Working on an understanding of mutual expectations with your supervisor
is an essential part of developing a good working relationship.
Do this at the beginning. Some students have no idea what is
reasonable to expect while others have what can only be called
a wish list. What actually is the truth varies between supervisors
and departments. However, expectations can be discussed under
several broad headings.
- Practicalities: This includes such things as:
provision of desk or room, equipment, computer facilities, conference
funding, photocopying, secretarial or laboratory assistance.
While important, these are easy to sort out. Most departments
provide some support in this area and information is usually listed in departmental handbooks, publications for postgraduate students, or available from administrative officers or your supervisor.
- Intellectual support: You could reasonably expect what can be termed 'quality assurance'.
By that we mean that your supervisor would probably have experience at both
supervising and examining PhD students. This means she or he knows what standard
your thesis should meet and can assess the feasibility of your plans. Your supervisor
can also play the role of sounding board for your ideas. In initial stages this involves
helping you find
your way through the literature, guidance in topic formulation,
help with research design, and robust comment on appropriate writing
style. In later stages this support can change to become more
of a discussion of your ideas, results, and theoretical framework.
The relationship is often presented as one changing from that
of master-apprentice to one of colleagues. In reality, the way
it starts is often the way it finishes. A more satisfying relationship
is one where both parties acknowledge from the start that they
are potential colleagues.
- Emotional support: It is reasonable to expect
that, while taking a needed critical approach to your work, your
supervisor would nevertheless encourage you in your endeavours.
A good supervisor would be expected to create an atmosphere where
you are not frightened of asking questions, where you don't feel
you have to be brilliant all the time, and in which you can even
occasionally expose your ignorance. You need to feel safe. It
is useful to remember that, at this stage of your academic life,
your supervisor is not your assessor but someone who is in your
corner. Your success is his or her success.
The framework in which this support happens varies but what you
would expect is to have frequent, dedicated meetings with your
supervisor. These are reasonable expectations but they do have
to be negotiated and formally set up right from the beginning
and then reviewed as needs change.
The other side of the coin is that your supervisor has reasonable
expectations of you. These would include:
In other words, you should be able to expect a professional supervisor,
and your supervisor should be able to expect you to be professional
also. This relationship is so important that it warrants time,
thought and energy to keep it working.
- that you are academically competent, can handle the theories
and major concepts in your area, but will acknowledge and work
on any weaknesses or acquire any necessary technical or research
- that you are able to express yourself both orally and in writing.
Remember, although part of your supervisor's role is to guide
you in the use of appropriate discipline-specific language conventions,
writing is still your responsibility.
- that you keep your supervisor informed about the progress
of your work and whether you're facing any problems. Too often
supervisors say "If only I'd known that (the experiments
failed, you've run out of money, broken your leg)".
- that you can organise yourself, meet deadlines, and in general
not need to be told what to do and be 'supervised' all the time.
that you will ask for help if you need