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How to have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Supervisor

How to have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Supervisor

In my coaching practice I’ve learned that over and above the constraints of time, the biggest challenge students face in their thesis writing year is managing a fulfilling relationship with their supervisor (Super).  Many of my clients experience feelings of dread at the thought of those scheduled meetings. And, they often leave these meetings feeling less motivated, more overwhelmed and as if their Super’s input or lack thereof didn’t address relevant issues, let alone add value to their work.

Your relationship with your Super is key whilst writing your thesis. Here’s some advice on how to foster and nurture a more meaningful relationship.

Take Charge

Although your Super is a highly esteemed academic and deserving of your respect, remember that in the end, the successful completion of your thesis is your responsibility alone. This means that you are in charge and should take an active approach when managing this key relationship.

It is crucial to set aside some time early in the process to have a conversation on how things are likely to work. Your university may provide a ready-made template or checklist for this. If not, the questions below may be a good start:

  • How often and for how long can you expect to meet?
  • What are the preferred communication channels?
  • What are reasonable delays in replies to emails or messages?
  • Do you both agree on your key milestones?
  • What are your Super’s expectations in terms of your delivery dates and content?
  • What should you focus on in the first couple of months?
  • What training is necessary to help you develop as a researcher and to assist in this process?

caroline dale the thesis coach

Fair Expectations

In many ways, this relationship is unlike any other professional or personal one.  At different stages, your Super will play the role of your mentor, teacher, supporter and cheerleader.  At other times they’ll be a constructive critic or even a fellow researcher.  Also, remember that they usually have a huge workload and limited time. Your Super is only human, just like yourself and even if you don’t ‘gel’ on a personal level, you may still have a very successful professional relationship.

Take a Mature Approach

Prepare. This means being prepared for all meetings. Go armed with a list of questions.  Show your intellectual curiosity by discussing your thought processes and motivate how you arrived at your questions.  This illustrates dedication, care for your topic and a strong work ethic.

Notify your Super in advance what the main topic of the discussion will be at the next meeting so they too can prepare.  This will ensure that the time you have is used effectively.

Be honest. Inform your Super of any setbacks or challenges you may be experiencing even if they are personal. Anything that is hindering your progress should be divulged as soon as possible. They might not be in a position to solve your issues, but it will give them insight into why a submission may be late or of lower quality.

Take notes. You might want to record your conversation so that you can go back and follow up on some of the key suggestions without relying on hurried note taking or mere memory.

Follow up. Send a follow-up email after the meeting thanking them for their time, highlighting the main points of discussion and your agreed action plan.

Resilience.  You will find this attribute essential for your future success.  You need to learn to stand back up when you’ve been knocked down.  Don’t take things personally.  Show up and face your world, never forget you are constantly learning and it’s the setbacks and gut punches that provide the learning.  

No matter how intimidated you may feel or may not really like your Super, remember that there’s no such thing as a ‘stupid’ question. Your Super is there to help you – and you should ask for help when you need it. Your success is their success.  Just because they may seem ‘off’ or ‘short’ with you in email responses doesn’t mean they are brushing you off. Don’t assume judgement from them – they are probably just busy.

Did you find this article helpful? I’d love to hear about how you’ve overcome a similar challenge. Email me.