Working with Your Supervisor

15152924359_e892c6b687_zYour relationship with your supervisor is arguably one of the most important professional relationships you will ever have- and not just during the years of your PhD. After you’ve graduated your supervisor will provide you with references for job applications and might help your career progress in other ways, such as introducing you to people working in your field.

Those who have studied in a studio-based creative discipline at undergraduate or taught postgraduate level may be more accustomed to the process of research supervision than those from more conventional academic courses. This is because there are a number of similarities between the student relationship with a studio tutor and a research supervisor: they are an expert in the field you are working in, with considerably more experience than you, providing guidance and making suggestions along a process of inquiry. They facilitate you in making your own decisions and discoveries through a process of dialogue. Your supervisor will not dictate to you what to do, but will ask challenging questions of your work that will help you to clarify your rationale for the decisions you make.

Doctoral research supervision is not always a simple process, and it may take both you and your supervisor some time to adjust to each other’s expectations and ways of working. The following list sets out what you and your supervisor should expect from each other:

  • Timely communication

timeYou should not expect your supervisor to reply immediately to every email you send: supervisors are high level academics (and at GSA they may well also have their own creative practice) and as such are busy people. However, your supervisor should respond to simple enquiries about arranging meetings, feedback on work, etc, within a reasonable time frame; if not, then do not be afraid to speak to them about this.

  • Support with career development

Your research degree supervisor will be a valuable source of advice on enriching your CV, such as what conferences to go to and societies to join, how to turn chapters in progress into academic journal publications and the most suitable publications for you to submit articles. Do not expect your supervisor to intuit what aspects you’d like guidance on – ask them for their advice on specific issues. As you progress you will become more adept at making your own judgements and decisions.

  • Regular meetings, of a length and frequency acceptable to both of you.

Everyone is different, and some students and supervisors prefer monthly long meetings in the supervisor’s office, whereas others prefer quick catch-ups over a coffee once a week. Ideally, how frequently you meet and how long your meetings last will be something that you and your supervisor will discuss and agree on together. The length and frequency of your supervision meetings will be according to the particular objectives of the meeting and the stage you are at. For example, if you were working on a particular piece of writing you might agree to send your supervisor the finished piece in four weeks’ time, and then have a meeting the following week. The key is to arrange supervision meetings to make the most of the valuable resource of their time and expertise.

If you have a disability or learning difference such as dyslexia, you may need to arrange for some adjustments with your supervisor, for example allowing you to make an audio recording of your supervisions or commenting on the accuracy of your notes of the main points discussed after each supervision.

  • Useful feedback: rigour and professionalism in commenting on your work

Your supervisor will provide you with good quality feedback on your work in progress. They will give your work detailed attention and make useful comments, rather than correcting every small error and typo. Your work will benefit from your supervisor’s astute observation and constructive criticism, which is more useful than the relentlessly positive feedback we all might desire! As you progress you will become more aware of your own work’s strengths and weaknesses and also of your emotional responses to feedback. You will become more able to reflect for yourself on your work – which may sometimes involve having a different opinion to that of your supervisor and being able and prepared to support your opinion from a scholarly and informed position.

  • Respect and value

You and your supervisor will build a working relationship of mutual respect. A supervisor will be supportive of their students and care about their work at the same time as allowing the student to make their work their own. A research student should respect their supervisor’s thoughts and value their advice while remembering that their own knowledge and critical insight is important: it is your PhD. Remember that you are valued by your supervisor: supervising you has the potential to contribute to their professional prestige.  Your supervisor is interested in your work and will find their own research enriched by working with you.

If you have any concerns about working with your supervisor at GSA, you should seek to address these by speaking to them directly. If your concerns persist then you can contact the Academic Coordinator for PGR (Laura Gonzalez) or your local PhD Coordinator.

The Learning Support and Development team can work with you to ensure that your specific learning needs are communicated to your supervisor and support you in your note-taking skills.

Image: McAteer at GSA Flickr