it’s your PhD, so take control!

So how do people normally think about professors? eccentrics who are entirely focused on their research who are unorganised, work into the night with no social life, get frustrated at not being understood, lack interpersonal skills, intolerant, moody….I think you get the picture! I’m sure not all professors are like that but as your academic supervisor gained their position mainly due to their research skills, it should be no surprise they just aren’t that fluffy.

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In fact you may think if you cried in front of them they would ‘take those tears, freeze them, and throw them in a glass of whiskey and drink it … to increase their spirit-crushing abilities’ (Quote 1)

So how are you going to manage your relationship with your supervisor so that you can get your PhD with minimum pain? In conversations with students I have found that one area that often causes problems is the supervisory meeting, so here are some top tips gleaned from those who have been willing to share their ideas.

Agree your expectations as early as possible

The meetings with your supervisor are a very important part of your PhD. They can provide tips, ideas and guidance that would otherwise take you a long time to work out. They also provide confirmation that you are on the right track. It is best if you can agree how you are going to work together at the outset, however, if you haven’t, it’s never too late to just ask to clarify what each of you expects.

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You may want to consider:

  • how often you will meet and put these in the diary as soon as possible (use a diary yourself it’s all part of being professional)
  • an overall plan for your research and regular milestones
  • how you will keep in touch when your supervisor is away at conferences etc
  • are you expected to take part in departmental meetings or other activites

Don’t forget, that if you are having any problems, it may be best to get in touch straight away rather than waiting for your next meeting.

Before the meeting

Prepare for the meeting by having details of your progress so far, list any issues you have and consider what you are going to do next. It may be an idea to send an email beforehand with an ‘agenda’ of what you want to discuss so they can be prepared and have answers ready.

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During the meeting

Don’t forget your supervisor is a busy person and will probably not remember everything about your project and what has been said so do expect to recap on your progress

Take notes of any ideas and agreed actions and do not be afraid to ask for clarification. They may suggest many directions in which your research could go, it doesn’t mean you have to explore all of them, aim to agree what is realistic.

Don’t be afraid to admit if you are struggling and need help. At first you may feel overwhelmed by your supervisor and worry that you are not good enough and that they make think badly of you. Be confident in your abilities and ask for the help that you need as they are more likely to think badly of you if you don’t ask and then waste time doing nothing because you are confused or unsure. It is your PhD so get the help you need.



Email your supervisor and thank them for their help.Include a list of the agreed actions to make sure you have them understood correctly and give them the chance to clarify if not. Think about what has been said and some of the questions they asked as this may help your thinking and generate more ideas.

All obvious stuff but it is surprising how many don’t do this!

If you have any tips you would like to share please comment below

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