Silence is Golden: Using 'Safe Words' to Promote Research Student Ownership in Supervisory Meetings

Andrew James Clements, Gail Kinman


The quality of supervisory relationships has a significant impact on research students’ ability to successfully attain their goals. One risk factor is contrasting expectations of the role of the supervisory team. We report a case where we became aware firstly, that a student may have different expectations to us (as supervisors) relating to the level of independence that we expected from them and secondly, that we had unwittingly enabled a passive approach which masked the student’s ability. We subsequently describe a strategy we developed, based on the use of ‘safe words,’ for ensuring that the student’s contributions took centre stage during supervisory meetings. Also considered is how this practice allowed us to make a more accurate assessment of their abilities as well as enabling us to form recommendations to help the student develop their ideas more independently.


Autonomy; Supervisory relationships; learner independence

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