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Library- Research Navigator: You and your Supervisor

Your preliminary source of information and guidance as you begin or continue with your research journey.

Relationship with your Supervisor

The working relationship you have with your supervisor is unique, and it is normal for it to be the source of frustration at some point during your Ph.D. This is because your supervisor is the one person who is likely to be challenging and (constructively) questioning your ideas on a regular basis. Like any working relationship, the partnership between you and your supervisor has to be negotiated and will change over time; you also have to accommodate each others' learning and communication styles. The suggestions on this page offer some good principles and strategies for working effectively with your supervisor. 


Different styles of supervision

Each supervisor has a different way of going about it, but a common approach is your supervisor will expect that you can manage your research project from the start, and will leave you to get on with it, until you ask for assistance. Of course, there are always exceptions, and some supervisors do give a lot more guidance and close monitoring at the beginning.

Get to know as much as possible about how your supervisor works and thinks:

  • Ask about your supervisor's own experiences as a research student.
  • Talk to other research students who have been supervised by them.
  • Read your supervisor's articles and published works to get an idea of their approaches and the theories they prefer.

Knowing this will help you better understand the direction and purpose of their advice.

Also identify your supervisor's learning preferences, as well as your own:

  • Does your supervisor prefer details or an overview?
  • Is your supervisor a workaholic, or more laid back?
  • Do they share the same learning styles as you? 

This may help you explain how you work with your supervisor, and how you can compromise if your styles are different.


Before , During and after Supervisions

Before supervisions prepare for the meeting by thinking of:

  • Your progress and achievements since the last meeting\
  • Any problems or points you need clarifying
  • An action plan of what to do next


Don't be afraid to put questions to your supervisor, but it is often better to ask specific questions that you have attempted to find answers to first. Instead of asking "How am I doing?" you are more likely to get the detailed answer you need if you ask, "What do you think of the methodology I am using in Chapter 1?"

During your supervisions:

  • Take notes, especially of any actions or things to follow up.
  • Pay attention to the questions your supervisor asks, as these are often crucial in helping you think about the direction of your research.
  • Take the opportunity to explain and defend your ideas verbally – this is all good training for your viva.

After your supervisions:

  • It can be helpful to email a list of your agreed action points to your supervisor to check there have been no misunderstandings.
  • Reflect on what you have discussed – it is likely to trigger more ideas.

Useful Library Books

    Postgraduate Research Supervision : Transforming (R)elations   Research Supervisors for Supervisors and Their Students : Research Textbook Collection  Making Supervision Work for You : A Student's Guide 


Key Factors in Postgraduate Research Supervision : A Guide for Supervisors  Effective Postgraduate Supervision : Improving the Student-Supervisor Relationship  Intercultural Postgraduate Supervision

What are the Roles of the Supervisor and that of the Student?

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Student-Supervisor Relations Video