factors

Critical success factors include:

  • access is available to a broad a range of supervisors with experience and a track record
  • support and capacity building are provided via training based on real experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous researchers, particularly for non-Indigenous supervisors
  • collaborative relationships are developed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in preparing research materials.

13.1.2 Key challenges

Key challenges include:

  • low numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people available to be supervisors
  • providing comprehensive advice, training and support to supervisors, ideally using written materials and face-to-face training.

13.1.3 Examples

Lowitja Institute – Supporting Indigenous Researchers: A Practical Guide for Supervisors

Supporting Indigenous researchers: a practical guide for supervisors is a comprehensive guide to good practice in developing the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers and students. It brings together the advice and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and non-Indigenous researchers, to support new researchers who want to know how to build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research ethics, values and approaches to research.

The guide outlines six principles of good practice in supervision, including:

  • good teaching, concern for students and thoughtful and timely feedback
  • time, energy and professional commitment
  • personal support to the student
  • adjusting practice to student preferences
  • high expectations
  • mentoring for first-rate scholarship.

The guide has two parts:

  • Part A: Supervision Issues and Approaches—discusses workplace issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers and their supervisors, suggesting ways to build a reciprocal and supportive supervisor–researcher relationship and a strong intercultural research team
  • Part B: Workplace Strategies and Resources—provides workplace supervisors with practical strategies to tackle issues and to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers. It uses real examples to guide supervisors in: job planning and recruitment of emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers; induction and orientation; work planning and performance appraisal; assessing training needs; designing and supporting on-the-job training and professional development.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, the predecessor organisation to the Lowitja Institute, identified a lack of resources in supervision and research and financed the writing, research and production of both parts. Extensive consultations were undertaken with 50 stakeholders and reviewers from a broad range of organisations, ensuring a wide investment in the guides.

While the guides were designed for researchers, supervisors and students in Aboriginal health, the authors suggest that they are suitable for use in other academic contexts.

Approximately 1,900 copies of the guide have been distributed to research organisations, community organisations, tertiary institution libraries, hospital research departments, public health promotion organisations and researchers, international researchers (Canada and New Zealand), university-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers’ networks, as well as federal, state and territory departments. The Lowitja Institute has received requests from tertiary institutions for multiple copies to be used in teaching and supervision, as well as many single copy requests from supervisors and students. The guide is also used in the teaching of the University of Melbourne’s annual Professional Certificate in Indigenous Research summer school.

The guide as well as case studies are available on the Lowitja website.

CQUniversity – flexible and supportive supervision practices

CQUniversity holds a database of supervisors for HDR students. The database includes suitable supervisors of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research students across topics.

CQUniversity has developed guidelines and resources around HDR supervision to ensure the highest quality of supervision. This includes a yearly conference for supervisors. Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR students is conducted biannually through this conference and as demand emerges.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement in research is expected to be a growth area for CQUniversity in the future.