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How to get the most out of the supervision relationship. Presented by Annette Stevenson – Student Assist (Adapted from Cryer, 2000 and Murray, 2002). What today will aim to cover. What sort of a relationship is this? How and why did I get into this relationship? What are our roles?

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how to get the most out of the supervision relationship

How to get the most out of the supervision relationship.

Presented by Annette Stevenson – Student Assist

(Adapted from Cryer, 2000 and Murray, 2002)


What today will aim to cover

  • What sort of a relationship is this?
  • How and why did I get into this relationship?
  • What are our roles?
  • What sorts of changes can we expect in this relationship?
  • What am I doing or not doing to make this relationship work?
  • How do I see myself as a student?
  • Do I recognise and convey my needs?
  • How do I see my supervisor & his or her needs?
  • When, where, and how often do we meet and are these meetings working?
  • Traps for students and supervisors to avoid.
  • Can I handle feedback and what may or may not be criticism?
questions for reflection p 63 murray 2002
Questions for reflection?(p. 63, Murray, 2002)
  • What is the purpose of the doctoral/masters thesis?
  • What is/are my supervisor(s)’ roles?
  • How do I define an effective student-supervisor relationship?
  • When do I expect to complete my doctorate?
  • What is my research topic (or area)? And what’s the purpose of my thesis in this area?
what sort of relationship is this
What sort of relationship is this?

Two aspects to the supervision relationship:

  • Administrative (eg respective roles)
  • Interpersonal (eg human aspect)

A supervisor’s principal responsibility is to:

“develop his or her research students so that they can think and behave as academic researchers in the field of study concerned (p.84, Cryer, 2000)”.

A student’s primary responsibility is to do their own work concientiously

Recommended Responsibilities of SupervisorsUK National Postgraduate Committee (1995)(cited in Cryer, 2000)
  • to have knowledge of the area and/or theory
  • or to otherwise be in touch with specialists within or outside the institution
  • provide regular supervision sessions (min. fortnightly)
  • sessions on average 1 hour in length
  • will deal with urgent matters by phone, email or will arrange to meet
  • read, critically comment on work as it’s produced
  • assist new students to plan time, a programme of research, and to monitor progress
recommendations continued
Recommendations continued
  • keep student files and submit progress reports to postgraduate study committee every 6 months
  • inform student if progress is unsatisfactory and arrange necessary supportive action
  • ensure data and information collected by the student is freely available to the student
  • student can attend lectures in the institution free and be advised of courses that complement the field of research
  • introduce the student to learned societies, seminars, workshops, and other researchers in the area, advise on publishing, and give due recognition to the student for any contributions to publications
  • give advice re: examination requirements
responsibilities of students uk national postgraduate committee 1995
Responsibilities of studentsUK National Postgraduate Committee (1995)
  • full-time students, by end of first year, define area of research, have background knowledge, literature review, framework and timetable for next 2 to 3 years, and substantial work in written, draft form
  • have own topics they’d like to discuss with supervisor
  • submit work regularly
  • note guidance and feedback from supervisor
  • material to be typed or word-processed, or legible if complex equations
  • inform supervisor of others with whom work is being discussed
  • to access the supervisor. If there are problems with supervision, including access, first take this up with supervisor
post graduate supervision questionnaire
Post Graduate Supervision Questionnaire

Answer the following alone, then discuss with others, placing an * next to expectations that may not be realistic :

  • What do you expect from your supervisor?
  • What do you expect from yourself when you attend supervision?

Answer the following alone, then again discuss with others:

  • What will you need from your supervisor to get the most out of supervision?
  • What will you need to do to get the most out of supervision?
role perception scale ryan and white 1996 adapted from moses 1985
Role Perception Scale(Ryan and White, 1996, adapted from Moses, 1985)

Read each pair of statements. Each express a standpoint that supervisors and students may take. Estimate your position and mark it on the scale from 1 to 5

Three areas are covered:

