How to manage your supervisor

Today I talked about the relationship with your supervisor. The role of your supervisor is to provide you with an environment suitable to develop your academic skills in order to become independent and to finish your thesis in a reasonable time. In turn, your supervisor expects from you commitment, involvement, and accountability. It is important to understand that your supervisor is also a person with strengths, shortcomings and an own agenda. Luckily, it is usually in your supervisors best interest if you succeed because your success is also their’s. In order to have a functional relationship with them it is crucial to build on strengths and develop strategies to deal with difficulties. You are just as responsible to nurture your relationship with your supervisor as they are. In the live session, I discussed different types of supervisors sand how to deal with them:

Most supervisors are a combination of the different types and you will have to figure out TOGETHER what works and what not. Keep in mind that academics usually never receive any training for supervising. They depend on your feedback and openness to try different strategies.

There are a few general rules which will help your relationship with all of them:

#1 Talk open about expectations, communication, and concerns. Most catastrophic supervisor-student relations I have seen are the result of not talking about problem for too long and some cases so long that it was too late to fix it. This is always sad and frustrating for everybody involved, first and foremost because it is so unnecessary. If you run into trouble or feel something does not work out for, schedule a meeting and talk immediately!

#2 Their job is to help you get independent, so do not expect to get pampered or to do your work. As hard and painful as their feedback can be, make the most out of it. And always keep in mind that this is not personal and well meant.

#3 Always be proactive and prepared. Don’t wait for your supervisor to manage you. Scheduling meetings, planning projects, making deadlines, finding relevant training etc. is your job. Their job is to advice you on your work and projects, not to manage it.

Last but not least, if there are irreconcilable differences and you cannot make it work together, this is not the end of the world. Most institutes have procedures (and mediators) in place to deal with this. Contact your graduate school for more information!


Published by

Dr Franziska Hartung

Cognitive neuroscientist researching how brains create meaning.

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