April 18, 2013, by Adrian Mateo

Supervising up an international Masters project – a Malaysia perspective

UK Malaysia projectThis is the third in a series of special blogs about setting up and supervising international and inter-campus projects based on the experiences of staff at the Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) in the UK and Malaysia. In this blog post we look at supervising an international project from a Malaysia perspective based on the experiences of Anita Chakrabarty (Assistant Professor of Marketing, Deputy Director of Undergraduate Programmes – Admissions, Divisional Academic Director Strategy and Marketing at the Malaysia campus).

The success of an international project hinges on many things, amongst them of course is excellent support from the teams that set up the entire collaborative effort in both campuses. Apart from students, I believe that such projects are equally sought after by faculty, for two reasons. First it expands our own knowledge base with some additional insight into the workings of certain industries; second, it expands our own networks with industry and provides an excellent opportunity to develop better relations with our counterparts in the different campuses.

While many opportunities are available for expansion of networks, this type of effort involves our most important stakeholders – the students. The students gained the most from this collaboration. First, it provides them an opportunity to travel and experience another campus environment, and second it provided an insight into an industry; develop knowledge and experience in a field that they may not have had the chance to explore otherwise. The expertise of providing inputs or resolving a real problem of a firm in the course of their study is indeed a valuable addition to their CV. In fact, the lack of such an opportunity will not augur well with future MBA students even though at this time such an opportunity is limited.

The project in this case, covered a common challenge to all industries – market opportunity and market scanning for entry. This on its own provides students with an experience of examining a market region for international market entry that may repeat itself soon in their future careers as market expansion is required for brand survival.

In chronological order, we began with an advertisement by email of the opportunity to the MBA students when they were beginning to consider supervisors and project topics. We provided the brief and also asked students to provide a proposal that would be assessed. The better proposal would be selected for this collaborative effort. Two students submitted a proposal and the better proposal was chosen.

Professor Vicky Story and I then considered how the brief could be expanded into research tasks that could be divided for the two supervised students across campuses. Due to the nature of the origin of the project which was in the UK, Vicky in the UK and myself spoke over Skype. We initially laid down the separation of duties so that the students involved in Malaysia and in the UK could each do separate components to produce individual project reports that contributed to the completion of their respective MBA’s. Importantly, the two components produced by the students would contribute to an overall research presentation and report to the industry counterpart in the UK.

This was followed by subsequent communications and meetings with the Malaysian student. The first meeting was mainly to discuss the key areas the student should focus on in relation to the brief, this was followed by supervision of the general content, primary data gathering efforts and secondary data required , followed by meetings to discuss the organization and presentation of findings. In this effort however it is important to highlight that an important dimension was communication and exchange of ideas between students. We encouraged their communication and provided our inputs into their individual sections when required. This was further augmented by the student from UK flying over to Kuala Lumpur for the collection of primary data on consumers for his part of the research effort. The student from Malaysia also flew over to the UK towards the end of the project. However, due to my own schedule and changes in the final presentation date, I could not go over to the UK to supervise the presentation to the industry partners. The students however were both in the UK, and with guidance from the UK supervisor Vicky – they presented to the firm with very good feedback.

Overall, a number of factors were important in its success:

  1. The communication and collaboration between supervisors in the campuses.
    For such a collaborative effort, supervisors must devote some time to discuss and exchange ideas at any stage of the project. These discussions may involve Skype meetings which may be more lengthy, email exchanges or even a quick telephone call. Without these discussions and exchange of ideas, the effort would not progress. Prof Vicky and I did our best to communicate with each other as often as possible to catch up on student progress in the first instance, and discuss any matters as they arise.
  2. Students have to be equally committed to the effort – to exchange ideas and have discussions not only with the local supervisors but also the other campus supervisors and students if needed in order to coordinate efforts to produce a more coherent project report. This is important as it involves a significant amount of funding, students themselves should not view this as an opportunity to enjoy a break at another country or campus. It has to be clear to students that work and results are expected for this type of collaborative efforts.
  3. An equally committed contact person in the firm. – the firm should also be happy to exchange information with the students and the supervisors. Only then would the research effort provide inputs which are useful for charting the company strategy or resolving a company challenge. On numerous occasions, students had queries and contacted the contact person in the firm for information and help with information resources. It is important, that such a dedicated person exists and is informed about the collaborative efforts and all that is involved.
  4. Lastly but not least, the support of the management of both campuses and the management team of the collaborative efforts. In this case, due to the nature of the project, sometimes there were matters that needed to be resolved immediately and I am sure that the students involved and myself were very pleased that the management teams of the collaborative efforts as well as any administrative support that was made available was quick to act and respond to queries, resolving matters as they arose. This effort would not have been possible without such a level of responsiveness. While it may not always fit in with our office hours – the academic support was only one part of the equation.

As pointed out by Dr Duncan Shaw and Professor Mohan Avvari in previous posts (Setting up an international Masters project – a UK perspective and Setting up an international Masters project – a Malaysia perspective respectively), the potential for projects through cross campus collaborative efforts is immense. While it normally encompasses the various postgraduate programmes , it may also be expanded to executive education programmes . With the lower cost of communications in current times, we have to take the opportunity of the complementary and additive resources we have in the three campuses to open more doors for collaborative efforts.

The final blog posts in this series will examine:

  • Supervising  an international project – a UK perspective

This post is shared with the ‘Talking of teaching’ blog, the University’s blog looking at teaching culture and practice.

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