Frequently Asked Questions

How do I handle disagreements with my supervisor?

Disagreements are almost bound to happen in a relationship that lasts for three or more years. These disagreements arise in any area and differ in their degree of severity. What may seem to be the end of the universe to you may be perceived as only a minor hitch to your supervisor. Conversely, you may be going along happily while your supervisor seethes. More likely, however, you are both aware of a problem. Regardless of the situation it is always disruptive and can slow, or even halt, your progress. Whatever the problem, if you are sure that you haven't misinterpreted the situation, the first thing is to do something about it.

Here is a common situation and a possible way you could handle this and similar disagreements.

The supervisor says that you don't have enough and you need to do a few more experiments. You don't agree because you feel that you definitely have enough and you're aware of time passing.

You don't agree because you feel that you definitely have enough and you're aware of time passing.You have two options. You can decide to handle the disagreement on the spot or you could give yourself time to think about it.

Time to think and react.

You tell your supervisor that you need to think about it. This gives you time to think about what the supervisor said, to overcome your emotional response, and to prepare a comprehensive answer. It could even be helpful to write down your thoughts. There could be several possible outcomes of your next meeting with your supervisor:

  • after a thorough discussion, your supervisor accepts your point of view.

  • or you reach a compromise. You agree to do some but not all of what was originally asked of you to ensure your thesis reaches the required standards.

  • or you reach total deadlock. From here you may decide that, even though you disagree, you will do what is asked because it is a trade off to preserve your relationship and to finish without too many hassles. Or you decide your reasons are strong enough and you don't want to give in. If further discussion doesn't resolve the situation it may be helpful to talk to someone else such as a fellow researcher, learning adviser, student union representative for postgraduates, or counsellor. If, as a result of all this discussion, you modify your position you should feel comfortable to return to your supervisor and talk it over again. It could be that your supervisor has been rethinking too. A new solution is found. On the other hand the deadlock persists and maybe now is the time to talk to the head of the department and even consider changing supervisors. It has to be remembered that this is a last resort and must be carefully considered.

Certainly disagreements can be uncomfortable. However it is very often the case that disagreements force a rethinking. This can improve the thesis - and indeed the relationship with the supervisor. It is important to remember at all stages of any disagreement with your supervisor to try to keep communication going.

Every university has an established procedures for dealing with grievances and problems that may occur during your candidature. Consult official university handbooks, postgraduate organisations, postgraduate student organiser, faculty committees on postgraduate students and student advisers if necessary.

* Consortium Universities Assistance.
* Establishing a relationship with your supervisor.
* What can I expect from my supervisor and what does my supervisor expect from me?
* Intellectual support.
* Emotional support.
* Seeking, receiving and handling feedback.
* Strategies for getting the best feedback possible.
* Overcoming reluctance to seek feedback.

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