What PG Students Wish Their Supervisors Knew

A few weeks ago I asked you what you wished your supervisor/s knew. Your responses were sometimes sad, sometimes heart-warming, and sometimes raw. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Here is a selection of excerpts from the responses I received.

Please note that responses are completely anonymous, and any identifying information has been removed. Some responses have also been edited for clarity and length.


On bad experiences

Photo by the AUT Graduate Research School

My supervisor is all about traditional ways of doing things. I wish [they] would have a bit more of an open mind. I want to be innovative, but I feel like my ideas hit a brick wall when I suggest them to [my supervisor].

Students can be bullied by supervisors and not always recognise it.  PhDs can destroy people’s mental health, and this occurs at the same time as being under significant financial pressure – especially for students who have previously been earning well.

My supervisor has made me cry so many times. I could never tell [them] that. Criticism might be necessary sometimes, but [they] just tear me down.

I am so sick of getting out-of-office autoreplies. Seriously, if you’re going to be away, please tell me!!!


On good experiences

Photo by the AUT Graduate Research School

It’s hard to think about what [my supervisor] could have done better, to be honest!

I would like my supervisors to know how much they have made a difference in my life! One in particular has been the best mentor I’ve ever had. I feel like I have so many possibilities open to me because [my supervisor] made me see my worth, and helped me to understand what I can do with my career.

I almost didn’t enrol for my Masters, but I’m so glad I did. My supervisor is really inspiring. I’m not fully confident with my research yet, but I’m excited about it. And I really wasn’t excited in my career before this.

My supervisor is really well-respected, and pretty much a heavyweight in my field. I expected [them] to be unapproachable and always too busy, but [they’ve] actually been super friendly!


On learning

Photo by the AUT Graduate Research School

Not everyone learns in the same way. I guess my supervisor can read articles all day but I can’t. I wish [they] would offer some alternatives.

I would have wanted to get a little more feedback about what I could have done better. [My supervisor] regularly gave me constructive criticism, but sometimes I didn’t really ‘hear’ it until later, and I think my classmates were similar. Sometimes we need to hear it a few times before we can take it on board.

My supervisor has quite a few students, and we sometimes meet as a group. That’s been really good because by getting to know them and their work, I’ve learned so much more than I would have on my own.

One of my supervisors uses so much jargon! I have no idea what it means half the time. I’ve spent months compiling a list and googling each word/acronym, and I’m only just starting to be able to understand [my supervisor].


On vulnerability

Especially at the end, agreed timelines for feedback are vital. The fear of not completing due to delayed feedback from supervisors is stressful. As a supervisor you may be comfortable with delays and extensions – as a student I felt powerless; afraid of sharing the vulnerable position I was in with anyone.

I wish my supervisor would realise that I can’t afford to always meet for coffee! $4.50 for a flat white is a huge amount of money to me right now.

I would like supervisors to understand how vulnerable their PG students are and that support and encouragement should be their most important duty, as the whole PG process is frightening and demoralising for even the most able L1 English writer.

My supervisors know that I have a difficult home life but I don’t think [they] really understand. I keep feeling like I’m making excuses every time I bring it up, but I really am dealing with things that make it almost impossible to concentrate.


Thank you to all the students who contributed to this article.

I also asked supervisors what they wish their postgrad students knew. Their responses will feature here on Thesislink later this week.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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