Just started my PhD, and my supervisor has been away ill. He was/is meant to be back now/soon but I guess with these things it's difficult to tell when exactly he'll be back.
Day to day stuff is not a problem - I have a post-doc guiding me in testing, and together (me, postdoc, supervisor) we're trying to think of next experiments etc, all via email. But I still generally feel a little bit lost in terms of overarching direction etc, especially since we've been going through alot of induction procedures right now, which are making me aware of the need to get from where I am right now to a point where (during the upgrade) I have a firm idea of what I'm going to be working on for the next two years of my PhD. I have no idea how to get there, and I don't know if I'm feeling more lost compared to the average starting PhD student, or whether I should be worried.
I guess I'd like some advice about what I should be expecting from my supervisor, and what else I can do to help get on the right track. I know my supervisor is actively keeping my project in mind, as he emails me every week or so to see how things are going on. But I think right now my understanding of the background literature is still a bit too fuzzy, and even reading papers is not doing loads without active discussion, because I haven't yet built up a framework of knowledge to understand the significance/meaning of individual experimental findings that I see in journals.
I'm not sure how much of this is me expecting too much of my supervisor. Previous supervisors I have had (Masters, undergrad) were able to take time to sit down and discuss things with me, which was immensely useful in helping me clarify my ideas, and I know that with that sort of support I am able to perform. My current supervisor has invited me to approach him with half-baked ideas, saying that maybe together we can make something productive out of ideas that aren't fully formed - so I feel like he's doing his best already given the unfortunate circumstances. Am I expecting too much of him? Is this period of lost wandering just normal for starting PhD students, even those with supervisors around for discussion? And in absence of regular face-to-face discussion at the start of my PhD, what else can I do to try and get to a point where I know what I'm doing?
I don't want to sound harsh but just to maybe give you some perspective, you've very very lucky that you have a post-doc to guide you in your experimentation. A lot of science based PhD students are left very much to fend for theselves. It sounds like your in the early stages of your PhD, if so then the first year is primarily about get you trained up in the lab regarding your technical ability. Most student's don't have too much involvement with their supervisors regarding discussions etc in the first year or so because you'll have no data to actually discuss.
Regarding discussing the litterature, don't expect too much from your supervisor. Regarding my PhD my supervisor was a expert in one of my chapters but had only back ground knowledge of my other two. Regarding your knowledge of litterature your very much expected to do this on your own.
Hope that helps,
I think alot of what you are experiencing is what most new PhD students go through, at the start you feel you have so much to learn, and often have to spend the first couple of months (or longer) doing nothing but reading. Having a postdoc there will certainly help you they can show you the equipment and lab and help you through it, so you are not on your own. Your supervisor being ill is unfortunate but if you can read the appropriate literature (what you find yourself, or get from your supervisor or postdoc) and get some experience working in the lab, and talking to the postdoc you will be in a good position when your supervisor returns. It is common when starting a PhD to feel that you don't know what you are doing or where the work is going for a significant part of the first year.
Thanks, guys - that wasn't harsh at all, I think I just needed to know what it was like for early PhD students in general, because I don't really have anything for comparison right now (other PhD students around me seem to know exactly what's going on). On the balance of it (and especially after reading some of the other supervisor-related posts on the forum) I think my supervisor is actually being pretty good despite being away, so I can chill out about this a little bit.
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I don't think you're any more lost at this stage than the average PhD student to be honest. You need to keep reading, reading, reading and look for any gaps in the literature, or ideas that are early in their development. I think considering that your supervisor is away ill he's actually doing more than could be expected. Just keep reading and emailing him with ideas and you'll get somewhere! Presumably you must have a rough idea of what your thesis is going to be based on? Is there something you can build on? Keep reading and pushing ideas past your sup and your post doc.
For reassurance, the first 6 months of my PhD (which is in health and social care) were all about reading, thinking about ideas and discussing potential studies with my sup. I also completed visits to a variety of different places to discuss their ways of working. Then I wrote a proposal which was approved, then completed my ethics documentation. And that was pretty much it for my first year! I passed my review panel with flying colours. I know the process is probably a bit different for lab based studies but as long as you're reading and thinking about concepts and potential avenues you will be fine.
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