How to start out well with Supervisor ?


I have already met my supervisor a couple of times, for preliminary talks. But now I'll have to hand him my research proposal (ulp !) and talk about the rest of my PhD. I have no idea what to talk about, but I do want to make things clear with him from the start so that I know what I'm expected to do !

My problem is that in the country where I studied earlier there wasn't any Masters dissertation, so I have no idea about how research works. Also, due to cultural issues students were treated like school kids, not like adults. So, now I never know how to talk to professors and find the balance between being an assertive adult and yet being respectful.

I have no idea how independent I am supposed to be in my work, how to go about writing my thesis, how often the Sup expects to see me, what he expects of me...
And the point is that I would like guidance and control in the beginning, but I don't want him to think I'm so completely lost. On the other hand I'm scared that I'll act all pulled-together and competent, and that will prevent him from giving me the help and advice that I need !
So, what do I need to talk about with the Sup ?
What are the questions that I need to ask ?
Any other tips ?
I would also like to make with him something like a time-table for me...

PS I'm in Germany now, BTW

Thanks in advance to those who took the time to read through this and answer !


I think finding the balance between assertive and respectful is tough for a lot of people, especially those coming straight from undergraduate, as it is the first time you are potentially surrounding by your peers and colleagues.

If they are a good supervisor, they will know the answer to all your questions and will guide you through the first few months. A timetable is a good idea, but remember at this early stage especially things will change a lot.


It is quite normal to ask your supervisor some of this directly e.g. how often does he expect to meet and who calls those meetings; do meetings require written work or an agenda in advance or not. You probably will be expected to be a bit more independet than you are used to but this is a common problem with students in your situation and unless he is fantasticaly culturally ignorant he will be aware of the very different educational styles. If I were you I might actually mention this directly and say that you feel you are going to need some guidance on when to be inependent and when it is sensible to get help/advic (this is really something we all struggle with).


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Talk to him like anyone else but with a little more respect for authority. Question him on anything you're don't agree with and explain your different points of view. It's all about staying diplomatic while not being a quiet doormat.


I don't want this to come out the right way, so it is meant totally nicely, but when you mention the being treated like adult/child thing, the adult thing would be to ask your supervisor all these things. I feel really glad to be a bit longer in the tooth and more experienced I suppose at being in the adult world because it means I don't feel scared of my supervisor. I see him as just another adult, albeit due respect for being 'above' me and more experienced, and talk to him as such. He is a very down to earth guy, but even if he weren't and wanted people to bow down, I would still just treat him as another adult, albeit with the respect his position earns.

I think it is best to be honest, explain how you want to work, what you want from him etc. You don't need to act in control if you're not, or needy if you're not, or any of those things. I think it is also essential to remember that your supervisor is just a person too. I think that's what you learn in life, that pretty much everyone else is as sometimes confused, sometimes frustrated, sometimes angry, sometimes irrational and sometimes contented as anyone else. And that they are not perfect either. They will forget things, make mistakes, not concentrate, have other things on, just like anyone. And all that is allowed. Sorry I'm rambling now.

All the Qs you have totally depend on the supervisor and student, so you need to talk to one another. Hope it goes well


Hey dunno how helpful this is but I'll give it a go. Are there any other students of his you could chat to, I find that to be helpful, because they will already have a sense of his supervisory style. Don't worry about feeling like you need guidance at the start, I think that's all part of the road we're on. As time goes on you will find your feet, and from here you will begin to realise what questions you need to ask etc. With respect to balancing respect/assertive adult you've already hit the nail on the head. That is what you need to do, but you just need to try it, and you will find that neutral ground soon. I'm only 6 months in but I do think that a lot of the things to do with PhDs are trial and error. So chin up, I'm sure it will all work out!


Wookie that was a fantastic tip ! I did manage to catch one student and talk to them, that was very valuable !


This is my advice to you. If you find that you are not getting on with your supervisor, either ask for another one or change PhD's. The worst thing in the world is to have a supervisor that treats you like a child - there are plently of them in the UK - some academics still believe that all students are children.

You can start a PhD anytime in life - if you don't like them, sack them, leave or go and find another PhD - don't wait until you're 6 months down the line to make this decision - be assertive - if a supervisor doesn't appreciate you being assertive then its a very clear indication that you have the wrong supervisor.

If your supervisor is on your side, then all is well and you have nothing to worry about - trust your instincts and act accordingly without asking anyone else for for advice - this will empower you to make decisions that are right for you!