Supervisors write a lot of references. Whenever you apply for a job, a scholarship, an amendment to enrolment, conference funding, or any of a million other things, your supervisors’ comments can make a big difference to the outcome.
So does your whole career depend on your supervisor’s opinion?
While a supportive supervisor (and a good relationship) will certainly help open doors, there’s a surprising number of occasions when supervisors’ references need to do a lot more than just say: my student is great! In fact, a supervisor’s endorsement may have nothing to do with your quality or skill as a research student. Depending on what you’re applying for, your supervisor might need to comment on your circumstances, your stage of research, or the nature of your project.
Take, for example, the process of applying to a writing retreat. Here at the Graduate Research School, we receive lots of applications for our writing retreats, and the vast majority contain an endorsement from the applicant’s supervisors. (Endorsements are not a requirement, but they help.)
Supervisors’ endorsements for writing retreats tend to follow a few common themes. Broadly, they are:
- My student is at a critical stage of their writing process, and here’s why.
- My student’s particular research project makes him/her particularly well-suited to this opportunity, and here’s why.
- My student would benefit from this opportunity because of his/her special personal circumstances, and here’s why.
This is, of course, very different from what a supervisor might write for a job reference or scholarship application. But it goes to show that a supervisor’s endorsement is often about practical matters like timing, relevance, or circumstances. You can’t just keep one good reference on file to whip out for every occasion; each application you write has a specific purpose, and needs a specific type of input from your supervisor/s.
As it happens, there’s a retreat coming up at Vaughan Park, Long Bay, on 6-9 November. Applications close this Thursday, so if you want to go, get in quick! Here’s the application form. Now you know what to ask your supervisor to write for their section!