Research Project on Supervisors - I need your help!


======= Date Modified 22 55 2009 22:55:58 =======
Hi Everyone,

I finished my PhD last year and am now embarking on becoming a supervisor.

I'm undertaking a qualification to help with this and part of the assessment is to write an assignment related to supervision.

I want to investigate what the most common issues / problems PhD students face with their supervisors.

It would be great if you could reply to this thread and say anything all about any issues/ problems you've faced i.e. negative feedback, publishing, personality clashes - absolutely anything! All responses will be anonymised. Please reply before July 6th in order for me to use your feedback.

Thanks so much for your help with this - it will all contribute to making me a good supervisor! :-)



Hi I don't really have any issues. In the early days there wre problems as there was an 'idea' of what had to be done & someone else in the department was obstructing this. However, I neatly gave that said person enough rope to hang themselves with & it was all resolved in my favour - ask me for further details if you want. Apart from that my post is funded by 2 departments, so I feel like a have the best of both worlds, supervisor wise that is. They are very supportive & keen to get me to publish as much as possible as soon as possible. Mind saying that, I am quite easygoing too - there appear to be personality clashes elsewhere in the department against my supervisor but my attiude is, he's a great track record & I'm a willing apprentice. It's obvious both supervisors love research and we all share the same common goal


I am in my final year and my comments probably reflect my current situation - this is just from the top of my head:

* Nothing is more infuriating than writing a chapter/paper and then getting minimal feedback on it from sups. In the end your thesis has to pass (or the paper be accepted) and if the sups are at that stage not willing to give up their time and make an effort to really improve your work, then what's the point of them?
* I think the student should be encouraged to write up the work in papers by him/herself, sups should not just take the students work and write a paper themselves, i.e. sups should support the students entry into the world of academia by helping them publish (through feedback, not writing the paper themselves).
* I think generally sups should guide with work (and provide feedback) but also allow the student to follow up their own ideas/hunches etc.
* One of my sups is/was sometimes unprofessional at work, like gossipping, allowing a postdoc to bad mouth a fell student (of the same sup's group), so I think key is to be professional and maintain a good working environment for everyone. yes be friendly with students, but also maintain a clear work relationship.
* Another key thing is access - I have been generally lucky with this, but not having your sup around when you need him/her is hard. Weekly short meetings (or similar) is probably good.

Anyway, good luck with the supervising:-)


I think supervisors need to choose the right approach to motivate individual students - some need a kick, and others need an arm round the shoulder. Having said that, the kick I got at one point worked, but it did make me pretty miserable and disheartened for a while, so maybe a happy medium is best.

The other thing I would say is that regular deadlines and meetings have been really important for me. I have a deadline every month, which means that I produce something concrete every month (regardless of how good it really is), and that's one step closer to completing. Without the deadline I would just drift along reading what I wanted and never get round to formal analysis or writing up.

One other thing - encouraging students early on to at least flick through a couple of vaguely related PhDs would be helpful, to give them an idea of what is expected.

All the best with being a supervisor!



Keep proffesional boundaries and do not become friends with students. New supervisors often make a mistake of wanting to be liked and blur the lines. Keep the conversation to small talk and academic issues, have agendas for each meeting and put clear boundaries on your time.


Thanks for the replies so far everyone and please do keep them coming. I really value the variation in our PhD supervision experiences.


My tuppence....

1. Set fair and realistic deadlines. Mine seems to be utterly clueless about how long certain things take, or sets silly deadlines if he's annoyed.
2. Don't say 'you tell me what you want to do next, it's your project' and then rubbish what your student says, before suggesting what you want them to do.
3. Keep on-track with what's required for reviews/ chapters/ the next stage, rather than there being a sudden panic before one of these events.
4. Don't tie up your own sense of self-worth in what your students are doing, and especially don't let them know that this is the case.


Be professional, friendly is fine but your home life is tabboo. Do not get romantically involved with your student. At all times be courteous and polite; bossy/arrogant/superiority complex is not appreciated and will earn you nothing but contempt. Be patient and helpful wherever possible, but not a walkover - be firm where necessary. Regarding your colleagues and professional relationships in a new post: Respect must be earned - it is not given automatically.

OK, I haven't graduated yet but 10 years as a private tutor and 5 in the professional sector opened my eyes when I left Uni. Above all, enjoy the experience, I envy you! (up)


My only real issue witih supervisors is getting to see them. My lead sup is a consultant in the NHS, head of research, involved in R&D in the trust and various other things. Consequently he's hard to pin down.


For the most part, my supervisors have been quite helpful. I think the only problem I have had with my current supervisors is that I feel like I do not have their full attention during a meeting. Sometimes they start talking about something other than my project while I am in a meeting with time. Time with my supervisors is hard to get and very precious and I want their full attention. So much seems to be going on in the university at this time that I think it prevents them from being totally with their students. Students should have your full attention during their meeting times. Students should know that you are listening and that you care.

I have had one supervisor in the past that was rude and unprofessional. Everything had to be the way that person wanted it or your were criticized. I no longer have that supervisor.


My main problem was that I changed direction with the PhD and in doing so my original supervisor had no knowledge of the new topic and was even too lazy to proof-read. 

Another problem is with new PhD supervisors knowing what's right and wrong. I think that new supervisors are as confused as the students sometimes and won't give in and ask for help because they don't want to loose face.

Also false feedback has been a problem, this might come down to inexperience but I feel sometimes I'm told everything is fine when I know in my heart it is not (and I also have gotten these doubts confirmed through upgrades).

Hope this all helps x