Dr Marc Xu reflects on what it means to be a PhD supervisor

Dr. Marc Xu, Senior Lecturer in the Linguistics and English Language program at Monash University, reflects on how his work as a PhD supervisor has enriched his experience as an academic.

Over the last nine years since I joined LLCL, Faculty of Arts, of Monash University, I have been supervising 16 HDR students, with nine successful completions so far, and seven currently at various stages of their candidatures. The students are of multilingual and multicultural backgrounds, and their PhD projects cover a wide variety of topics and research areas, ranging from culture representations in ELT curriculum in Vietnam to attitudes towards world Englishes in South Korea; from social identity construction among Chinese migrants in Prato, Italy, to a comparative study of two translations of a Chinese classic Jin Ping Mei, and from Cantonese food idioms and their underlying conceptualisations and ideologies to transcultural creativity in second generation migrant writers in Australia. Most of these PhD projects are multidisciplinary, involving applied linguistics, world Englishes, cultural linguistics, English as a lingua franca (ELF), language education, intercultural communication, translation studies, migration studies, literary studies and Chinese studies.

During my day-to-day research and work on Monash campus, I would occasionally take a short walk from Robert Menzies of the Arts to the Newton’s Apple Tree in the courtyard amidst the Engineering buildings. I enjoy the little detours or excursions, as they help me refresh and recharge my mind, and draw inspirations with a change of the disciplinary landscapes on campus. I would think about ‘boundaries’ during those little excursions. I notice a poster on the wall in one of the Engineering buildings, saying 'The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds' (Theo Jansen). Indeed, as I reflect on the many HDR students that I supervise, I know that what I have been doing, in terms of interdisciplinarity, shows that the boundaries among various disciplines ‘exist only in our minds’. This reminds me of a journal paper that I read by Suresh Canagarajah about academic writing and community of practice in relation to disciplinary ‘boundary-crossing’ in different stages, from asserting and respecting boundaries, to crossing and merging boundaries, and to ultimately appropriating boundaries. For every HDR student that I supervise, whether as the main, co- or associate supervisor, I have subconsciously been ‘appropriating’ disciplinary boundaries, in accordance with the ongoing development of the specific project of the HDR student, and the dynamics among the supervision team and the student involved.

Over the years, I have been taking HDR supervision not only as part of my ‘essential work’, but also as ‘rare opportunities’ for my a) ongoing professional development; b) broadening interdisciplinary perspectives; c) enhancing teamwork or rapport and joint research output among colleagues and HDR students; d) contributing to knowledge construction and transfer; and e) engaging with a dynamic academic community of practice, which involves our HDR students. I understand that HDR supervision requires not only cutting-edge expertise in the field, but also tremendous time, responsibility and dedication, as well as a propensity for life-long learning, i.e., Ancora Imparo (Monash University's motto).