  • Topic/course of study
  • Contact/involvement
  • The thesis
what sorts of changes can we expect in this relationship
What sorts of changes can we expect in this relationship?
  • New students expect supervisors to tell them what to do. This is fine if involves use of complex equipment or need to fit in with a group project, but not in the long-term.
  • Some students might have a well-defined task at the start like a pilot project, but need to make own tasks, etc after this.
  • Some supervisors overwhelm students with many ideas. You’re not expected to act on all of them. Note them down, consider them to see what’s essential.
  • Design your work to be appealing to you and acceptable to supervisor
  • As work progresses, more of a two-way dialogue. You develop your own ideas, discuss with supervisor who warns you of any dangers
what sorts of changes can we expect in this relationship continued
What sorts of changes can we expect in this relationship? continued
  • Independent work does NOT mean continuing on without supervision
  • Research involves developing something new. You’ll know more about your topic than your supervisor. You need to be comfortable with that and engage with your supervisor as an equal
  • Some dept. distinguish between formal and informal supervision. Good to have that distinction so that it’s clearer when it’s the student’s responsibility to initiate contact if having difficulties
  • Look at dept. requirements re: supervision, wait for supervisor to make suggestions, otherwise you need to raise the matter
roles of the supervisor brown and atkins 1990 p 120 cited p 71 murray 2002
Roles of the supervisor(Brown and Atkins, 1990, p. 120, cited p. 71, Murray, 2002)
  • director
  • facilitator
  • adviser
  • teacher
  • guide
  • critic
  • freedom giver
  • supporter
  • friend
  • manager
  • examiner

Roles can change with time, as needs change & trust develops

You will most likely end up knowing more about your topic than your supervisor does

relationships between supervisor student brown and atkins 1990 p 121 cited p 72 murray 2002
Relationships between supervisor & student(Brown and Atkins, 1990, p. 121, cited p.72, Murray, 2002)
  • director/follower
  • master/servant
  • guru/disciple
  • teacher/pupil
  • expert/novice
  • guide/explorer
  • project manager/ team worker
  • auditor/client
  • editor/author
  • counsellor/client
  • doctor/patient
  • senior partner/junior professional
  • colleague/colleague
  • friend/friend
roles may or may not be complementary
Roles may or may not be complementary
  • What can you do if you’re cast in a role that doesn’t suit?

(eg disciple who is in awe and can’t find own ideas; colleague but feel you can’t measure up; novice but then frightened to write??)

  • Will you act out assigned role?
  • How can you influence casting?
  • TA model of ego states
when where and how often do we meet cryer 2000
When, where, and how often do we meet? (Cryer, 2000)
  • Plan times in advance according to dept. guidelines?
  • You email or phone and request to meet?
  • Supervisor timetables regular meetings irrespective of whether there’s anything to discuss?
  • You provide something in writing prior to meeting so supervisor can consider it, or supervisor reacts to you on the spot when you meet?
  • Arrange meetings as needed when you next happen to see each other?
  • Have informal interaction without meeting – via email and phone?
  • Turn up to supervisor’s office in hope he or she will see you?
  • Have emergency meetings?
are these meetings working
Are these meetings working?
  • Don’t waste your supervisor’s time
  • It’s up to you to raise matters
  • Supervisors who feel they’re being worried unnecessarily should say so
  • Location and timing of meetings is important for part-time students
  • Important to take notes – date, time, location, topic, objectives, advice, decision made. You could ask to audiotape
asking for feedback and advice cryer 2000
Asking for feedback and advice (Cryer, 2000)
  • Remember your supervisor is human – busy, overworked, shy, inexperienced, embarrassed, polite to reject (if you’re a colleague or very experienced)
  • If supervisor seems reluctant to reject your ideas, give several to then discuss and know it’s ok to reject some
  • If supervisor is shy, ask simple questions
  • If supervisor is busy, find out what’s an acceptable way to interact (written outlines, informal chats, etc)
  • Give supervisor time to mull over ideas (people tend to reject ideas if forced to make quick decisions)
getting feedback and advice cryer 2000
Getting feedback and advice(Cryer, 2000)
  • Accept certain emotions are normal (embarrassment, anger) but that it’s counterproductive to let them show. Best to calm down as the emotions may be unjustified
  • Show gratitude and interest
  • Not necessary for you to agree with all criticism. Give yourself time to consider to accept, reject or adapt, otherwise you can appear compliant, lacking in independent thought
  • Seek clarification if necessary. Go away and think, discuss further as needed
  • Ok to justify your points, but when supervisor has finished
  • Ask supervisor if he/she would like you to explain what you did
  • At end of meeting, reiterate thanks, general pleasantries
handling anger and criticism assertively
Handling Anger and Criticism Assertively

