Transformative Power of Cross-Cultural PhD Supervision

Sigrid M. Gjøtterud, Athman K. Ahmad
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 441-456

The purpose of this paper is to explore the rich potential for transformative learning, for both supervisees and supervisors, that is embedded in cross-cultural supervision.

Our example is an analysis of experiences from a five-year long cross-cultural supervisory relationship between a Tanzanian PhD student and a Norwegian supervisor.

In the research, we followed an action research approach, informed by the following question: “How can we account for and improve our supervising–supervised practice?” We analyzed our supervision experiences with the aim to explore the transformative power of cross-cultural supervision.

Studies on supervision collaboration between Scandinavia and Southern Africa are scarce; hence, our study adds insight into the value of collaboration across continents and economic divides. Furthermore, we argue for greater research into the impact of cross-cultural supervision on supervisors as well as supervisees.

We have identified seven factors as central to mutual transformative learning in cross-cultural supervision: shared unhomeliness, shared uncertainty and trust building, otherness, shared second language, cultural differences relating to hierarchy, being in context together, and finally, flourishing. For the mutual transformative processes to unfold, building trust in openness to differences seems to be a crucial foundation. Hence, we believe that the qualities in the cross-cultural supervision relationship that we highlight can serve as a reminder to become aware of differences as a valuable source for mutual learning and expanded horizons.

Our recommendation to practitioners is that they are receptive to and welcoming of differences, find common ground, and explore the value of learning from and with each other in supervisory relationships.

Equally, we recommend that researchers inquire into how differences in gender, race, religion, and professional fields in supervisory and collaborative relationships can hold potential for valuable knowledge creation.

Academic’s awareness of the value of otherness as addressed in this paper might foster new ideas for dealing with challenges in our turbulent time through transculturation.

More studies are needed on the potential for growth and the impact of mutual knowledge creation arising from cross-cultural doctoral supervision.

PhD supervision, cross-cultural supervision, transformative learning, trans-culturation, action research
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