Saturday, July 28, 2012

How to manage your supervisor 3 - Great Expectations

So far in this short blog series we have looked at how to select a supervisor and how to manage the first supervisory meeting but there are things that you should expect from your supervisor.  Most universities and research supervisors take student demands very seriously and will try to support them in any reasonable requests. Unfortunately though they rarely tell students what is on offer and so students don't know what is available and what they can ask for. The following are just a few of the things you can expect your supervisor to help you with.

Provide guidance in planning the research project - A PhD is a research training program, no-one expects a new doctoral student to have their research project completely planned from day one. You can expect your supervisor to be able to discuss different approaches to answering your  research question. You should also be able to look to them to provide suggestions and guidance with regards to suitable places to start literature searching as well. In addition, if you have identified and area in which you feel you need further training or education, your supervisor should be able to help you find internal or external resources that will help or be able to provide access to supplementary instruction.

Help with ethics -  In the UK, if you are doing research in health and social care, you are likely to have the lovely experience of attending a Local Research Ethics Committee (LREC). Although ethics committees tend to be forgiving to applicants who are doing Masters degrees, understanding that they are relative novices in research, they will treat doctoral students projects with the same level of rigour that they apply to the studies of experienced researchers. If you are invited,your supervisor should attend the ethics meeting with you. This is partly so that they can provide support for you, partly because they should be able to field any questions that stump you and mainly because ethics committees love it when supervisors attend with their students as it reassures them that a novice researcher has the full support of an experienced one. Even if you are not facing LREC you will probably have to submit your study to the approval of the university ethics panel and you can expect your supervisors help in this too.

Integrating with the wider academic community - Part of the doctoral process is engaging  with the wider intellectual community in your discipline. For most people this usually  means attending a suitable conference. SOME universities (but no means all) have small pots of money that doctoral students can apply for to fund conference attendance. It is worth asking your supervisor if such funds exist and getting them to help you apply or seek other forms of funding if none are available at your university. Another way of engaging with the external community is via publications and you should be able to expect your supervisor to be able to provide guidance on suitable target journals and the writing styles and standards expected.

Be the map reader on your doctoral journey - Your supervisor should be familiar with all the bureaucratic university milestones you are likely to encounter. Obviously it is your responsibility to keep such milestones in mind as well but you should be able to rely on your supervisor to be able to guide you on the preparation of progress or transition reports and, at the end of the process make informed suggestions with regard to the selection of examiners.

I know some doctoral candidates will read this and roll their eyes muttering 'my supervisor didn't do this'. None of the things I have outlined in the blog should be onerous or outside of the remit of the supervisor. But remember, you have to be the proactive one in this scenario, so think carefully about what you want from your supervisor and make your expectations clear to them. You can rest assured they will be making their expectations crystal clear to you!

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