Good to excellent graduate supervision means having a manageable load of graduate students. For a full time lecturer with a full teaching requirement, best practice suggests this load should not be more than 5 to 6 graduate students at once, certainly at the more advanced PhD and MPhil levels.
At most international universities this student to supervisor ratio is kept in check. Sadly at the UWI there are many lecturers who supervise over 20 students, even 30 in some cases, all on top of their many other commitments such as teaching, undergraduate supervision, admin, research, publishing and more.
Of course overburdened graduate supervisors can mean graduate research suffers. Due to the massive intake of students at the UWI over the last ten years without a similar intake of academic staff this is an issue without a current solution. One felt by both the student and supervisor.
Now this might all sound like a jab at the UWI and in particular the research of its graduate cohort. Yet the contrary is true. Amongst these less than adequate supervisory conditions many excellent projects are still completed.
At the last biannual post graduate conference held by the Department of Behavioural Sciences in 2013 (and to be stage again in April 2015) 52 post grads made conference presentations during the day across a wide range of subjects including crime, family relationships, sexuality, citizenship, and social change. Suggesting a healthy culture of graduate research is alive at the UWI.
In my field of qualitative methodology in the study of anthropology and sociology the students I supervise are in the main doing exploratory work. Their job isn’t to come up with certainties like the natural sciences but rather insights to better understand the meanings human beings have about the various experiences they encounter in everyday life.
While I cannot provide the students’ names, as their permission was not sought here, there are lots of excellent research projects to mention. Due to space limits here are four of them.
An exploratory study into the experiences of persons with disabilities in our local criminal justice system highlighted the impediments people with disabilities face are often worst in spaces like the criminal justice system that are least visible to the wider society. The study also showed how all three components of our justice system—the police, courts and prison systems—discriminate against people with disabilities.
Another project studied a community in south Trinidad to better understand the factors contributing to community decline there, specifically through the eyes of the residents. This data was combined with historical information and a geographical mapping technique to visualise the decline. The insights revealed included the tangible realities of physical and socio-economic decline, and its impact on citizens in the area who experienced deterioration in their overall quality of life. The project like all good ones offered not just recommendations but ways future research could build on its findings.
In a more cultural sociology sense one student explored the historical practice of managing natural hair and the recent commercialisation of the natural hair trend. Insights showed how natural hair is often intertwined with myriad other issues, such as concepts of ideal beauty, body image and racism. Providing data from the experiences of person with natural hair themselves the project placed natural hair into a socio-political environment and was able to treat with and explain the stigmatisation process natural hair can produce.
Another study explored stigma and pit bulls in T&T. This excellent work provided evidence of how the recent dangerous dogs act in T&T is not based on scientific evidence but instead based on a culture and discourse of fear that stigmatises certain breeds but not others.
These are but 4 studies of a much larger body of excellent and diverse work being produced by graduate students in the Department of Behavioural Sciences at the UWI. They suggest that while on one level the culture of post-graduate research at UWI can be described as tough in terms of adequate supervision the students themselves demonstrate resilience in a tough working environment and are still producing excellent work that reflects well on the potential of our human capital.
Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at the UWI, St Augustine Campus