Managing the supervision process
The relationship between the supervisory team and the researcher requires careful management by all parties if it is going to be successful. This relationship can be the most rewarding or most frustrating aspect of your doctoral training and it is likely that you will experience both aspects at some time. It is not uncommon for misunderstandings to arise between postgraduate researchers and supervisors during the course of the doctorate. So you should expect to encounter problems and feel empowered to address them as they arise.
In order to get the most out of your supervision you should take control of the process using some of the following suggestions.
- discuss and agree key issues at the start of the project. Spend some time early on discussing issues like authorship of papers, research ethics and intellectual property
- arrange formal supervisory meetings. Take the initiative in organising meetings. Your doctorate is only one of many calls on your supervisor's time so if you leave it to them you might slip down their list of priorities
- prepare an agenda. Putting together a short agenda for each meeting will help you to think through what you want to achieve from it. It is also a good idea to send the agenda to your supervisor in advance; don't expect them to know the answer to every question without any notice
- prepare some work before each meeting. Provide some focus to the meeting by preparing a piece of work. Early on in your project you might just produce a list of what you have read or done, but as the project develops you are likely to be able to give data, analysis, papers, presentations and early drafts of chapters. As a trainee researcher you must expect to receive feedback and criticism. The purpose of this is to improve your performance: try not to take it personally. If you feel demoralised by largely negative feedback then ask for suggestions on how to improve - these can come from other sources if you prefer not to approach your supervisor
- deal with problems as they arise. Meetings with your supervisor are a good place to discuss problems that you are having. Often these will be related to technical or resource issues but also be prepared to discuss issues around the style and frequency of supervision. Supervisors generally want to do a good job so if you make suggestions for improvements they will usually be willing to try them
- summarise meetings. Once you have finished a meeting summarise what you have discussed on no more than one sheet of paper. Keep a copy for your own record and send one to your supervisor. This will help to ensure that you follow through on any actions decided in your supervision and will highlight any misunderstandings
Feel free to discuss things beyond your project. Your supervisory team are key contacts for you and they will expect to be asked for advice on your life and your career.