What Supervisors Wish PG Students Knew: Part 2

So far this week, we’ve found out what PG students wish their supervisors knew, and the first part of what supervisors wish their PG students knew. Today, it’s time to hear part two of our AUT supervisor’s thoughts.

Straight from the horses’ mouths, here’s what supervisors think about their workloads, the research process, and a whole host of other bits and pieces.

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

Photo by Christy Ash on Unsplash

On workloads

A common theme in the responses was a sense of frustration over balancing supervision (and particularly draft reviews) within an already busy workload. Here’s what supervisors had to say about their workloads:

We care about you and you are the reason why we are here. But we do have many other students as well as other administrative and research tasks. So please keep to your scheduled appointment and hand in your work for us to look at well before the appointment.

I wish my PG students knew that they must send me stuff to review at least two days, and preferably three or four, BEFORE our scheduled supervision meeting. It’s just too hard to give meaningful feedback if you get it the day of or the day before the meeting.

Right now I wish they knew that their bad time management is not their supervisor’s emergency.

I would like students to understand that the decisions they take also have an effect on supervisor(s), such as taking leave of absence, extending their thesis or other factors. This then can result in supervisor(s) having to provide feedback for students in their final stages when they are on conference leave or even annual leave. I don’t think students always consider the implications of their actions and still expect a supervisor to be available at all times. The reciprocal relationship between a student and supervisor(s) needs to go both ways.

I like you to understand my time constraints but that doesn’t mean you should hide away. Give me your work when I indicate I have free slots of time; don’t drop a thesis on my desk during undergraduate examination.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

On research

This is what respondents wanted students to know about performing good research:

I wish my postgraduate students knew that they are researchers-in-training and that I have high expectations of their level of effort, not the quality of their preliminary work. Quality will come as they gain experience, and they will gain experience as they practice the art/science of research (read: expend effort!).

I wish students were more aware of the uncertainty of research. Sometimes ideas don’t work – that isn’t failure – good researchers expect and learn from it.

Three things from me: To feel empowered by their own perspective of the research topic. To value their research as a contribution to a vast body of knowledge. To appreciate the amount of time it takes to engage in quality and robust research.

Be brave enough to question long-held assumptions, and seriously consider other ways of viewing truth, ideas, the world and reality.

I wish they knew two things: 1. The value of deep work. 2. The ability [to] engage in deep work. Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Most people have lost the ability to go deep – spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

I wish they would understand that a PhD thesis is novel and original research, so they won’t find it in other papers or textbooks, they have to cover new territory themselves. They have to make the project their own. They have to become the expert, and they should actually teach their supervisor in that particular area.

That independent learning, is independent – that much of what they learn is self-directed and that they need to feel confident about their ability to acquire knowledge.

That knowledge and learning is incredibly exciting and empowering.

Other thoughts from supervisors

Supervisors had a very wide range of responses – not all were about the bread-and-butter of writing and research. This is what the supervisors wanted their students to know about all sorts of other matters:

All students should read the current calendar on the requirements and processes for their qualification and know that they have the right to question and clarify these with the supervisor from the very first meeting. The information they receive from other students or staff is not necessarily correct.

As a supervisor, I have no favourite student. If I give more opportunities to some students it is because of their abilities and most importantly their willingness to rise to the academic challenges and do their absolute best to complete a high standard work with minimal supervisory input and without affecting their PhD progress.

Your success is my success but I am not paid any extra money by the university for our publications or the extra tens if not hundreds of hours I spend from my own time making sure that you get sufficient feedback and supervision.

I like to be your friend but that does not mean I expect any less from you at work.

I am honest, bold and realistic about your progress. In [the] same way, I like you to give me feedback on my supervision. I am not going to get mad. It will only make me a better supervisor if I know where I can do better.

I wish they knew to talk about what they hope for in the relationship. I’ll bring that up anyway, but they should be conscious of what their expectations are.

Be mindful of the consideration demands PG study can place on them if undertaken alongside full-time work.

I wish my students knew that they should treat every meeting with their supervisors as a ‘step-up’ occasion. That is they should be super prepared, having done a bunch of reading and coming with ideas and questions, an agenda for the meeting even. They should follow the meeting up by emailing through a list of agreed prioritised action items so everyone is on the same page. It’s about efficient use of time to ensure focus and efficient completion. That doesn’t mean we won’t also have a conversation about how the student is feeling, but it does mean we will achieve much more besides.

Though they can have complete trust in me with regard to their journey and my support, I do not know everything about their specialist field. They need to bring ideas to the table and share their knowledge with me so that I too can grow as a supervisor.

I wish that students knew that as supervisors our job is to support you, not to shine a light on your perceived or actual failings as an academic.  So be honest with us, we can generally reassure you. Come to us and tell us that you haven’t been working much. Come and say that you don’t understand something.  We won’t think that your questions are silly.  Be open, face up to your worries, and hopefully we will help you through.

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