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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning

 
Students gathered round a table for a supervision

Research question

Does the undergraduate supervision system sufficiently meet the educational needs of Black students, ensuring their best chance for success?

 

Project team

  • Renae Dale, undergraduate student reading Education, Psychology and Learning
  • Tolu Mustapha, undergraduate student reading Law

 

Project report

Report: Supervision Project (PDF); Black British Perspective

 

Abstract

This study explored student and staff - specifically undergraduate supervisors - perceptions of the extent to which the undergraduate supervision system sufficiently meets the educational needs of Black students. The methodology involved two similar online surveys, one to students and one to academic staff, with 20 questions across three themes: interests, comfort & belonging, and feedback. These were distributed predominantly through student and staff networks including the African Caribbean Society, BME Campaign, Faculty of Law and the Cambridge Centre for Teaching & Learning's Teaching Associates' Programme. Our findings were as follows:

  • Despite an overwhelmingly high level of interest in discussing race expressed by student respondents, this interest is not sufficiently met with opportunity or encouragement to discuss race in the supervision system.
  • Supervisors are sometimes unable to see the relevance of race to the discussion. In addition, white supervisors voiced discomfort (lack of confidence) in discussing race and an insufficient understanding of race as an academic subject.
  • Black students are typically the only Black person in their supervision group, which exacerbated their feelings of imposter syndrome.
  • Some students feel that racial trauma negatively impacts their supervision experience, but only a small number of supervisors reported that they can recognise signs of racial trauma.

To combat the above issues we recommend:

  • College-led supervision feedback mechanisms to identify subject-specific deficits and possible actions.
  • Faculty-led reviews of curricula, incorporating insight from student-led or student-staff partnered decolonise networks.
  • A programme for supervisors, coordinated through the Black Advisory Hub, on how to approach, engage in and navigate topics about race, race theory, racial trauma and imposter syndrome at Cambridge.