Friday, November 04, 2011

A PhD From the Other Side: Working with Supervisors

The past few posts were about getting a PhD, and they were from a student’s perspective, but here’s a link from the other side, i.e. your supervisor’s perspective. It talks about how to handle your supervisor.

I haven’t been on the other side that long (I only got my PhD in 2009) and I haven’t supervised that many PhD students, but I’ve learned a lot in that time. One is that it is incredibly enjoyable to work with PhD students and to help them on their journey.

But perhaps more relevantly for you, I’ve seen how things can go pretty wrong. Here is some simple and perhaps obvious advice.

If your supervisor asks you to submit work by a certain date, do it. If you don’t do it and your supervisor follows up (which, incidentally, is an annoyance for both of you and a waste of your supervisor’s limited time), respond to the message. Your supervisor cares and wants to make sure everything is okay. Your supervisor has an obligation to you, but you also have an obligation to him/her. Follow through and follow up.

When you submit work, make sure it is clean and clear. No grammatical or orthographic mistakes. No half-sentences. No unfinished ideas. No outlines (unless you were asked to submit an outline). Do the work that was requested and make sure you edit it carefully before turning it in. Be professional about your PhD; it is, after all, your job at this stage in your life.

If you are asked to submit your work in a certain format (by email, for example, or in hard copy), do it. Different teachers have different preferences for how they read student work. I prefer emailed documents, so I can use Microsoft’s Track Changes feature and edit the work in a neat fashion. But others prefer hard copies. So listen to what your supervisor requests and follow the instructions.

If you have a meeting scheduled, prepare for it. This means having the work finished and submitted on time, as discussed above. This also means that you come armed with questions and/or discussion points. Your supervisor will generally direct the meeting, but you should have some comments as well. This is your chance to get advice, so take advantage of it. Also, this should be needless to say, but come to meetings on time. It’s so irritating and inconsiderate when students are late or don’t show up at all.

Also in meetings, make sure you take notes. You’re not going to remember everything that was said, so make the most of your opportunity and write down the ideas and critiques you get. I’ve been in supervisions where a student just says “Yeah, yeah, yeah” and doesn’t write anything down. It won’t surprise you that such students don’t generally make the changes that have been suggested in the meeting. This means that the supervisor then has to repeat all those comments another time, and what’s the point of that?

You don’t have to agree with or do everything your supervisor says, but you should at least listen to it with an open mind. It’s pretty rude for a student to make faces, sigh, or interrupt while the supervisor is talking, and yet I’ve seen this more times than I would have liked.

Don’t waste time in meetings talking about your personal life, unless this is directly relevant to your studies (if you’re going through a divorce or you’ve had a death in the family or another difficult situation, you may need a break from your studies or an extension to a deadline).

Do be polite at all times. This means thanking anyone who exerts time and effort on your behalf, not just your supervisors but admin staff, other teachers, interview subjects, and so on. It’s just good manners. And to be crass about it, you’ll probably want or need a reference from your supervisor later, so it doesn’t hurt to make a good impression.

Good luck working with your supervisor!

1 comment:

sbo said...

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