Challenging the Status Quo: The Evolution of the Supervisor-Student Relationship in the Process of Potentially Stigmatizing and Emotionally Complex Autoethnographic Research

Susan Maureen Docherty-Skippen, Hilary Brown


Writing and reliving autoethnographic research is a complex process, both emotionally and intellectually. This is especially true when the focus of the autoethnographer’s research involves experiences with stigma, discrimination, and marginalization in the presence of mental illness. Supervising this process, where students may find themselves feeling vulnerable and confused, presents a unique academic and ethical challenge. How far can a supervisor “push” the student to unearth personal experiences that draw meaning to the larger socio-cultural context to which those experiences took place? How do students confront emotionally painful issues to describe and systematically analyze as part of the academic process? By engaging in a duoethnographic process that pushed beyond surface learning to exploring depths of unconscious biases and hidden assumptions, this paper unveils how the academic relationship between a supervisor and student evolved in terms of understanding, influence, and inspiration, as part of the student’s autoethnographic research. It serves to guide others in the academic supervisor-student relationship when students find themselves confronting emotionally painful issues in their learning. Specifically, the dialogic process of duoethnographic research, where sensitive lived experiences are brought to light and examined, has the potential for students and supervisors to reconceptualize their ways of knowing and being in relation to one another. If successful, this pedagogical framework may be used to support students in their scholarly growth.


emotionally sensitive research, supervisor-student relationship, duoethnography, academic identity, aesthetic inquiry

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