Characteristics of good supervision: a multi-perspective qualitative exploration of the Masters in Public Health dissertation

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Abstract

Background

A dissertation is often a core component of the Masters in Public Health (MPH) qualification. This study aims to explore its purpose, from the perspective of both students and supervisors, and identify practices viewed as constituting good supervision.

Methods

A multi-perspective qualitative study drawing on in-depth one-to-one interviews with MPH supervisors (n = 8) and students (n = 10), with data thematically analysed.

Results

The MPH dissertation was viewed as providing generic as well as discipline-specific knowledge and skills. It provided an opportunity for in-depth study on a chosen topic but different perspectives were evident as to whether the project should be grounded in public health practice rather than academia. Good supervision practice was thought to require topic knowledge, generic supervision skills (including clear communication of expectations and timely feedback) and adaptation of supervision to meet student needs.

Conclusions

Two ideal types of the MPH dissertation process were identified. Supervisor-led projects focus on achieving a clearly defined output based on a supervisor-identified research question and aspire to harmonize research and teaching practice, but often have a narrower focus. Student-led projects may facilitate greater learning opportunities and better develop skills for public health practice but could be at greater risk of course failure.

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