Research supervision…a few personal thoughts

Research supervision is pretty much always exciting for me. Not without its challenges, but exciting nonetheless. I’m a relative newcomer to supervising graduate research projects – I’ve only been doing it for four years – but it’s a part of my teaching commitment that I greatly relish. The term ‘supervision’ continues to strike me as somewhat odd however. To my mind, my role is more of a supporter, a facilitator rather than a supervisor. Yes, I have the expertise, and that’s why students decide they want to work with me on a specific area, but nonetheless, I still think of myself more as a guide and a critical friend.

I do think that the role of the supervisor (it’s the acceptable term in academia so I’ll continue to use it for the moment) is pretty much determined by the student’s personality (and by the supervisor’s, although much less so). I don’t think that students actually realise how important this point is. You get the supervisor that you require, or that you deserve. The roles of both supervisor and student are far from set in stone. Over time, the relationship will change, the roles may be completely transformed, but the drivers for those changes in relationship and the transformation that might occur are in the hands of the student. I remember my days as a graduate student – the ability of your supervisor to understand this delicate balance, need for change and growth is crucial. I was one of the lucky ones. My supervisor helped me transform from an ugly ducking into a research swan! It’s also good to remember that this relationship is not one that will end as soon as you graduate. You may want to call upon your old supervisor to read new work, to bat ideas around with or to work on various other projects with. Yes, they can open doors to you and provide you with new opportunities if they think you’re worth it. It’s therefore a relationship that takes time to cultivate but is extremely rewarding.

There are challenges from both the research student and the supervisor’s point of views of course. There may also be some nightmare scenarios (which have luckily been few for me but still happen despite lots of goodwill on both sides). More to come…

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