Self-Audit: International PhD Student Supervision & Graduate School Organisation

I welcome potential PhD students interested in youth studies, critical psychology, global education and/or media research to contact me and discuss their ideas and research proposals. 

Originally from Greece, I studied psychology in Greece, Poland, France and Germany. I acquired my PhD in 2007 with the Department of Education and Psychology of the Free University Berlin in Germany. Following my PhD, I advanced my specialisation in sociological and anthropological approaches to education during post-doctoral research projects at the Humboldt University Berlin as well as at the University of Amsterdam. I have also served as a visiting professor or researcher for brief periods of time in the United States, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and India. For reasons related to this trajectory, in my role as a doctoral student supervisor I am committed to valuing diversity and widening participation on an international level. I understand Spanish and speak fluent English, German, Portuguese, Greek and French, and have already supervised MA and PhD students who collect and analyse data in these languages for their dissertations.

My own research scholarship explores education and pedagogy with regard to diversity, internationalisation and digital technologies. Many of my publications refer to collaboration as opposed to competition in international educational settings, to diversity and widening participation, as well as to meaningful learning. This concept goes back to the work of L.S. Vygotsky and explores learning through participation in activities that are seen both as meaningful in terms of personal sense-making, as well as societally meaningful and important.

My experience in developing PhD courses ‘from scratch’, in designing effective learning environments and programmes, in teaching and assessing PhD students, as well as in engaging with relevant policy-making and quality enhancement can be traced back to the time I served as Secretary of the International Society for Cultural-historical and Activity Research (ISCAR). In this capacity, in the summer of 2010 I coordinated the first ISCAR international summer school for PhD students in Moscow, in close collaboration with the Senior Leadership Team of the Moscow State University for Psychology and Education.

My opening speech for this school, which took place on the 20th of June 2010, is available on vimeo:

ISCAR 1st Sum School Opening, Moscow 2010 from Michalis Kontopodis on Vimeo.

Other videos and didactic materials from that year as well as the following years can be accessed online under http://iscarschool.ru. I was involved in the organisation of the Graduate School – which was soon officially recognised as the ISCAR Summer University for PhD students at Moscow State University of Psychology and Education – until 2013, when I gave the lead to succeeding Secretary and International Coordinator Martijn van Schaik. Since 2010, the ISCAR Summer University has hosted over 150 students from countries as diverse as the UK, the Netherlands, Serbia, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, Italy, Greece, the USA, Russia, Mexico, Colombia, China, Australia, and South Africa, as well as invited professors from all of these countries. The official language of the Graduate School is English, while for content-related reasons its official location is in Moscow, which is seen as the centre of Cultural-Historical Psychology founded by Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky. Students meet once a year in the summer in Moscow, while long-distance education can be provided through various online venues during the rest of the year. The programme and cost plan of the school are currently under evaluation by the respective Russian authorities, while the current international tensions have increased the complexity of its governance. Reports in English concerning the contents, organisation, didactic materials, pedagogical approaches, and comprehensive student evaluations are available on the webpage of the school, e.g.:

Establishing such a programme obviously entails a wide range of activities within all areas of the UK Professional Standards Framework; it presupposes high standards of knowledge and professional values as well as skills related to diplomacy and international relations. It would be beyond the scope of the present audit to refer in detail to all these aspects. I would, however, like to briefly highlight a few dimensions important for the success of this undertaking.

  1. Most importantly: the programme and approach was informed by relevant scholarship and research such as Vygotskian scholarship on meaningful learning, anthropological approaches to intercultural communication etc.[1] It kept a balanced approach between encouraging autonomy and plurality, as well as guiding students with respect to international standards and established procedures. This addressed diverse individual learners and provided supportive environments where everyone was treated with dignity, courtesy and respect, thus encouraging participation and ensuring equality of opportunity for all learners, often overcoming linguistic, socio-cultural and disciplinary boundaries. As a result – which also becomes apparent in the feedback by alumni students – the programme maximised the potential of the students to be responsive to new ideas, equipping them for an academic and professional life in a multicultural, globalised society.
  2. A broad international network of academics, which already had a long history before the International Graduate School was established, embraced the School and supported the involved staff and myself in multiple ways. I could easily communicate with many of the local partners in their native languages, as well as understand implicit preferences and rules through my previous personal experience of living and working in many diverse contexts. However, many relations and associated responsibilities were conducted on the basis of mutual and personal sympathies, such that it was difficult to establish continuity when a person (including myself) departed or changed functions.
  3. Although (offline) official meetings for policy formulation and strategic planning, evaluation, quality assurance and enhancement took place on a regular basis, most reflection and decision-making among the involved partners took place in non-official settings, which offered much more space and time for explanations, clarifications, dialogue and mutual understanding. The same was the case with regard to the coordination and exchange of views between the various invited professors who engaged in joint teaching and supervision. Even if the international and local coordinators and academics developed a good common understanding among themselves, it was always a challenge to align the organisation of the Graduate School in Moscow with the various non-academic, i.e. administrative and bureaucratic, routines and regulations of so many universities in such a wide range of national legal and cultural settings.
  4. The online platform, which has been partially accessible to the broader public through the above-mentioned webpage, was central in preparing the communication among students and professors before the Summer University, as well as in following up after everybody had returned to her country. The design was simple and easily accessible, and the local team in Moscow was skilled in creating videos, handbooks and all necessary materials according to the established guidelines.

    ISCAR Summer University Opening Moscow 2012

    ISCAR Summer University Opening Moscow 2012

  5. Activities that at a first glance were not content-related, such as theatre improvisation, museum visits, sports, student parties, etc. played a key role in establishing communication about the contents of the School between the participants. Often the most interesting discussions and supervision work, including giving feedback to the students, took place in these ‘free-time’ contexts. The more the invited professors could participate in these activities, the better it was for the students – which created a challenge in terms of workload distribution and planning. These free-time encounters between students, invited professors and the leading team also created the best contexts for the students to give meaningful feedback with regard to various aspects of teaching and programme convening – much more so than the official evaluation forms.
  6. The Graduate School provided space for the development of new contents and curricula with regard to research methodology, cultural-historical psychology, socio-cultural approaches to education, theory and epistemology. Many PhD students and invited professors became involved in developing innovative contents and in publishing special issues of the journal of Cultural Historical Psychology (edited in Moscow) in English, as well as in jointly presenting their scholarly work in other contexts. Medal Medal of the Moscow State University I am currently editing a collective volume that emerged from this context for PhD students engaged in research on Global Youth on Virtual Adventures, including contributions from Europe, Brazil, India and Russia.

There is undoubtedly further work that needs to be addressed and completed within this context in the years to come. I believe, however, that this brief self-audit reflects my engagement with professional practice and my expertise in PhD research supervision, programme design and quality assurance in an increasingly globalised knowledge society. For all this engagement, in 2012, I was awarded the Medal of the Moscow State University for Psychology and Education for founding and effectively leading the International Cultural & Activity Research Summer University for PhD Students in Moscow (see picture below).

[1] Cf. van Oers, B., Elbers, E., Wardekker, W., & van der Veer, R. (Eds.). (2008). The transformation of learning: Advances in cultural-historical activity theory. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press; Wulf, C. (2006). Anthropologie kultureller Vielfalt: Interkulturelle Bildung in Zeiten der Globalisierung. Bielefeld: transcript.

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