Why openness in education.. and the effect of a real learning moment

This entry is an activity related to a MOOC that I am following at this time about openness in education. The activity is to write about something I learned and I really value from someone.

In fact, there is no more valuable “learning moment” that I can never forget than the great experience that I had with my PhD supervisor, Jean-Luc DEKEYSER, at just the beginning of my career as a researcher about 13 years ago. Although my experience with him includes many “learning moments” that I can never forget, the one I am talking about this time is the most remarking one.

At the end of my DEA work (the French equivalent of the Master’s degree) I terminated the “required” work a bit early (just a few days separated my from the viva day), and I used to go to my supervisor to ask him what to do next. Jean-Luc used to tell me to revise the dissertation, to revise the results, to prepare the presentation, etc. but nothing technical!

The day of the viva coming, I was confident that I have done a perfect work, and the only thing I was afraid of was the language barrier (my native language is Arabic and my second language was English, and my experience with French was very limited). Everything passed almost perfectly, until the moment when Jean-Luc, my supervisor, started to ask his questions, which were almost all in the type of:

  • Did you try to implement such and such idea?
  • Have you thought about so and so?
  • What do you think you will get as results if you have tried that and that

All the questions were purely technical..  My supervisor had a lot of technical ideas, but he did not share them with me, and now he is trying to embarrass me! This is what I thought at the moment. I was really upset.

I waited until he reached his office and I entered behind him to discuss what happened and to my surprise he was smiling and he asked me if I have learned the lesson! I asked him what lesson he meant and he told then:

“The lesson that this is YOUR work, YOUR research and YOUR responsibility, not mine! If I was to know, better than you, about what to do in your research work, I would do it and maybe more effectively than yourself. But it is YOUR responsibility to take your research in YOUR own hands”.

This was a great learning moment. I will never forget it and I will ever appreciate it and appreciate the greatness of Jean-Luc DEKEYSER. He followed the proverb that we have in Arabic that states that giving a poor a fish, you feed him a day, but teaching him fishing, you feed him every day. Yes, Jean-Luc did not share with me ideas, specific and technical, about my research work, but he shared with me a great experience; I am the one responsible of my work, and nobody else.

I think that I can say that I did a remarkable PhD with no less than eight publications and this would never be possible if I did not have this starting experience with my supervisor, which was satisfied with my independence in my work.

All my postgraduate students and a lot of my undergraduate students know this story, because it is a great experience, and I am sure that it influenced the work of many of them also.

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