Supervision: Navigating uncharted waters

Almost 10 years today I was about to start work post-PhD at the University of Auckland as a new Lecturer in Practical Theology in the School of Theology. At that point, I’d done quite a bit of adjunct lecturing and some eLearning consulting, but hadn’t yet supervised any students for postgraduate research projects. My expectation was that I’d supervise mostly in my own research areas (science & religion; theology & technology) and that I’d do a few supervisions also in systematic theology. Of course, that was a little naive.

Supervision of research students takes you on a journey into uncharted territories, across seas of new experiences – some perilous, some smooth sailing – partly because research projects examine a new aspect of a discipline and partly because your job requires you take on students who don’t want to research what you’re interested in. On the whole, this has worked out for me and for my students.

One thing I didn’t anticipate, though, was that I’d develop a track record for supervising research students with a focus on Pacific or Oceanian contextual theology, and particularly Samoan contexts. I’ve been blessed to supervise a number of these students with support from Pacific colleagues, learning from and about students and colleagues, which is often the real joy of supervision.

This week one of my Samoan PhD students defended his doctoral thesis which led to thinking about the different projects I’ve supervised over the past few years, some of which I’ve listed below:

  • “‘O le Suli Va’aia o le Atua’ – A Theology of Identity for the Faifeau of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in Aotearoa New Zealand” (PhD);
  • “‘Coconut Juice in a Coca Cola Bottle’: In search of an Identity: A New Zealand-Born Samoan Christian in a Globalized World” (PhD);
  • “A Pastoral/Theological Strategy: A contribution towards the prevention of male violence against women and children in Fiji.” (MLitt);
  • “The faithful adaptation of the Ekalesia Fa’apotopotoga Kerisiano Samoa (E.F.K.S.) in Aotearoa New Zealand in the twenty-first century” (MTheol);
  • “A critical analysis of the Samoan Expression of aofaalupega (church minister) in relation to the Mission of Jesus’ Disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20” (Honours dissertation);
  • “The Samoan Concept of Le Malu as an analogy for Christian Well-Being: a malu i fale, ua malu i fafo” (PGDip project);
  • “Public theology response to (Pacific) youth alcohol consumption” (PGDip project);

I’ve been privileged to learn from my Pacific colleagues along the way – Ilaitia Tuwere; Winston Halapua; Nasili Vaka’uta; Melani Anae; and most recently, Terry Pouono, Imoa Setefano, Naylor Owen, Doreen Alefaio, Gina Siaosi & Esther Sila’ila’i.

When a research student begins their project it can seem like sailing out into uncharted waters; but it’s often like that for the supervisor too; but it’s worth the risk and you discover that rather than navigating from island to island – seeking only the safety of land in the vast emptiness of the sea – you come to learn to enjoy and respect the deep waters that connect those islands and gives them and those who live there life.

The first course I taught when I started at the University of Auckland began this journey with students listening to Pacific voices such as Epeli Hau’ofa, Albert Wengt, and Leslie Boseto as part of thinking theologically about identity and place in Oceania. I’m still getting my head around those and other voices, and look forward to charting new waters with students in the future.

“Just as the sea is an open and ever flowing reality, so should our oceanic identity transcend all forms of insularity, to become one that is openly searching, inventive, and welcoming.”

  • Epeli Hau’ofa, We Are the Ocean: Selected Works

 

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