Journal of East China Normal University(Educational Sciences) ›› 2021, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (12): 81-98.doi: 10.16382/j.cnki.1000-5560.2021.12.006

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An Exploration on Supervisor–postgraduate Relationship in China

Jie Ma, Dunrong Bie   

  1. Center for Higher Education Development Research, Xiamen University, Xiamen, 361005, China
  • Online:2021-12-01 Published:2021-11-23


The supervisor-postgraduate relationship plays a role in the quality of postgraduate education. The mode of supervisor-postgraduate relationship is moving from unity to diversity. Existent literature tends to conceptualize the supervisor and postgraduate as particular roles respectively and thus construct their relationship. This study attempts to move beyond the above literature focusing on the role play in constructing supervisor-postgraduate relationship and look at their relationship from an interpersonal perspective. Drawing upon Leary’s interpersonal circle constructed by Influence and Proximity as two axes, the study explores how these two dimensions are evaluated by both supervisors and postgraduates and thereafter types of supervisor-postgraduate relationship generated from the two axes, and the correlations between types of supervisor- postgraduate relationship and supervisors as well as students’ backgrounds, interaction, and the surrounding climate and conditions. Our study surveyed 3,903 supervisors and 865 postgraduates, and found that the supervisor-postgraduate relationship largely fell into the category of “equal and close” one, with “slightly equal but distant” one and “highly authoritative and distant” one co-existing. However, there seem poor correlations between different types of supervisor-postgraduate relationship and supervisors and students’ backgrounds; certain frequency and length of interaction seem to more correlate with “highly equal and close” supervisor-postgraduate relationship; and for postgraduate students, supportive climate and conditions regarding funding and wellbeing appear to more correlate with “equal and close” supervisor-postgraduate relationship.

Key words: postgraduate education, supervisor-postgraduate relationship, supervisor, postgraduate