How to manage your supervisor effectively
|Dr Nazmul Huda|
Managing your supervisor in higher degree by research is a very important and critical issue. In my previous writing, I tried to point some key issues about emailing and contacting potential supervisors. Once you get accepted for candidature offer from a potential supervisor, the next important issue is how you select the right supervisor and effectively manage your supervisor in the coming years. I have seen many students who were struggling to manage their supervisors and finally ended up by quitting or changing their supervisor after spending significant amount of time. On the other hand, it has been admitted by many successful research students that the key to success in postgraduate life is careful management of their supervisors. Brilliance in this journey greatly depends on understanding your supervisor’s views, vision, temperament, enthusiasms, strengths and weaknesses. Certainly PhD is not the end of your scholarship journey, I would say that’s the beginning of the journey and you always have to keep in my mind that there is a long way to go after your PhD, where your supervisor can continue to play a vital role. A good supervisor can be a very valuable resource as you struggle to progress towards your PhD and your future career. So, it is similarly important for careful selection from the very beginning.
Supervisor selection criteria:
Now let’s come to the point of careful selection. It may happen that you get reply from multiple supervisors and it always ends up in a dilemma about whom to choose. Here are few points to help you in selecting the best supervisor:
- Research profile of your prospective supervisor: Your research interest must match closely with your supervisor. Gather as much information as you can regarding his/her research career, publication portfolio, grants and overall position in research field.
- Academic excellence and achievements (significant contribution to the field, prizes, awards, outstanding publications, patents)
- Academic position (lecturer, senior lecturer or professor): This is a critical issue, since there are some lecturers/senior lecturers who can be a better supervisor as compared to a professor. People often get confused by simply preferring a professor over an associate professor or junior academics. Of course, professors are regarded as most influential in academic field, but some junior academics at their early career pays highest attention to research students. Moreover, junior academics might have more time for you compared to a professor – as professors are more likely to have other administrative responsibilities.
- Student satisfaction is another important issue. Liaise with other research students working under the supervision of your prospective supervisor and get valuable feedback. As your supervisor has the right to check/inquire your intellectual capability and academic excellence, you also deserve the right to check the supervision quality of your prospective supervisor. You can also communicate with other research students at the same university and inquire about your prospective supervisor and overall student feedback on his/her supervision job.
- Try to get a sense of how approachable your prospective supervisor is. This can be done possibly by checking the email conversations carefully, talking over phone or, if possible, by meeting him/her personally. A good supervisor should be easily approachable, as you have to spend at least 3 to 4 years under his/her supervision.
- Industry collaboration and other collaborators: Supervisors with good collaboration can help you to manage a job after PhD easily.
- Current supervision load: If your prospective supervisor is already overcrowded with lot of research students, it is likely to happen that he/she will pay less attention to you.
- Last but not the least, career status of the past students: Check the students who already finished their degree under your prospective supervisor’s supervision and their career status, what they are doing, etc. I would recommend contacting with them if possible, as they know the best about your prospective supervisor.
These are few of the selection criteria that you should consider before choosing your prospective supervisor. If not all, try to do as much as you can and if you have other ideas in mind, you can also imply that.
Effective supervisor management tips:
Once you start your dream journey, the dream will soon turn into a nightmare if you can’t manage your supervisor effectively. Eventually, you will lose interest, get frustrated, and finally may end up by quitting or trying hard to change your supervisor. Here are some tips that I thought may benefit you in your dream journey:
1) Be understanding: From the very beginning, you have to understand your supervisor clearly. Try to study his/her goals, desires, liking, disliking, skills and any specific weakness. Always keep in mind that your supervisor will not get paid any extra money for supervising you. Then why is s/he supervising you? What are the goals/objectives? Answer is simple; supervision is part of his/her academic commitment. The only benefit s/he will get is by your publication and your success. In addition, s/he will also spread his/her views in scientific community by creating ambassadors like you. S/he may also try to cover up some of his weaknesses, for example, if you are very good C++ programmer, your supervisor may try to get some benefit out it, if s/he is not an expert in that. So understanding his/her weaknesses is also important so that you can be a powerful resource of your supervisor.
