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What you want from supervision

Research has indicated a number of features that students value in a supervisory relationship.

In general students appreciate supervisors who

  • are honest in their dealings with students,
  • provide some measure of nurture such as understanding the students' life space,
  • give some encouragement to keep a student motivated,
  • allow a student to feel accepted and respected, and
  • give validation for their work.

At the same time students generally want a supervisor who is knowledgeable, whose opinion they can respect, who provides them with intellectual challenge, and ensures academic rigour.

Just as each doctoral project is unique, so each student-supervisor relation, with the interactions it entails, is distinct and unique.

You, the student, as the manager of your important project, need to identify what you need from your supervisor(s), taking into account your particular abilities. Then you will be able to communicate these requirements to your supervisor (or supervisors) and negotiate mutually acceptable roles and responsibilities. Remember, your supervisor probably has a number of students and many responsibilities. You will have to negotiate an arrangement which your supervisor feels is reasonable and in which you feel that you are given adequate guidance and support to suit your personality and learning style.

A successful supervisory interaction should also contribute in a general sense to your learning, and not only to the completion of your project. You should aim to bring to the dyadic situation a fascinating research project and novel thinking to attract the continued interest of your supervisor.

Keep in mind that just as you would like your supervisor to be reliable and keep his or her word, you too need to be reliable, to keep to the arrangements you make, and be well-prepared for every meeting. Remember, it is a partnership!

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