standing on our own two feet: quality of research and writing without supervisor input?

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Hi all, I got a bit dispondent today because as I was improving my chapter by making the changes my supervisor suggested, it struck me prteyy hard that although my chapter is going to be good, it wouldn't be as great if I had no guidance. What happens when we finish and need to write articles and books all by our selves? How do we improve? How do we make sure our work is top quality? I'd like to be able to be this good on my own - does that happen at some point?

Thanks for your thoughts folks :-)


I'm just starting my PhD, so I don't have direct experience of this myself, but I guess during your PhD you build up a network of people who you trust, and you can give them your work for feedback. At least this is what people I know are doing.


I think you learn more about what's good as you go along, so you get better anyway. And, yes, asking other people to read your work - if they're willing - doesn't hurt. My supervisors are still offering to read anything I send in for submission, many months after I graduated. But I'm rather trying to stand on my own two feet at the moment. It could backfire spectacularly :p


I always pass things by colleagues to take a look - it's fairly standard practice (even the Prof gets us to look over things he has written)


Interesting question. I think that you'll learn by trial and error, reading papers and taking note of elements of style that you like, taking in feedback from others and just generally seeing your writing style mature. It's not fare to compare yourself with someone who has been writing and getting published for many years; it's like eating a ripe banana and then an unripe one and calling it crap.


*fare* - I have no edit post function.


I think there's also another side to the argument though: when to trust your instincts and reject the changes/advice that you are given. Sometimes supervisors can over-edit a piece, and if you incorporate every change you may have added things that strictly aren't necessary, and could move it too far away from your own approach to the writing.

This struck me around my viva when one supervisor was very concerned about my thesis, citing some legitimate concerns, but I was confident that I had addressed them as much as I could do, and would have to trust to my own instincts, and see what the examiners said. And they had no problems at all. My other supervisor was convinced the examiners would want me to totally rewrite my conclusions: I didn't have to rewrite anything in my thesis, just fix typos.

It's all about maturing as a researcher. I've taken a big jolt of confidence lately in passing my viva and graduating, so I'm prepared to venture out there. But I will still ask other people's advice, and get them to read things. But ultimately it boils down to my decisions.


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I think Bilbo has a good point there - it's gotten to the point where my supervisors won't give me advice on how to structure my thesis, they keep telling me that it's mine and I should do it how I see fit. I think maybe this is because I had issues with one sup in particular who has a very different style of writing to me, and we tended to disagree on some pretty basic things; although a lot of his criticism was bang on point, he has a tendency to over correct and change things back and forth several times. I think we use the PhD to learn how to write, getting feedback from sups etc, and once we are out on our own it's perfectly fine to ask others to read over work, but you will always get feedback and guidance when you submit pieces from reviewers - granted it can be a pretty brutal way of doing it depending on what your reviewer is like, but you will get loads of different types of feedback as people write in different ways. It's how you incorporate that into your own writing that helps your own style grow. So it's not just your supervisor who will guide your writing and help improve it, it's all the experiences you will have after that keeps you honing and maturing your writing for years after.


With all due respect, may I say, a PhD is meant to teach you these very skills. When you pass your PhD, you are supposed to come out as an expert in that particular field. And that has got to reflect in your writing. Of course, no one is perfect and there is no shame in asking your peers for an opinion/feedback about the articles you write.


It's one thing to be an expert in the field, it's another thing for the writing to be of stellar quality. So I think there is still scope for feedback, and suggestions. Though, as I've said, I'm trying to stand on my own two feet at the moment, with my current two post-doc journal submissions.


Hey Eska! I often think exactly the same as you- would my papers get accepted if my sup hadn't gone over them and made so many suggestions! On the bright side of things, for my first publication she looked at about 15-20 drafts (seriously!), and now I am down to submitting papers when she's looked at about 4 drafts from the absolute beginning of the paper to the finished article, so something must be improving :-) I suppose it's just a learning process, and bear in mind that many post-docs will be working with collaborators who will also also have input on the publications, and will still have supervisors to add comments- you won't just be plunged into the big wide world completely on your own to start with. And your confidence will grow as you have more publications accepted, until you know what to do to make them good. And sure, there will probably be rejections along the way (my prof is huge in her field and still has the odd manuscript rejected!) but even those you learn from. All the academics have gone through the same process as us and they learn to write stuff for themselves so I guess we all will in the end, I guess the learning curve goes on for quite a long time! Best, KB


One thing I've noticed is that in books and things the top experts will thank other for their feedback and advice... and yes, its a massive learning curve. My sup was telling me the other day that he looks back on his early work and cringes at his writing style and structure! i don't think that you're necessarily thrown out with the bath water when you graduate and that others in your field, particularly ex sups etc are happy to copy edit for you and help you out. I do share the anxiety though, the thought of going alone is worrying, but I'm definately improving, my sup only makes maybe 200 corrections per page now ;-)

As for training - well, as I've been told, this is an apprenticeship - they aren't churning out experts, that comes later - they are training you how to 'do' research and improve your writing. Some of the greatest experts are awful writers and need help, others can write the most amazing things but spout utter c*ap when you actually read it. This is a life long journey as far as I can work out with improvements carrying on 20-30 years if not more after you've got your Dr hat.