How does your relationship with your supervisor work?


I work from home, and I visit the university around every 1-2 weeks for a meeting. At the moment, when I am not in paid employment or with my children/wife, my time is divided inbetween computer programming and thesis writing. The programming is something my supervisor has made it very clear that she isn't interested in, but she does answer my questions when I ask her, although she does not put a lot of thought into it sometimes. Sometimes I suggest something, and she just says "ok", I spend a week doing it, then it turns out that there were flaws in the idea that should have been foreseen before I started. My supervisor agrees with my critical analysis of the flaws, and I am left thinking... why didn't you think of this from the outset?

With the thesis writing... she is somewhat obsessed with it. I send her 4 pages, and she replies with dozens and dozens of corrections. Typically, most paragraphs will have more than one correction. Sometimes its really significant things like "you need to explain more about this". However, most of the corrections are just different ways to phrase what I am writing. To be honest ,I never know whether I am being over-sensitive. I sometimes wonder whether she is actually right, and it all needs changing, or if its just her style is different to mine.

The other thing is.. university is in a city centre and I live 37 miles away. It take me 90 minutes to get from my house to the university. My supervisor prints off EVERYTHING that I send her and she annotates them in pen. When I suggest that it might not be necessary to have a meeting one week, she then says that she will have to scan in the pages and email the images to me. However, she makes it very clear she isn't happy doing this. If there is very little dialogue, and its mostly her just explaining her corrections and comments, I am tempted to ask why she doesn't just post it to me. But I don't want to be seen as awkward so I go to the meetings. Am I being too fussy here?

My supervisor keeps trying to arrange meetings with me which are the week after the previous meeting. I keep telling her that we should be allowing around 2 weeks between meetings since I normally can't do enough in 10 days (or less) to require a meeting.


Hi Paulknit, firstly I think it's quite good that your supervisor is keen to spend so much time with you but can totally understand how it could be frustrating if not meaningful or moving your research forward. I would maybe go with a diary and sit with her and ask for an overview of the next year in terms of forward planning and then aim to break that down into monthly targets. My supervisor emails my work to me using tracking comments which is really useful. I would go with solutions and be positive. At the start of my Phd I met with my supervisor regularly and then once got started with research started to meet less often. Not sure what stage you are but hope settles into a rhythm which suits you better. good luck!


If I were you I would think myself lucky that my supervisor took so much interest in my work.

I see mine about once or twice a term and when I give them work they very rarely make any comments. It sounds to me as if your supervisor is actually supervising you properly.

I would love that.


Hi Paulknit,

Hope my experiences are helpful in some way.

During my PhD I was supposed to meet with my supervisor twice each term and I nearly always did. Each of these meetings ideally discusses a significant piece of written work that was emailed in beforehand; for example a chapter or at least the bulk of one, sans introduction and conclusion. I seldom achieved this by my second year; I will explain this below. I attended 3 universities over the course of 4 degrees and taught at 2 further universities – not to mention talking to swathes of peers at conferences - and all of these had a similar frequency of supervisory meetings and work submission for doctoral candidates. That is, a few times a term and at least one biggish submission per term. Your frequency of meetings and submissions seems over the top to me. Maybe this is because you aren't in the humanities as I am; I dunno. Are you lab based? What about other students in your department with a different sups what is expected of them?

During my first 18 months my supervisor was very similar to yours. Red-penning everything and filling up the pages with comments as well as suggesting that what I had done in the interim between meetings was barking up the wrong tree; despite the fact that this work was often only done begrudgingly by me at her suggestion to start with. That is. I felt she encouraged me down a lot of wrong avenues until I took matter into my own hands in my second year.

In my second year I came to understand that my supervisor while reading my work carefully and making heads of comments in the margin was actually making only two species of comments. Both of which you mention above; making remarks about my writing style, or lack thereof, and vague comments like 'explain this more'.

I eventually formed two separate theories about what was going on here. First, she didn't actually know as much about philosophy as she believed. This would explain the vague and unhelpful comments and the frustrating nowhere-going discussions at our meetings. Or second, she had a terrible memory and at our meetings could not really recall what it was that I was exactly doing. This would explain why she continually seemed to make suggestions for alternate argumentative directions that flew in the face of my thesis question. Even with hindsight I still don't know which one of these, if any, was the case.

Whatever was going on one thing was clear. What she was trying to do was exert her dominance over me. That is, for her supervision entailed one person knowing more than the other and dispensing advice; it didn't seem to matter what the relevance of the advice was just that it was given constantly and flowed interrupted and unaltered in only one direction.

So in my second year I took matters into my own hands. I started telling a lot of lies to her and the department and well as not going to supervisory meetings, not handing in work very often etc. I basically did the minimum I could to not be thrown out of the department; I came close a few times. This lack of effort and commitment was a complete front as I was still slaving away in the background on my own and testing my arguments at conferences. In the end I did well at the viva and did not have to make any corrections my entire thesis has now been accepted for publication as a book. I don’t say this to boast but instead to show the example of an arguement produced not with the guidance of a supervisor but DESPITE the activity of supervision. Furthermore, I suspect that this is not unusual. I am sure that if I took this woman as seriously as I had promised to when I signed up at the initial interview that I would probably have failed or, at best, ended up producing something that celebrated her own work.

My advice is to fight to get some space to develop your ideas yourself without all this badgering. If you guys have a good relationship come out and say this. Maybe


Sorry my post ended mid sentence. I went over the word limit in a big rant; sorry. As you can see even after geting the degree I am still bitter towards my sups; but not as much as I would have been if I towed the line like I was supposed to.



Well at least she's keen to help - I didn't have that as my supervisor didn't know I existed but they're keen to write papers now that it's done and I've passed! I came to the conclusion that my supervisor doesn't remember what they suggest as I would initially do what they suggested and then the next week they would ask why I did it and I could hardly answer because you suggested it! The same with writing as I would give them some work to look at and it would come back with suggestions which I would do and then show them again and it was for a talk so I was then told that the corrections I added were too long! This was in my first year when I actually got some minimal guidance but it went downhill and they lost interest when the novelty wore off and I barely heard off them for the remainder of the time! My requests for help were either ignored or I got a sarky reply back!!! I'm still waiting for feedback on my thesis!

If your supervisor is just nit-picking by the sounds of it for the thesis writing I would take it with a pinch of salt as everyone has their own style. My supervisor used to hate certain phrases - some of which I could understand the reason so I stopped using them but one I never did get why it was so awful even after checking with other academics who couldn't see why either so I guess that was down to personal preference.

I think you just have to be clear what you are trying to achieve and go for it! Be confident in your results and argue your point well! I don't think it's too much hassle to ask her to post your work back as that would surely save her time scanning it!


A few practical suggestions
1. Coding - I am assuminig ya comment the cr@p out of it ... in that way if your supervisor ever reads it, it might make sense to a non-techie
2. Meetings - Would she be on for using Skype/Yugma? Explain the difficulties you face getting to every meeting
3. Minutes - Start every meeting with the minutes from the last one.
4. Worst case re comments on writing - send her two copies with an SAE and then she sends one back to you marked and then goes over the editing on a skype call

Coming from a guy jumping ship might sound bad, but f**k, it does sound as if at least she has an inkling of what you are doing and does give feedback. State you appreciate this, but need to be practical as well.