How to Make Your Thesis Supervision Work for You

by Soundarya Durgumahanthi
thesis supervision

For most doctoral students, it takes a lot of determination and hard work to defend their thesis successfully. During a thesis defense, researchers are expected to present their research to a panel of experts. These individuals are well-versed in the subject being discussed and may ask probing questions that require in-depth knowledge and expertise to answer. This is where an experienced supervisor becomes invaluable. It is widely acknowledged that having a capable supervisor is half the battle won in a student’s doctoral journey.  

Doctoral students must never underestimate the importance of a good supervisor. It is also essential to keep in mind that while it is good to work under a supervisor who supports you and instills a great deal of confidence at critical junctures in your doctoral journey, it is equally essential for the students to drive the process. For thesis supervision to have a positive impact, students must keep an open mind and maintain a reciprocal approach by building on the inputs and ideas suggested by their supervisor.  

In this article, we will talk about how to make your thesis supervision work for you and how the partnership with your supervisor should inspire you to rise above any challenges that you may face while pursuing your PhD.  

How to make the best of thesis supervision

As a research student, you should be aware of what to expect from your supervisors and how best you can make use of their feedback to get the best results for your work. The following guidelines will be helpful in this regard. 

You are the driver, and the thesis is your responsibility

It is essential to internalize the fact that your thesis is ultimately your responsibility. The supervisor is not going to do the work for you, and you should not be waiting for them to give you orders on what to do. The supervisor’s responsibility is to provide you with the necessary guidance and advice on various aspects of your thesis work and at all stages of your thesis progression. To this end, you need to ensure that you submit your work periodically so that supervisors can respond to your work in a timely manner. Submission of written work is, therefore, critical. Make sure that you highlight any specific aspects or areas in your work for which you may need your supervisor’s guidance.  

Plan regular meetings with your supervisor

Having regular thesis supervision sessions is critical, and a mutually convenient time should be fixed for these sessions. Such dedicated time should be utilized as an excellent opportunity for the students to understand and discuss their supervisor’s feedback, identify the strengths and limitations of the submitted work, and decide on the following steps to be taken. Having such regular sessions should be counted as a learning process. It also enables the supervisor to understand the progression of your work. In cases where the students need to consult their supervisor in between sessions, they should be able to plan it out with the supervisor during specified office hours. 

Taking a positive and proactive approach

Students must understand that at various stages of thesis supervision, they can receive both praise and constructive criticism as feedback. A positive and proactive approach needs to be developed in handling both situations, keeping in mind that these are ultimately for improving your work. At the PhD level, you are expected to learn to be more independent in the course of your work. There may also be situations where you receive contradictory feedback from two supervisors. This is normal since supervisors have different research interests and experiences, and research arguments can be put forward in various ways. Here, the best option is to have an open discussion with the supervisory team and agree on the steps ahead. 

Being professional in discharging your duties

Being respectful to each other is critical in a supervisor-supervisee relationship. As mentioned earlier, feedback from supervisors should be approached constructively. Aim to view your supervisors as experts from whom you can further your knowledge. However, in genuine cases where there is hardly any functional relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee, students should contact their department focal points. Examples of dysfunctional relations include:

  • Failure to provide any feedback.
  • Having meetings with the doctoral student.
  • Being disrespectful to students.
  • Offering irrelevant, poor-quality feedback.

Each institution will have its own procedures to deal with such cases, and it is essential to contact the concerned persons to address the same. 

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