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You will find that you work differently with your supervisor as you progress through your candidature. Initially, you can expect more help as you clarify the research project and plan your time. At this stage you may also need advice and instruction in order to develop new skills. As the project proceeds, the role of the supervisor will change as he or she assists in monitoring your progress and provides feedback on your experimental results or your writing. Towards the end of the project you will become an authority on the topic, and your supervisor will become more of a senior colleague.
As you progress further into your study you kind of get a better idea of ideal timelines. A supervisor is going to have more of an idea of how long things will take. With more experience you will be able to set out more realistic timelines as you understand.
Your initial discussions with your supervisor will help you plan your time. Make sure that the goals and deadlines which you agree to are realistic, and organise your commitments so that you are able to meet them. If you experience difficulties, arrange to meet and discuss them with your supervisor. In this way problems can be overcome before they impact on your progress.
Comment from a supervisor
My perspective is that it should be the student's responsibility to come and see me and tell me if things are going 'right' or 'wrong'. Any problem that has to be solved can then be solved jointly. The problem arises when things aren't going well. Students think that with just a bit more work things will be better, but things never pick up and it becomes an extended problem... Students can then get frustrated and depressed. Communication on a regular basis is most important.
Getting regular feedback from your supervisor will help you stay on track and maintain your motivation. Your supervisor will be providing feedback during your discussions and in response to written work and drafts you submit. In preparing for meetings with your supervisor, be clear about what guidance and feedback you're seeking. For example, if you have encountered a particular issue or challenge, consider possible solutions that you want to discuss. Be sure that you submit your drafts on time, and hopefully the feedback you receive will be constructive and prompt.
You do need to consider the range of other commitments your supervisor will have, and be sure that you agree on time frames when major pieces of work will be submitted for comment. It's unrealistic to expect that you will get immediate feedback if you haven't given your supervisor the opportunity to set aside time for reviewing your work.
Be prepared to accept your supervisor as a constructive critic by responding positively to suggestions, and be willing to discuss issues raised. It could be helpful to discuss the kinds of feedback that you find most useful. For example, if you want advice on one aspect of your topic or your research design, highlight this by including specific questions. If you include a cover sheet explaining the stage of work being submitted, this will also help avoid misunderstandings.
We have a weekly group meeting. It's good because we can talk about general issues. It really gives us all important feedback.
Supervision is a two way process, as both parties have to want the relationship to succeed. Making the relationship work will be important for your progress, and generally supervisors want to facilitate your progress and success. This relationship will be more effective if you recognise and attempt to resolve any differences as they arise, rather than allowing them to become major problems. So, what can you do and who can help if you have a problem?
Be clear and straightforward in your approach to perceived problems, and consider possible solutions. You could seek advice from the Executive Officer HDR in Research Services, the Faculty HDR coordinator, a Language and Learning Adviser (Student Life) or your Head of School.
If you feel you are having difficulty relating to or interacting with your supervisor, talking through the issues with someone you trust can help you see things more objectively, and also help generate solutions. This could be a family member, another student, the HDR Language and Learning Adviser, or a Counsellor from the Student Life. This discussion could also assist you in deciding how you might approach your supervisor about your concerns. In general, adopt an assertive but tactful approach in broaching any issues with your supervisor.
Comment from a supervisor
At the end of the day the active force has to be the student. It's their project. It's their work. It's their future.