Possible options (depending on situation & relationship):

  • Listen to angry person, acknowledge feelings of anger (ie. reflect back you hear their message) - state your feeling and thoughts
  • Ask for information – especially when person is unclear - eg. “What do you mean by....?”, “How does it affect you?”, “Is there anything else?” Don’t sound angry or defensive, just attempt to understand
  • Ignore aggressive comments and stick to your goal. Avoid countering each criticism by justifying yourself. Repeat original point while responding to any legitimate points
  • Dismiss and redirect ie. deny the relevance of a put down or an irrelevant comment to the main issue under discussion and redirect the discussion to the main issue
handling anger and criticism assertively continued
Handling Anger and Criticism Assertively continued
  • Ask questions to make the angry person aware of his or her anger. eg “Are you angry about this?”
  • Give direct -ve feedback eg. “I don’t like it when you raise your voice”
  • Sorting issues when presented with a number of criticisms eg. “You’ve raised a number of issues, but it seems to me that ..... is your main concern. Is that right?” Look for underlying assumptions
  • Agree with what they are saying without apologising or excusing yourself
  • If the angry person is being quite irrational just go away or put the phone down . Don’t argue
responding to criticism
Responding to Criticism

Expressive skills

  • Question the person so you understand
  • Sort the issues – i.e. if lots of issues have been dumped, ask person to be direct

Protective skills

  • Agreeing – stops the other person, but won’t enhance your relationship
  • Selective ignoring of irrelevant and unproductive criticism – only respond to the productive – express your opinions where you want and protect where you need to
defining feedback questions p 62 murray 2002
Defining feedback questions(p. 62, Murray, 2002)
  • How do you know if the feedback is good or bad?
  • What constitutes useful feedback?
  • Do you know what feedback you are looking for, at this stage?
  • Have you asked your supervisor for that?
  • Do you have to go along with whatever your supervisor says?
  • Do you have to “do what he or she tells you”?
Unprofessional behaviour, such as sexism, racism, ageism - often due to ignorance or sense of inferiority (Cryer, 2000)
  • Train supervisor out of prejudice. Refer only to the work, acting in words, dress and manner in a totally professional way. If behaviour continues, do not ignore it. Seek support about how to make your supervisor aware of his or her behaviour.
  • EEO policies help – but often the matter is already out of hand
  • Seek support of other students, staff, head of school, institutional documents/policies, postgraduate association, Student ASSIST
  • Try and handle informally to begin with
  • Changing supervisors sometimes is needed if there is unprofessional behaviour, personality clashes, lack of interest, lack of expertise, lack of respect re: your judgement or ideas
  • Use diplomacy. Impolite to compromise your supervisor. Seek advice via your research coordinator, head of school, documentation, postgraduate association, Student ASSIST
co supervision
  • Co-supervision is fine if for back-up, overseeing an inexperienced supervisor, part of a panel or committee, or if one is in workplace and other in academic setting
  • Problems arise if roles not agreed to or defined, neither understand expertise of the other, each abdicate responsibility to the other, student can’t satisfy either, there are conflicting expectations, and implicit and explicit differences
  • If your work moves outside supervisor’s expertise, see other experts together, or constrain your research within expertise of supervisor
  • Student is responsible for deciding when a thesis is ready to be examined. Supervisor will give an opinion
traps to avoid brown and atkins 1990
Traps to avoid(Brown and Atkins, 1990)
  • Poor planning and management of project
  • Methodological difficulties in the research
  • Writing up
  • Isolation
  • Personal problems outside the research
  • Inadequate or negligent supervision
problems we become aware of
Problems we become aware of
  • Concerns re: perceived ramifications if complain
  • Looking after animals or equipment for long periods with no breaks
  • Supervisory issues re: content/topic – students feeling coerced into topics they didn’t anticipate they would do (i.e. dovetailed into supervisor’s area of interest)
  • Complaints re: lack of technical support, no access to equipment, etc
  • No access to funding (eg to go to conferences)
  • Funding brought to the university is not applied to their candidature
  • Coursework vs research demands
  • Brown, G. and Atkins, M. (1990) Effective Teaching in Higher Education. London: Routledge.
  • Cryer, P. (2000) The Research Student’s Guide to Success. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
  • Murray, R. (2002), How to Write a Thesis. Philadelphia: Open University Press.