Regulations are tools

Academics tend to dislike rules set by other people, and they tend to loathe bureaucracy (even while inventing it).  But regulations are unavoidable.  

The key to minimising the pain of engaging with university regulations, processes and procedures regarding research students is two-fold:

  1. understand what motivated the regulation in the first place, and;
  2. make it work for you
    — use it to help your supervision – to support the goals you’re trying to achieve (e.g., stock-taking, evidence gathering, reflection, project management).

Very often, understanding the underlying purpose of the regulation provides a route for simplifying your engagement with that guideline and minimises the associated work.  Once you understand what’s needed, and why, it becomes easier to align what’s being asked for with something that’s of value to you within the supervisory relationship.  

‘If it’s a chore, you’re doing it wrong.’

Here are some examples of turning routine bureaucracy to your advantage. (As always, if you have other suggestions, please leave a comment below)

  • Progress reports
    Instead of avoiding progress reporting until the last minute, use the form as a means of ‘keeping track’, of constructive record-keeping. Get the student to start a new form at the beginning of the reporting period, and record relevant things (e.g., as bullet lists of achievements, training, outputs, etc.) as they occur.  Completing the final report should then be just a quick matter of tidying up, with a chance to reflect on what’s been accomplished in the reporting period.
  • Probation/transfer/upgrade
    Use the process as a way of making the research plan explicit and exposing it to scrutiny.  It’s a helpful rehearsal of research skills.  Done well, it reassures both student and supervisors.

Good hygiene usually diminishes the pain of form filling.  Look at your institution’s requirements at the start; figure out what information needs to be collected, and collect it as you go.  Leaving things to the last minute tends to increase the pain – or at least the impression of imposition.  

Working with regulations is akin to cleaning your teeth:  if you do it routinely every day, it’s a quick habit.  But if you don’t, it can result in pain and expense.

This text is licensed under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license –
Images are ©Marian Petre; if you want to re-use any cartoons, please contact me.