In praise of supervisors

posted
09-Aug-10, 20:58
edited about 17 seconds later
by teek
Avatar for teek
posted about 9 years ago
No, not being sarky, the title is genuine!
I know we all like to bitch, vent and generally let off steam about our supervisors. Most if not of all of which is perfectly reasonable and in fact downright essential to keep even a shred of our sanity. Sneaks has one that's computer illiterate and thesis phobic. Keenbean's appears to think that the rules of space and time don't apply, and that poor KB can do the work of three students within a single phd. My first one lacks full command of English, while my second just broke a promise and left two fellow students jobless. BUT.....

They were once like us one assumes? And in defence of my own, for all they drive me to the brink of frustrated tears on a fairly regular basis, they've also been uncommonly decent most of my studies. Sup one for example, extended my stipend without being asked, without and excuse as to why I was running over, and even though I turned down the chance to continue working for him post-phd. Today he was finally starting to express concern over my write-up, I immediately felt guilty and hunted, only to receive (entirely unprovoked) a follow-up email saying...
"Is it possible to send the draft of chapters x and y to me? I will do my best to help with writing. I am quite free at the moment. Actually, everybody here has been very proud of you. They all believe you will complete your study timely."

How kind is that? I'm months over, with no obvious excuse or explanation, and he sends me that. I feel genuinely humbled and so lucky.

So, anyone else care to stand up for supervisors? Surely I can't be the only one with a heartwarming stroy from the coalface of academia.

posted
09-Aug-10, 21:23
edited about 18 seconds later
by phdbug
Avatar for phdbug
posted about 9 years ago
======= Date Modified 09 Aug 2010 21:39:31 =======
======= Date Modified 09 Aug 2010 21:28:22 =======
I will begin. This is very mushy, but again, Teek seeks a 'heart-warming' tale :)

My supervisor is, in every sense of the term, the best mentor anyone could ever wish to work with.

Yes, she is an international star, churning out books, leading huge transnational projects. Never has that taken away from her listening patiently to the musings of this silly young researcher, exactly half her age, every little idea, every excited and nebulous ambition. She continues to be my inspiration, motivation and source of critique.

Strikingly, she is also a friend figure, who can, as appropriate, shift into being the strict supervisor, the demanding employer, the first person I approach with anything that goes wrong! She has organised lovely jobs for me, despite being an international student with no home funding, I have never had to go in debt. She has expanded my network so tremednously, has prodded me every time I have become complacent, has been a fanstastic co-author, has been intellectually scathing of shoddy work and what more could I ask or add?

One last - she takes time to remind me to eat 4 meals a day sometimes- something I forget ever so often. And this person - is an international super busy super star in our field and has produced nearly as many books as the total number of years she has been in this field.

Edit: sorry I had to come back and add some of her quotes - Teek you inspired me -

After I organised a big conference and we both spoke at it, next morning "PhDBug, I am so delighted to have a student like you. You bring people together, you make things happens, you keep the intellectual demands high"

Another, when my gran was ill and I was collapsing literally "My dear PhDBug, just writing to say that you are allowed to be a human being. And remember, however long your PhD takes, and whatever happens, I am there as your intellectual support through the highs and lows of this"

And she is always there.
posted
09-Aug-10, 22:05
edited about 16 seconds later
by teek
Avatar for teek
posted about 9 years ago
Oh Bug, I do declare I'm almost crying a little geek-tear!

I'm so glad you have a mentor like that. But please don't underestimate your part in this relationship! You're obviously a student who's worth that extra effort, someone as successful as she is didn't get there by investing in the wrong people ;-)
posted
09-Aug-10, 22:29
edited about 4 seconds later
Avatar for Keenbean
posted about 9 years ago
Haha, that made me laugh Teek! You are right, she does like to assume that I am super-human, but I also have a lot of praise for her. She has so much to juggle, a whole big team of us, no end of grant applications, projects, important conferences etc, but she always finds time for us PhDers. When I want to talk about ideas for research she listens attentively and takes my ideas seriously, she returns all written work within several days of receiving it, and often the next day, and she will back us up to the hilt if needed. If we have any problems with anything or anyone, she is onto it right away. And she is also very kind. She has just found £1500 to fund a trip to a conference in the states for me, since my funding pot is already overdrawn, and she has also forked out over £1000 from some other project fund for a fellow PhDer's childcare over summer so that she can concentrate on writing up. She has been incredibly understanding about my bipolar issues and is always full of support and praise for the work I do, albeit covered in 'constructive criticism' as well! On top of that she actually has a good sense of humour and is good to have a laugh with, although she disguises it well and no-one else ever believes us! And of course I admire her work and millions of publications etc, and appreciate all her guidance. Sometimes when I read about the supervisor horror stories on here I thank my lucky stars I have my supervisor. Well, about 95% of the time anyway
8-) Best wishes all, KB
posted
10-Aug-10, 00:47
by DanB
Avatar for DanB
posted about 9 years ago
I had 3 supervisors, all of them were great. Never had reason to complain about any of them once.
posted
10-Aug-10, 08:57
Avatar for algaequeen
posted about 9 years ago
======= Date Modified 10 Aug 2010 08:58:21 =======
what a good idea Teek!

I do my fair share of complaining about my supervisors it's true, but they really aren't that bad! My 'evil' sup is a holy terror to work with at times, assuming I know exactly what he's talking about as he goes round in circles explaining something (it's like he has no thought filter, it all just comes out just as he's thinking it...) and it is a soul destroying experience getting feedback and corrections from him...however at the end of the process whatever I've been working on is much better than when I started, he refuses to accept anything below his high standard, and somehow manages to drag the great stuff out of me. He has a terrible and often inappropriate sense of humour yes, and is extremely grumpy and takes it out on students and staff but he can give some amazing gems of thought and is a total anorak for part of my topic.
My 3rd sup has taken early retirement due to becoming ill, but throughout has always tried his best to keep an eye on my work, and gives excellent feedback when he can.
My main sup however is my knight in shining armour. He's a very difficult man to work with at times, he can have a very short temper and has reduced me to tears in meetings. However, when I was in a very difficult situation in another lab I was working in and essentially being bullied by a staff member, I went to him and he sat and let me cry it all out, explain it all and sorted it within a day. He's a super busy supervisor too, head of the department and has 2 side companies he's running, scientific advisor to all sorts of things, and has never been known to turn his phone off. During that meeting he took the office phone off the hook, turned off mobiles and was so kind. I was on the verge of leaving several times and he has kept me here and I'm extremely grateful for it.

Until I get back to writing this darned thesis I'm sure... ;-)
posted
10-Aug-10, 10:44
by CeCeF
Avatar for CeCeF
posted about 9 years ago
Both of my supervisors have been superb. One of them, in particular, has had so much on his plate (he's an associate dean of the faculty) but has always had much, much more time for me than I am entitled to on paper (I'm a part-time student). He has given me the key to his office to use this summer as I am in the last month of the thesis. Once, when we were applying for funding AGAIN and I apologised for having to do this once more, he sent me an e-mail that just said 'Don't worry. You are worth it.' He is great.

My other supervisor is the type that thinks (he actually has told me this) that your biggest critic is your best friend. He is no nonsense. He covers the page in corrections and deals in comments like 'yuck', 'help me I'm lost' etc. He challenges me a lot. At first, I found this very difficult and was defensive. Now I know that his supervision has made a massive difference to my own ability to deal with criticism (good prep for the viva!) and has made the thesis so much better. On my last draft of my last chapter he wrote on the top of the page 'This is astonishingly well-written in terms of its clarity. It reads like published text not a draft!' I cried. He will retire the day I submit my thesis. I feel so lucky to have been the last of his students.
posted
10-Aug-10, 13:11
Avatar for purplecat
posted about 9 years ago
my supervisor is great! He drives me mad all the time, he never remembers to reply to emails, no matter how urgent, and I always have to chase him up about everything. he's perfectionistic to the extreme, and if i have less than a million things to do at once, then i'm not busy enough, and if you get a 'good work' from him, you take about a week off to celebrate! if you ever say something stupid, instead of letting it pass, he will laugh at you. when you let him down, he doesn't get angry, he's just 'disappointed' that you've let yourself down, and it makes you want to crawl under the nearest rock.

But because he is all of those things, it makes you work hard to get it right. he pushes me, but because of that, i've probably got more done in my first year than i would otherwise. because every little bit of everything i do has to be perfect, it means that when it's done I have confidence that it's good. When i finally submit my thesis, I won't have to worry about whether it will pass or not, because if it's good enough for him, it'll be good enough for everyone else! because he laughs at you when you're wrong, and praises you when you do well, i trust him, i know he means what he says and he wouldn't say anything just to make me feel better - so I don't have to waste time wondering what he really thinks, because he never leaves any doubt! i know a lot of people in my department who have really laid back, comforting supervisors, and don't get me wrong, there are many days when i wish we could swap, but when it comes down to it, i know that my work is better because of him, I will learn more because of him, and that really i'm extremely lucky to be supervised by him.

i also know that at the end of 3 years, i will probably hate him and be thankful for him in equal measure!
posted
10-Aug-10, 13:33
Avatar for stressed
posted about 9 years ago
Yay, great idea! My supervisor is fantastic, I really can't rate him highly enough! He is so supportive, so encouraging, ok, so I drive him nuts at times and he can be very firm with me, but he seems to have the right balance of pushing me and encouraging me to get through this. I've been lucky in that he's been my supervisor right through from BA so I've worked with him a long time and he knows me and how I work better than I know myself! We had an assessment of the dept a few months back and a few PhD students were asked to go to the meeting to discuss doctoral supervision and three of us were his students. It sounded like the Prof X appreciation society in there at times. Only one student that i know has moaned about him but that particular student I think didn't appreciate any form of criticism which didn't help. The rest of us absolutley adore him and I really can't think of a better example of a supervisor - if there was a text book supervisor it would be him! yeh, I moan about him at times, get annoyed with him lol, but I know that what he says and what he does is for my own benefit and his sole aim is to get his students to be the best that they possibly can be and he goes the extra mile to help us. He returns work within days, he replies to emails same day (and will apologise if he hasn't), and so far (touch wood) every one of his students have got through BA, MA and PhD with flying colours. He's a firm but fair marker, can be a bit of a nightmare with that but he doesn't believe in not saying it how it is, but the way he says it is considered and helpful. I'd hope that if I ever make it through this and possibly into academia that I'd be able to be half the teacher, supervisor, researcher and writer that he is, if I did that I'd be a very happy girl!
posted
10-Aug-10, 14:36
by Delta
Avatar for Delta
posted about 9 years ago
======= Date Modified 10 Aug 2010 14:40:36 =======
I envy you all. It's MONTHS since I saw my supervisors, I've LONG since indicated I need help but I'm still waiting... and I have not had a single thesis related piece handed back to me and I'm heading into 3rd year! I haven't a clue if I'm doing great or terribly, feedback is just a word to me. Absolutely lovely people but as supervisors I think they're pretty woeful.
posted
10-Aug-10, 17:47
Avatar for stressed
posted about 9 years ago
Oh Delta, I do feel for you, it must be very hard to work like that.... its a shame when people are great, ermm, people, but rubbish supervisors. I have friends who have the same problem, their supervision team are the life and soul of the party, loved by students and staff, but omg..... You most certainly aren't alone though which is the bigger shame of it, when people are prepared to work this hard for this long and put their blood sweat and tears (quite literally) into their study they deserve good supervision. Having said that, with the way things are for you when you pass then it is all down to you, to your skill, to your knowledge and hard work and nobody can ever take that from you.
posted
12-Aug-10, 11:54
edited about 29 seconds later
by Delta
Avatar for Delta
posted about 9 years ago
Thanks Stressed, your kind words mean a lot. I suppose reading this thread just made me realise what a raw deal I feel I'm getting from my supervisors, as supervisors.

However, it's a lovely thread and I'm happy to read that others are having positive experiences.
posted
12-Aug-10, 17:30
edited about 5 seconds later
Avatar for queerface VIP
posted about 9 years ago
I have been reading this thread with interest. I have never had any reason to complain about my main supervisor but, seeing how thoughtful some other people's supervisors are, I am envious to say the least! I have always liked my supervisor (unlike my second supervisor -but that is not for this thread) and have always thought he liked me -prompt, thorough feedback, support when it all goes wrong etc and he is very experienced as an academic, a supervisor and an examiner, but lately, I have become suspicious that he may be just being nice to me because he cant be bothered to engage with my work. It has been a niggling doubt since I started writing my final draft in September. He would return chapters to me with smiley faces and typos corrected but nothing more substantial than this. I know I am not a genius, I also have only been working for 2.5 years on my PhD so it is not that I am mega-experienced either, so I became worried that he was using the rule of 80% - if its 80% good it will do- and not push me to be any better.

To be honest I still have these doubts and I have tried to ask him if he is just being nice to me to get rid of me (make me submit sooner and out of his hair quicker) but he makes all the right noises about not doing that (although without telling me that i am any good) and so reading this thread I think two things: obviously a good supervisor is one who is nice, but also we seem to want someone who is critical too. but also... a phd process is meant to be a training process to become an independent researcher, so maybe it is part and parcel of the process that as students reach the end, they have less and less interaction with their supervisors as they become more and more expert in their field, have better research skills and 'fly the nest' of studentship, so to speak. Maybe a good supervisor is one who lets you go off on this journey in this way...?

I am planning to submit in 6 weeks and when my supervisors see this 'final-ish' draft, i will ask them why they havent been tougher on me, but maybe his supervision has been so good, and his feedback so tempered to suit me, that i havent really noticed it affecting my attitude to my work.

maybe, to paraphrase, if a supervisor loves you, they will set you free...? or maybe they are just bored and overworked. :p
posted
19-Aug-10, 00:10
edited about 8 seconds later
Avatar for NapoleonofCrime
posted about 9 years ago
I *heart* my supervisor. He isn't the type to gush with praise, so a little means a lot from him, if you know what I mean. Having been going through some difficult personal circumstances recently, I sent him an email basically saying 'I'm behind with my writing, can I please come and talk to you, my progress is becoming slow and rubbish'. Not only did he reply almost as soon as I sent the email (at about 2am!) with 'Come and see me as soon as possible, and don't worry, your progress has been more than satisfactory'. He also listened to me ranting and wailing about a completely non-academic issue for the best part of two hours, gave wise advice, and was generally a Good Egg about the whole thing. Awesome.
posted
23-Aug-10, 18:06
edited about 2 seconds later
Avatar for crushedapple
posted about 9 years ago
Reading all of this made me cry, I have a supervisor from hell! Very nasty bi"""h long list. How did all of you end up with such awesome sups? Did you select them carefully before you applied or was it pot luck?

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