2) Be tolerant: Be tolerating when your supervisor pushes you hard to finish something. While doing this, s/he may not always behave nicely or the way you were expecting. Also, keep in mind that s/he is a human being and has much more things to do other than supervising you. So, try to be tolerant if you experience something like this.
3) Communicate effectively: Always keep in touch with your supervisor. Most supervisors will have a set date to meet with you every one or two weeks. Usually meetings are more frequent at the beginning of the project and get less frequent as you have a clearer idea of your research. At all stages, meet regularly with your supervisor as this will give him/her an idea of your progress in the research. If you have any issue with your research, do not hesitate to communicate it to your supervisor. The earlier a problem is detected, the earlier it can be solved.
4) Prepare your best for meeting: Prepare your best for the regular supervisory meetings. Have a clear agenda before going to meet your supervisor. It is a good idea to maintain written regular meeting notes with clear points on the topics to discuss, the discussion, and the action points for you and your supervisor. Do not just take problems to discuss, think about some possible solutions for the problems and share with your supervisor. By doing this you will not only develop problem solving skill, but your supervisor will also think high of you. Another very important issue is, don’t be late at meetings. Never let your supervisor wait for you.
5) Do your best in research: Always emphasize on doing the best. By doing your best in the research career, not only will you get benefitted, but also your supervisor will get many things out of it. Other than your own success, think about what your supervisor will get, for example, s/he will get good number of publications, more recognition and more future students in his/her research group. Hence, try sincerely to do your best.
6) Develop friendship: Try to develop a friendly and easy relationship from the beginning. You can do this by spending some time with your supervisor by discussing about anything other than research. Simply start by chatting something about daily life after your weekly regular meeting. But be careful of his availability of time. If you know that he/she is busy, cut your weekly meeting short. If you get a sense that he/she has some free time, try to stay and share with him/her about something other than research. If you pass this initial barrier of talking with him/her other than research, propose him/her something like going out for a lunch or coffee sometime and discuss over there. By doing this, you will get to each other very easily and by time he/she will be your good friend.
7) Try to be a helping hand: Try to help your supervisor sometimes in his/her job and try to prove yourself as an invaluable asset. For example, you can help him/her by reviewing one of his/her papers, organizing a seminar/conference, helping other research students of his/her group with something that you are expert in, and supervising his/her undergraduate students in group project/undergraduate projects. Always remember that this is a give and take relation. The more you give, the more you will get in return.
8) Dealing with conflict: It is very common that there will be conflicts between you and your supervisor during your PhD journey. Every relation involving two different people may have conflicts, like the marital relation. Sometimes the conflict is so severe that even divorce is possible between the two. So deal with the conflicts very carefully. The most effective way to minimize conflict is to communicate and learn to respect other’s views. Do not comment anything out of anger or take a decision when you are angry. Discuss about the conflict and possible solution with your associate supervisor, fellow researchers and share the matter with your friends. Take your time to cool down and set your mind before seeing your supervisor after each conflict. If you experience severe conflict with your supervisor quite often, discuss the matter with graduate research office before it’s too late. The worst possible scenario would be you will be asked to change your supervisor.
9) Give him enough time to read: Give your supervisor enough time to read any conference paper, journal or thesis chapter on which you need his/her feedback. Do not rush just a day or two before the paper submission deadline. Remember that your supervisor is always burdened with lot of work load and certainly you will give extra pain if you rush just before the deadline.
10) Build trust: In no circumstances should you lose the trust of your supervisor. Be frank and truthful with the problems you are facing, share with him/her and seek sincere guidance/advises. Make them feel that their comments are invaluable and means a lot to you.
11) Generate ideas: Generate some useful ideas about how you can help in increasing the activity within the research group, attract more research students, etc. and if you see any opportunities for funding anywhere in the world, share it with your supervisor. This will eventually make the supervisory relationship stronger day by day.
All the points mentioned above will help you to build a strong relationship with your supervisor and I hope you can effectively manage him/her by simply following these rules in most of the cases. There may be some other cases where different situations may arise. If you face something like this, use your own discretion and discuss the matter with your surroundings and try to find the best possible solution.
Finally, I would like to conclude by reminding you that supervisory relationship is life-long relationship and you have to take care of it in every step towards the tiresome journey of your PhD. Once you reach to the end successfully, it will continue since then and you will enjoy it for a long time even after PhD.
Wish you a successful research journey.
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