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Students as partners in masters thesis supervision

Integrating research into the undergraduate student experience is an emerging theme of higher education agendas in many countries (Brew & Mantai, 2017), including Denmark (Hansen, et al., 2020). Globally, it takes the form of either supervised undergraduate theses embedded in Bachelor degree programs or extra-curricular research experiences at Master level (Holen et al, 2020).

Scholars have demonstrated that one of the most sophisticated and effective approaches to engage students in research is to invite Students as Partners (SaP) (Gravett et al., 2020). In SaP, students act as co-researchers in close collaboration with an academic staff member and contribute to the research production.

Despite the merits of close students-staff collaboration, higher education’s traditions and practices often distance students from full involvement in university research. Perhaps because of this distance, few investigations have focused on the supervisor’s role in supporting student’ authentic learning experiences within research.

We have identified a concrete case at Aarhus BSS that typifies SaP in the form of an extra-curricular offer to Master’s thesis students. Our case study is guided by the following research question: What are the potentials and challenges in Master’s thesis supervision and writing in which students and supervisors collaborate closely as co-researchers and co-authors of articles?


The case study is based on 1) a thick description of a concrete supervision practice at Aarhus BSS and 2) qualitative interviews with four Master’s thesis students who engaged in partnerships in the spring semester (2020). The interviews were conducted as longitudinal focus group interviews and individual in-depth interviews throughout the semester; before, during, and after the thesis process.

The interviews were coded inductively and analyzed by use of the principle “compare and contrast” with a specific focus on students’ expectations in contrast to their real experiences.


The preliminary results show that the supervisor and students report a number of benefits from engaging in a close student-staff research collaboration process. However, while they find it productive and rewarding, our findings indicate that the SaP model does not appear to be equally suitable to all students, as it appears to be an elite model for especially ambitious students and highly experienced supervisors.

Finally, the analysis shows that the SaP model enlarges the classical dilemma inherent in supervision between supervisor control and student independence. The high frequency of meetings and detailed text feedback make students worry if the end product is cheating and not a result of their independent work.

This study offers a distinctive contribution to the current understanding and debate about increasing students’ engagement in authentic research activities at undergraduate level by combining interviews with students and supervisor experiences    

Read more

  • Bager-Elsborg, Wichmann-Hansen, & Müller (2020). Sådan kan specialevejledning øge din forskningsproduktion. Poster session at the DUN Conference 2020 (Dansk Universitetspædagogisk Netværks Konference), Danmark
  • Brew, A. & Mantai. L. (2017) Academics’ perceptions of the challenges and barriers to implementing research-based experiences for undergraduates. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(5), 551-568,
  • Gravett, K., Kinchin, I.M., & Winstone, N.E. (2020). "More than customers": conceptions of students as partners held by students, staff, and institutional leaders. Studies in Higher Education, 45(12), 2574-2587
  • Hansen, A., Hansen, M., & Krogh, A. (2020). Muligheder og dilemmaer i forskningssamarbejder mellem undervisere og studerende. Dansk Universitetspædagogisk Tidsskrift, 16(29), 2-13.
  • Holen, R., Ashwin, P., Maassen, P & Stensaker, B. (2020) Student partnership: exploring the dynamics in and between different conceptualizations, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2020.1770717


Co-researchers in the project: