Why do supervisors supervise?


Hi all,

A fellow PhD student and myself were posed a very intriguing question by our shared supervisor, why did I decide to supervise you? To be honest we were a litlle stumped at the time and would welcome any thoughts from the PhD community!

Thanks in advance
Heather and Bev


I ALWAYS wonder this exact thing. If approached, are supervisors obliged to agree to it? What if they secretly don't like the student, the project, or think that the student is not particularly capable? I have never come across a supervisor who has not agreed to supervise, and I always wonder why more don't decline. Not very helpful--but this is a good question!


It will look good on their CV. Plus there is a chance to publish more papers which equals funding which equals promotion. Also they might be just interested in the subject and like to encourage others to study. If my supervisor asked me that question I wouldn't know what to say.:$

Avatar for sneaks

probaby a good way of getting stuff for the RAE or whatever they are calling it now. By the time you have something ready for publication, you will leave which means your supervisor can put it against their name for a publication within the department - if they do the same with people who are more likely to stay, they can't share the publication for the RAE - its either one or the others if they are in the same department.


Well, I suppose it depends a lot on the supervisors. I can imagine some get enthusiastic about pretty much anything. For instance this was the case of my MA supervisor, and I really hope (for her sanity and theirs) that she does not accept to supervise PhD students as easily as she accepts MA students! When I was at university France it was common for lecturers to turn down some topics for supervision, but always on the grounds that they could not offer adequate supervision - although when you started to chat with them at the cafe they'd sometimes end up confessing they simply didn't like the idea of working with specific students for three years. But it's true I've never seen or heard of this in the UK.

That being said I know why my supervisor, here in the UK, is supervising me. To begin with, I tracked him down. I had two potential supervisors for my topic, really, and one is pre-retiring, so I focused on the other. I know he liked the fact that I did my research on that aspect of things too (at the same time recognizing he's one of the few experts in his field), my determination, and my absolute love for my research area (which obviously happens to be his too). He quizzed me a lot during our first meeting. When I said I didn't want to do a PhD as a career move, but that I saw it as a space to explore my topic, I knew I was in from the look on his face. Then it also turns out that with me as a student in his department, there is now scope for a new research group of some kind for next year probably - he'd been wanting to set that up for a while but they really needed at least one PhD student on board, and here I am. Sometimes it feels a bit like there was a chair waiting for me in his office before we even met and, when I finally turned up, the welcome message was 'where had you been? Go on, get working now!'...
All in all I think it happened this way because our research object is very limited and not quite popular in academia to be honest - this means it's easy to produce original work, but also that no one will pay attention to it unless they are of the handful of researchers who already write on the same topic. From this point on, it's really easy to be enthusiastic (that's valid for him and for me) about working with somebody who shares a passion for the same topic...


Hmmm...I would like to think that it's because they enjoy it and want to encourage others into their field. But my skeptical side is saying more PhD students = more data = more publications and all the good stuff that comes with that! I think really most supervisors will take on anyone they can get the funding for- at the end of the day it will mean their reputation will grow through the extra work that is produced, so why not?! KB


hmmm...personally I don't see why you're confused about why a supervisor surpervises, they have to as part of the job. Whether they enjoy it or not is irrelevent, it is still something that is part of working in academia, especially if said supervisor is looking for a promotion in the future. However, the real question is, why did your supervisor choose to supervise YOU in particular? What did they see in you that ingrigued them and led them to the decision that you in particular were capable of this particular PhD project? That is the question that has me stumped! :-)

Avatar for Eska

======= Date Modified 12 Nov 2009 15:48:44 =======
H Heather and Bev,

It's my guess that your supervisor is asking you to evaluate what is worthwhile about your individual projects, and why they are particularly suitable for her to supervise; ie to articulate the 'so what?' factor which is necessary when you introduce and conclude your thesis. Good luck. (up)

Oh, also, she mught be asking you do identify yourqualities as a potential researcher, maybe?

You could ask her what angle she's looking for, just get some clarification.


======= Date Modified 16 Nov 2009 13:58:10 =======
Well with mine, it was the supervisor that was desperate for staff. He/she was exteremly desperate for staff since their group was reducing in size quite dramatically and I was the (un)lucky monkey that had to eat the wrath of supervisor fustrations. Alot of the time since funding is scarce and supervisors can be placed in a desperate situations, they can take people on against their will and this is only a disaster especially if the supervisor is unreasonalble. Avoid at all cost if you can better to have no PhD than a failed one, thats waht happened to me.