Structure of Supervision


Hi All,

This topic has just come up in a recent thread I started.

I wondered whether anybody would mind sharing the structure of their supervision with their supervisor/s? The supervision I receive is structured as follows:

a) Electronically forward any completed work since the previous supervision meeting
b) Attend face to face meeting on a monthly basis (I am a part time student) where I briefly discuss any areas I deem as significant and get their thoughts on it
c) I describe what I intend to produce in time for next month's meeting
d) Repeat steps above

I suppose my intentions of this thread is to try and get as much out of supervisors as possible! ,-)




I'm a full-time student so a little different, but I have weekly meetings (sometimes less often though, depending on availability and where I was at with the work tasks), and email in between as needed. Written drafts were produced by the next meeting, which was either in a week's time or arranged at a time that was suitable if a week was too soon/too far ahead.

The meetings were mainly me going over where i was at, giving update on tasks and saying what i was working and doing at the time, and what we would have for the next meeting. Also prioritised questions and asked anything that i needed answers on to progress.

In hindsight, to get more out of this process i probably would have done agendas more formally and rigidly - ie just made the whole thing more formalised, and really pinpointed timelines for tasks rather than just working on them as much as possible as quickly as possible. I hope that makes sense.

Very interested to hear about other experiences in relation to this, I've wondered about the same thing, as supervision seems to be an individual thing and as a student you don't really get to see or hear other's experiences to compare your own and know if yours is 'normal' or not. I probably should have asked more about it with other students!


======= Date Modified 25 Sep 2011 14:11:25 =======
I am full time as well. I have had sporadic meetings with my supervisor over the last three years, the majority of which have been in this writing up year. The sporadicness of things was agreed by us both at the start. During my second year I was out doing a lot of data collection and we only met a couple of times but this suited me fine.

He never actually asked me to produce anything over the whole three years but given that I was determined to be wrapped in three years, productivity wasn't really an issue. I don't know what he would have been like had I not been proactive in giving up work. In hindsight I regret that feedback protocols were not established from the start. Feedback when I have gotten it has always been very thorough, usually verbal although some of it has been written. I never doubted that he had actually read it as he was able to refer to sections from memory, without actually checking the thesis in front of him - very impressive! However, I was never sure when I was going to get it and this was the problem. Also, he never passed a single chapter with the result that one started to overlap the other until it was the whole thesis that was under scrutiny! Fingers crossed I am submitting very soon but I have found this last year horrendous!


mine has gone:
start with two main supervisors, one to be director of studies and the other to just be there really
another person comes along who knows about my topic and asks if I would ask if they could be on the team, I say yes because they are probably top in the field, so think this is a good thing
the other - just to be there- supervisor stops attending any meetings (there were a couple up to this point) new supervisor is good at responding to e-mails and we have a couple of meetings. (I never bothered much about actual face to face meetings, e-mail suited me fine)
did not see director of studies at all after the initial meetings
new supervisor gets a new job... and stops sending replies to e-mails, but I carry on and send draft chapters etc for upgrade, get a few responses eventually but then no more.

eventually realise that supervision is rather less than satisfactory when I hear how supportive other supervisors are, and tell head of faculty I'm a bit miffed.
I then have one meeting with director of studies and the new supervisor after this when a) it is obvious that the director of studies has only read the first few pages of one of the chapters, and b) the comment at the end 'did I think I had my money's worth now' suggeted that this meeting only happened because they had been told to arrange one.
I get given someone else as supervisor who says they don't really want to do it as they know nothing about my area, fair enough no-one really does. They comment on chapters but suggest a completley different way of writing is necessary even though AWOL supervisor has always said it is good as it is.
director of studies asks for chapters ( he was supposed to have been reading and commenting as the process was progressing) I assumed he has been prompted to do something and he had lost originals so forwarded copies as annotated by supervisor. he sends them to person who is reading them for upgrade, with all the comments etc still there, that is, he never even read them. They respond querying the items as they don't appear 'finished' - well they weren't were they? Upgrade viva arranged, person e-mails 20 minutes before meeting is due to say they can't make it.
head of fauclty wants to come on board and kick off supervisor who is AWOL, I assume this will get things back on track and agree.
the new supervisor chosen by the head of faculty decides they don't want to do it after all.
head of faculty suggests a new team.
AWOL supervisor comes back on the scene so obviously has not been told to go away and appears eager to go, so I send him next chapter, and they comment on the first few pages...and then no more
head of faculty fails to turn up for a meeting, no message to say it had been cancelled. I spend half an hour looking for them, it appears they went home.
No sign of a new team. I am in limbo still. They eventually send an e-mail and request a telephone number to call so that we can arrange a new meeting. Send details but no reply as yet
I have told university I want a refund of fees for last year as they have in no way kept their side of the contract, and will withold payment for this year until they sort something out. No response to that one yet.
I'm keeping going with the chapters and hope eventually someone somewhere will take on the supervision (which will really only involve a few e-mails) and give some feedback, but I am not hopeful of anything happening anytime soon.

I don't partticularly want a lot of help, just someone to look over the thing to check if the arguments are OK etc. but on the other hand,they offer a much better deal in theory than they do in reality- unless you do your part time study as a member of staff, in which case you appear to get all the help you need on tap. I have had everything ready for the upgrade since last july (2010) and they still haven't filled in the necessary paperwork or completed their tasks.

