Accessibility Version | Skip to content | Change text size

Table of contents

Previous page  | Next page

Relating to your supervisors

Just as each doctoral project is unique, so each supervisory situation is different.

Your supervisory relationship will endure over several years through a range of personal and educational circumstances. Ensuring that it is a pleasant and comfortable relationship is a priority which will free you to enjoy the research process and allow it to contribute to your intellectual growth, your professional development and the timely completion of a successful thesis. The supervisory relationship tends to be intense and can be a source of stress. Some have even compared it to a marriage! Difficulties can arise at times in the personal interaction. You may feel that your supervisor provides you with inadequate validation, feedback, guidance or support or conversely, you may experience too much direction and control, or even too much friendship. In general, difficulties will be averted by clear communication. If you create a comfortable supervisory relationship you will feel more supported and also more satisfied with the research degree process.

Keep in mind that much of the success of your supervision lies in your hands.

Within the supervisory relationship is the potential for significant learning: a good supervisor can create an intellectually stimulating, enculturating and challenging learning environment, facilitating immersion into the academic life of the discipline and its discourse. Casual interactions, formal meetings, focussed suggestions, actual teaching and intellectual challenges, where your supervisor challenges your thinking, assumptions, and argument as well as providing rigorous critique of your written work - these are all means for personal intellectual growth.

Optimally your interaction with your supervisor should be comfortable enough to be an important contributor to your learning and your project. You need a level of rapport that is trusting enough to permit you to ask questions, and your supervisor to challenge your assumptions, as well as allowing you to listen to the responses and respond to them.

How can I establish a comfortable supervisory relationship?

  • To the best of your ability, given the practical limitations and requirements within your department, choose your supervisor(s) carefully! You must be able to work together, and it is certainly easier and pleasanter if you like each other. Where possible, ensure that your supervisor is able to understand you in terms of your personality as well as your work and study styles.
  • Choose a supervisor whose knowledge and expertise you admire. Only if you respect the ability and intellect of this individual will you be willing to hear advice and criticism, and only then will your supervisory interactions will be a learning opportunity.
  • Supervision is a relationship, albeit a hierarchical one, and there are potential benefits and responsibilities for both parties. This relationship it will be more pleasant if there is some benefit for both you and your supervisor. While the purpose of tertiary supervision is mainly for your benefit, be aware that doctoral candidates can often provide some benefit for supervisors too, in the form of collegiality, shared interest, joint publications, novel thinking and a fascinating project. Being aware of this reciprocal responsibility will help you create foundations for a mutually rewarding relationship.
  • In the same way as you'd like your supervisor to be reliable and honest, to keep his or her word, and to keep confidences, you need to be careful to keep your word, be reliable, keep to an arrangement and be prepared for meetings. Remember - it is a partnership!

How can I win my supervisor's attention?

  • Students compete for the time and the attention of the supervisor with other students, and against the backdrop of a supervisor's substantial work load: teaching, admininstration and research tasks.
  • Supervisors want to have successful students, and will generally devote time and attention to what they perceive to be a worthwhile project. You may like to actively focus on demonstrating your academic prowess and the potential and interest of your project.
  • In the first instance your supervisor has to be interested in the nature of the work you are doing and has to feel that you are capable of undertaking a worthwhile project. In order to get the attention and commitment of your supervisor, it is helpful if you can work out some ways to gain respect from your supervisor. Obviously, the earlier the better!

How can I earn my supervisor's respect?

Here are some suggestions; you may have others:

  • Read, understand and discuss relevant literature
  • Critically evaluate books and articles in your subject area
  • Identify the uniqueness and contribution of your proposed research
  • Be proactive, organised and responsible for your project. Your supervisor is there for guidance but it is your project, and you are an independent adult learner.
  • Produce some good quality written work. It is important to present your best effort at written work. Even a brief piece of good writing can show doctoral potential and give your supervisor an indication of an interesting, worthwhile project.
  • Attend department seminars whenever possible: be prepared, read the relevant material, and participate if you can
  • Prepare for meetings with your supervisor. Carefully formulate ideas and clarify your thinking. Know what you want to accomplish in the meeting - you set the agenda . Outline the nature of the help you're seeking. Formulate specific questions for clarification and exploration.

Engage in discussion with your supervisor.

Some advice

  • Undertaking postgraduate research candidature at Monash should be an exciting journey and a personally fulfilling one, but it will inevitably require considerable adaptation.
  • The period of research degree candidature is often a lonely and stressful time for students. Many students find that they have a substantial need for support from a supervisor, perhaps more than a supervisor feels is reasonable.
  • It is helpful to make a special effort to develop a network of support structures around you - peers in your faculty, friends, fellow students, etc. Look to university support services to assist too. In this way you will not feel too dependent on your supervisor for support and guidance.
  • As a research student, your supervisor will expect you to take a lot of responsibility for your study, and show independence in terms of your project, your thinking and your decision making. Your supervisor is there to guide you, to give advice and direction, but will expect you ultimately to make your own assessments. You are permitted - even expected - both to agree and to disagree with your supervisor.
download a word document Download a printable version of this page.
Problems? Questions? Comments? Please provide us feedback.

Need help? Library frequently asked questions and online inquiries: current students/staff | public users, online chat, or phone +61 3 9905 5054
Something to say? Send us your feedback and suggestions: current students/staff | public users

Monash University logo