The student-supervisor relationship is critical to your research experience. It can make or break a PhD. Good supervisors provide mentoring, inspiration and intellectual challenge. A student-supervisor relationship which is poor and unproductive, is extremely stressful. Poor supervision is the number one reason graduate research students seek support at the MGA Advocacy Service.
How should I navigate this relationship?
Early on, and whenever it is needed in your candidature, you should aim to sit down with your supervisor and discuss their expectations of you, and your expectations of them. Decide and clarify:
- The frequency, duration and timing of meetings.
- The amount of work and rate of progress expected of you.
- The feedback you can expect to receive from your supervisor.
- Your versus your supervisor’s expectations of how the arrangement will work.
- Any planned leave or prolonged absence that the supervisor may be planning, and if interim supervision arrangements are needed.
- What commitments your supervisor has to other projects including research, teaching, or supervision.
- If you have any personal problem that might affect your progress.
The student-supervisor relation is a two way street. You need to do your part too. If you find you are struggling or unsure, or are experiencing illness or other impactful event in your life, let your supervisor know. Open communication with your supervisor will help them help you.
What should I expect of my supervisor?
The MGA recommends that all higher degree research students peruse the Graduate Research Student Supervision Procedure and Policy. These document outlines the responsibilities of your supervisor which must be met throughout your candidature.
More generally, a good supervisor is someone who:
- Understands and takes an interest in your topic
- Meets regularly with you
- Provides constructive criticism and clear feedback
- Recommends papers for you to read
- Encourages you to present at conferences
- Encourages and challenges you academically
- Has a strong work ethic and expects the same of you
- Is open to your opinions and ideas and honest with you
- Is generous in acknowledging your authorship rights
- Does not engage in departmental gossip
- Encourages you to speak with other academics and develop networks
- Is friendly but professional
Every department has a graduate coordinator whose job it is to liaise with research students. Find out the person’s name and feel free to ask any questions about the day to day conduct of your candidature.
What if things aren’t going well?
Many students come to MGA with problems concerning their courses, departments or supervisors. You are not alone. MGA advocacy staff can provide you with an objective opinion, useful advice and strategies, and guaranteed confidentiality.
If needed, an advocate can guide you through the process of changing supervisors and setting up other methods of support.
At your request, an advocate can attend meetings either as an impartial observer or to speak on your behalf. Get in touch with us today.