My advice would be to set


Hi Sparkles - yes it does make sense and is a good idea that I hadn't yet thought of. As you've said, so far I've just been trying to get through each of the required tasks as quickly as possible without really thinking how much time should be allocated to them. Taking this approach would ensure that both my supervisors and I are more thorough during each section and don't wait until the end to discover any major issues! I think that's what you meant anyway :-)

Hi Ady - that is one thing I definitely want my supervisors to do is read my first final draft chapters in detail and not let me just submit my thesis without this. But like mentioned in other conversations I have had on here, I haven't discussed with them what my expectations are of them regarding feedback. I just expected (or hoped!) that they will provide feedback in this way, but this is yet to be agreed. An item to add to the next supervision agenda I think ;-) a massive good luck for the submission too!

Hi Joyce - I'm really sorry to hear about your experience with your supervisors and university. I would do exactly the same and argue for a refund. Otherwise over the past year/s (?) any fees paid are basically to cover access to their library facilities. Your advice was cut off at the end of your post too, so if you see this I would still really value your advice. I've got everything crossed for you that you sort out this situation.


My situation is like Ady's, except that I haven't been proactive in sending in work. There's no structure in place at all. The one and only time I did submit anything for comments (a written piece necessary for Transfer of Status) the reply was essentially 'looks fine to me'. I also got editorial comments on my research plan- I don't think we've ever had a substantive discussion of what I'm doing. So, RLD... I have to prefer your way of doing it.


I think I had a really good supervisory team so was very lucky. I was p/t and had three sups, two external and one uni. My main external liked to have some regular-ish meetings and also attended my lab sessions (due to not being able to work alone with equipment and substances used) so we had good communication (face-to-face and email) about direction of studies, progress etc. My uni sup was also available for regular meetings every 1-2 months and for this I would be more specific in having stuff sent through prior to the meeting and an agenda organised. My other eternal was interested and had some less regular meetings although we worked in the same building so occasional catch ups occurred. That said they facilitated my use of the lab as they had control over its purpose, so really did a lot there. During write-up I became much more organised as reflected by Ady. All my sups were sent thesis structure plans, draft chapters and the draft thesis, but most comments were from main external and uni sups. I used skype tutorials mainly in this phase so evenings could be utilised for supervision. I did submit with agreement from just the two sups.........although I think sup 3 was happy and congratulatory on my viva pass!

I would suggest keeping this organisation from the start. I was advised at the start of my PhD that there was an extra element of managing your supervision :p. I would also add that taking notes and writing up your sup meetings is also very useful so you have a record of the contact.


======= Date Modified 26 Sep 2011 20:57:39 =======
Hi RLD1984,

I got monthly face-to-face supervision for the first three months and the first session was very constructive and very helpful.

Had two to three face-to face supervisions each year, over the three years but it was difficult trying to get the meetings organised and they were not productive, even though I sent notification in advance about what was to be discussed.

Took 18 months from submitting my literature review to getting feedback and I only got track changes for the first few pages and no more for the many pages after (so I'm not convinced it was read in full). I was virtually pleading for it. Feedback generally takes months not weeks and again I'm not sure my stuff is read in full. I always set the deadlines and submit work in advance of these.

I tried directly and indirectly to get them to commit to feedback deadlines (e.g. When can I expect this to be returned please?) but they get back whenever they get back, if they get back...

The sad thing is my supervisors are really nice people but quite obviously, to me at least, they shouldn't have expressed an interest in taking on another PhD student.


Supervisor meetings (my experience)

1 Send material in advance to be read.
2 Turn up to meeting (very obvious that material has not been read or else just skimmed over at the last minute)
3 They rant away about stuff that is unrelated to my topic but that they know a lot about (one time I was even told to look into Nazi invasion you don't know my topic it is impossible for me to describe how insane this suggestion was)
4 Nod and smile about their fabulous suggestions - make notes to appear as if you are taking them seriously
5 They make vague non-committal expressions about meeting up again in the near future (maybe before Christmas?)
6 Go on your way and sift through all the nonsense they told you to see if there are any real gems that might be hidden there (probably not)
7 Get on with doing your own work and hope for the best


I haven't started my PhD yet, but i will tell you what it was like during my masters, full-time.

Formal (face-to-face) weekly meetings on a set-day and time with supervisor/supervisors.
These meetings sometimes included other senior members of the group because work is relevant to eachother.
Notes and aims made in meeting books by professors/students and evaluated the following week.
Email supervisors whenever i need.
Knock on supervisors door when i am unsure about something, or when i have puzzling results.

This time around i intend on doing it better- i mean i used to prepare for meetings on the bus on the way into university, and they were really good lol, but this time i intend on having a typed up weekly report of my work (rather than just verbal discussion with a couple of graphs). I also hear that PhDs are more structured than masters.


what I was going to say is that you need to make sure that the supervisors know what you want from them. Arrange meetings to suit you as much as possible ...and don't do what I did which was to keep on assuming that the reply you were expecting will actually arrive in the near future and let that turn into months.

I know the fees are supposed to pay for a lot of things, but the point is that all students should have the same standard of supervision, and those in charge should ensure that is what happens. I don't accept that they are too busy, if they are that busy they shouldn't accept students and if they can't be bothered they shouldn't accept students either


Quote From joyce:
I don't accept that they are too busy, if they are that busy they shouldn't accept students and if they can't be bothered they shouldn't accept students either

Joyce, I so agree with this. I'll never understand why my supervisors put their names forward to supervise.


======= Date Modified 29 Sep 2011 09:24:05 =======
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I worte a PGR Tips on being proactive about supervisory meetings a while ago:
and it sounds like all of you lot are!
hope it gives you some more ideas for getting the most out of the meetings, though.