After reading this THE article posted by the graduate school on their facebook page I thought this post should be about supervision and what you should expect from your supervisor. First of all I think it’s important for you to know every supervisor is different, I think that article highlights this. A supervisors style varies based on many different things including their role within the department. If, for example, your supervisor is the head of your department they’re going to have a pretty tight schedule – this doesn’t mean they won’t make time for you, just that you need to plan and fit with their schedule. I can’t tell you what your relationship with your supervisor will be like but I can give you an insight into mine.
Personally I think I’m really lucky, my team is small and my supervisor is always contactable. He’s a Professor but he’s new to the University (has been here less than a year) so his undergraduate teaching load is relatively small. Of course he has meetings to go to but he will always reply to emails and when he’s in his office the door is wide open for any one of his students. He regularly wanders into the lab to see what we’re up to and we have weekly team meetings (usually on a Friday). Our student-supervisor relationship is a very easy going one, he wants me to learn, challenge myself and defend my ideas and I feel I’m beginning to do that. He is never short of the time to help me understand something, and will regularly sit down and help me draw conclusions from data. I’m constantly asked “do you think this is a valid experiment” not as a criticism of why I’ve done an experiment a particular way but because I will, one day, have to defend my work (at the end of my first year, and then again at the end of my PhD) and be confident in my convictions. If I want to head in a certain direction with my work he will give me names to help me find relevant literature and then let me go and think about it, I can then go back to him with my plan and we can take it from there.
It’s your responsibility to get what you need from your supervisor, I have a great working relationship with mine because I ask him for what I need and I also offer him help. As I mentioned above I’m pushed to understand everything I do, in return I keep track of certain admin deadlines such as student feedback forms and ensuring we have our required monthly meetings. Student feedback forms aren’t my responsibility but it helps if I offer a reminder in our monthly meeting that one is due. We definitely have a learning together aspect to our relationship, we’re both new to the university with my supervisor only starting here a few months before me.
Something else I have that others may not is a relationship with my team (including my supervisor) outside of the University, we’re a group who socialise together. We regularly have dinner at my supervisors house, he’s Italian so loves to cook (and we love to eat!). Although next time I’ll be hosting and my team will all vacate Leicester for a traditional Sunday roast at my house (I work in a team full of Italian’s so this is totally new to them!). I love the Italian style of serving food, and I work in a team full of Italians – maybe I was meant to be Italian (I’m learning a little of the language as I go). However, I think no one should expect this kind of relationship with their supervisor, you may not even want this style, sometimes students and/or supervisors prefer to maintain a more work focused relationship and that’s ok too. I can only speak from my experience but I think in the sciences, when you’re in the lab everyday, you’re likely to have a strong relationship with your supervisor.
The important point I want to make to you is that you need to take control of this relationship to make it work for you. If you want more time with your busy supervisor send them a meeting request on outlook, do this every week if that’s what you feel you need. I’m not saying that they will be able to have a meeting with you every week but they will invest time in you, your work and ability as a researcher will reflect on them. In return you should always be prepared for these meetings, a list of what you want to discuss, results you have achieved or problems you need guidance on, whatever it is don’t go in their without having something to discuss – otherwise why do you need that meeting at all? It can’t just be to make you feel like you are getting the attention you deserve, it’s a two way street so be prepared.
Your supervisor is there to help you become a researcher and they will most likely influence you far beyond the years of your PhD. I’m very aware of how lucky I am to have the supervisor I do, but at the same time I waited for my PhD so maybe this is my reward. If I continue in academia and ever end up with students of my own I will do my best to give them the same start that I’m receiving right now.