Student-supervisor-university expectation alignment in the undergraduate engineering thesis

Brad Stappenbelt, Abheek Basu


Given the lack of student research experience, the undergraduate thesis is necessarily focussed primarily on development of research skills (i.e. it is process oriented). Since postgraduate supervision is research output focussed, the lessons learnt from this field are not always directly transferable. In contrast to the vast body of work in the field of doctoral research supervision, there exists a dearth of literature on undergraduate dissertation supervision. To address this shortcoming, the present study examined the alignment of university, supervisor and student expectations regarding responsibilities in the undergraduate engineering thesis. University expectations, having undergone rigorous review, outline the sound pedagogical practice that should be applied to undergraduate supervision. Expectations of academic staff supervisors and thesis students were obtained through the use of survey tools and post-survey discussions. The surveys used in the present study were adapted from the Role Perceptions Rating Scale (RPRS). Alignment between student and university expectations regarding undergraduate thesis responsibilities in the present study was generally poor. The discrepancy between supervisor and university expectations was even greater, with academic staff generally assuming the bulk of the responsibility for many core thesis tasks. Post-survey discussion indicated that the driver for this behaviour were supervisor expectations that that undergraduate thesis research would contribute to publications. Taking primary responsibility for core thesis tasks away from the student, although improving the likelihood of successful research output, diminishes the ability for an accurate assessment of adequate academic performance. The learning that is intended to result from the undergraduate thesis is devalued when research outcomes are prioritised over research process.


Undergraduate thesis, thesis supervision, supervision responsibilities, thesis student expectations, thesis pedagogy

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Journal of Technology and Science Education, 2011-2022

Online ISSN: 2013-6374; Print ISSN: 2014-5349; DL: B-2000-2012

Publisher: OmniaScience