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Conference Proceeding

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8th Biennial Threshold Concepts Conference 2021: Threshold Concepts in the Moment

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390303 Higher education| 390305 Professional education and training| 390307 Teacher education and professional development of educators| 390403 Educational administration, management and leadership

Avondale Research Centre

Centre for Advancement of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

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Mantai and Dowling (2015) refer to the Acknowledgements pages of higher degree research (HDR) theses as “an under-utilised yet rich data source” (p. 106) and Hyland (2004) recognises the way in which thesis Acknowledgements have the potential to “reveal academic preferences” and “point to the processes of its [the thesis’] creation” (p. 305). Using a matrix analysis technique (Miles & Huberman, 2013; Patton, 2015), this study mines the Acknowledgements section of a sample of 120 Masters and Doctoral theses to investigate HDR graduates’ views of their postgraduate supervisors to augment our current understanding of the learning thresholds of HDR supervisors.

Based on the conference sub-theme of “Troublesome not tricky: not all that challenges is a threshold”, this paper considers the more constructive nuances of threshold concept theory in relation to the learning thresholds of postgraduate supervisors. Instead of furthering the discussion that threshold concepts have become synonymous with learner difficulty, the question posed is: What do the affirmative and joyous experiences of postgraduate supervision have to offer threshold concept theory associated with the pedagogy of supervision? This study layers the viewpoints of HDR graduates’ positive experiences about supervision alongside some of the more negative experiences of supervisors that typically incorporate “darker themes”, “threats”, “ordeals” and “disorientation” (Carter, 2016, pp. 1139, 1145) as well as “barriers”, “power conflicts” and “tensions” (Ismail, Majid, & Ismail, 2013, pp. 165, 168).

This study’s findings do not discount the challenging aspects of HDR supervision, as represented in earlier research. Instead, an intertwined representation is offered of the challenging “living through” experiences of the HDR supervisor with the rosier “looking back” views from HDR candidates at the completion stage of their studies. A collection of light and dark learning thresholds, acquired by HDR supervisors while developing a pedagogy of supervision, is offered for consideration.


Carter, S. (2016). Supervision learning as conceptual threshold crossing: When supervision gets ‘medieval’. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(6), 1139-1152. doi:

Carter, S., & Sterm, S. (2014). The hardest step is over the threshold: Supervision learning as threshold crossing. Paper presented at the 11th Biennial Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference, The National Wine Centre, Adelaide.

Hyland, K. (2004). Graduates’ gratitude: the generic structure of dissertation acknowledgements. English for Specific Purposes, 23(3), 303-324.

Ismail, H. M., Majid, F. A., & Ismail, I. S. (2013). “It's complicated” relationship: Research students’ perspective on doctoral supervision. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 90, 165-170. doi:

Mantai, L., & Dowling, R. (2015). Supporting the PhD journey: Insights from acknowledgements. International Journal for Researcher Development, 6(2), 106-121.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (2013). Qualitative data analysis (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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