Did I "betray" my supervisor?


I need some outside opinions.

Recently, me and my supervisor discussed getting another co-supervisor.

He had some ideas (none of which I liked) and no final decision was made. Keep in mind that I have(had) a pretty close relationship with my supervisor and see him every day. He always discusess everything with me and does things like call me a night before my talk to see if I agree on a slight change of menu of light refreshments that he thought of for our auidence (this is just a small example).

Meanwhile I went on a 2 week holiday. Some bad things happened, like a break up with my long term boyfriend. I tend to be very impulsive sometimes especially when things aren't going well and I made a quick decision of asking another person (that we have never even discussed as a possibility) to co-supervise me without telling my supervsior. This person ended up mentioning this to my supervisor before I had a chance to talk to him.


Anyway now that I'm back from my holiday my supervisor is acting kind of distant (now I don't want to assume that this is because of what I did, he could just have his own problems). I meantioned a quick apology and said that I should have discussed this with him first and he said that "it's fine".

Did I make a mistake there or is it really fine and I shouldn't be thinking that it's a big deal? Now I'm kind of worried that I have ruined my good relationship with the supervsior for good.


hey there, well i suppose you can guess and second-guess his motives for ever, getting more and more anxious and upset - or you can ask him. and believe his answer. if his actions do not match his words - for example, if he insists it's fine but stays distant - again, talk to him, tell him why you are concerned.

and well, if he IS upset - does he hold grudges? it might be a simple thing of waiting a week or two until everybody's emotions have settled...


I think you DID make a mistake and should have talked to your supervisor first. If I were the supervisor, such behaviour would really push me over the edge. Not only do you somehow undermine his authority, but you also did not inform him about this, so no wonder he feels betrayed. On the other hand, I'm sure he won't hold the grudge for long and things will calm down quickly. Just don't confront him with it until he got over it.

Academics are a funny species, very sensitive and easily annoyed by minor things.


I guess I was asking if in most supervsiory situations this would be considered an OK thing to do?


In most supervisory situations, even if no close relationship, I do not believe this would be a normal procedure or an OK thing to do, to be honest. Now that it's done, just make sure you don't do it again but don't worry about it. We all do mistakes.


Co-supervision? I have to say I've never heard of that and I'm quite sure a number of universities wouldn't stand for it. What a strange idea.

Still, with regards to your problem... it seems to me that a "quick apology" wasn't enough. I don't want to make you feel worse, but what you did would probably upset most people, if not personally then professionally. As you seem to have had a friendly, chatty working relationship in the past, I would bring the subject up again and make sure he knows that you know you made a mistake. You might also think about reiterating how much help he has been to you so far and that you feel lucky to have him.


Ah I know Jouri, I posted before you replied.. I'm not sure if it's better to just ignore this or try to talk to supervsior openly.. I don't even know what the right thing to say would be. I'm afraid that if I just pretend like nothing has happened supervsior will secretly dislike me while being fakely polite on the outside.


well i'm not so sure it was "wrong". i thought a PhD is about being independent, so your sup should be glad that you took initiative. maybe a bit over-eager on your part but that comes with learning to be independent. my supervisor would be annoyed if i bothered her too much with such things and would much prefer me to turn up with a nearly definite solution... i understand if he's miffed. lots of things could play into that - for example if he is insecure, he might be feeling rejected or the insecurity could be amplified because you demonstrated that you don't "need" him.
BUT i totally think that if this episode has a long term negative effect on your relationship, then it can't have been a very good one to start with. if your sup won't accept mistakes, he can't be too great a supervisor, i think.


also, don't disregard the strength of your intuition. you had a feeling that this would be the right person for your co-supervision, and acted on it. maybe your supervisor doesn't agree but there must be space for that in your relationship - you aren't always going to agree!


What Shani said reminded me of the episode where I submitted a journal article without telling my supervisor. He wasn't involved or contributed to it anyway. Once it finally got accepted I asked the editors to add him as a second author. When I told him, I expected respect or gratefulness. Instead I nearly got kicked out of my programme and had to explain myself in front of a committee. Shows that, unfortunately, they dont always honour independent thought, although they should, really.


I've heard and seen co-supervision... It can work incredibly well, especially if one supervisor has a huge workload. I had 2 supervisors and I know many friends at other Universities did.. I thought it was actually a legal requirement now, at least on paper - that way you can't turn round and sue the Uni if you fail by stating you had inadequate supervision... When my number 1 started annoying me, I talked to number 2... and vice versa...

I think you did make a mistake, simply because you had a good, close relationship and I can see why he might feel betrayed. I would certainly email him saying you really value his expertise and ideas and hope your impulsiveness is forgiven - then leave it at that.


Yes I thought that everyone had at least two supervisors now - everyone I know does!


I like Jouri's point: "Academics are a funny species, very sensitive and easily annoyed by minor things." It is so true.


Yes, I think you need to give a fuller explanation of your actions to your primary supervisor. That is definitely a realtionship to nurture.

I've heard rumours that we are supposed to have an advisor as well as supervisor but I certainly don't have one - wish I did. My supervisor is way too busy - it would be great to have someone to talk to.