The Role of the Supervisor

The most important person in the writing of your thesis, other than yourself, is your supervisor. You will find that as your thesis progresses you will build up a very close working relationship with your supervisor as they will be the only other person who knows precisely what you are hoping to achieve and how you intend to achieve it. You become colleagues, united in a single goal: the successful completion of your Ph.D. for this reason and many others it is crucially important that you:

  • Are allocated a supervisor with whom you feel you will be able to work to the best of your ability and who will bring out the best in you.
  • That you establish a good working relationship with your supervisor from the first, so that each stage of your thesis is mutually achieved and agreed. 
  • That the appointed supervisor is willing and able to act as your supervisor throughout the course of your thesis; it is crucial to have mutual confidence.

All of these points need to be taken into account when a supervisor is being considered and you will only have limited control over some aspects, as the research committee has to approve the choice of supervisor and then the supervisor has to be approached to see whether or not they will agree to be appointed. It’s essential to establish a good working relationship with the supervisor on the thesis from the start.

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In all probability, you will have a supervisor in mind when you begin to think about applying to research your Ph.D. This may be someone with whom you have worked on a previous degree or who has a particular interest in your field of study and, indeed, they may have assisted you with the preparation of your research proposal. You may have approached the lecturer, whether formally or informally, about their willingness to act as your supervisor and already have some idea about whether or not they are likely to be willing to take on what is quite a considerable responsibility. Remember, that there are issues of academic protocol to be considered in this appointment and the formal approach and appointment must in the final analysis come from the Ph.D. research committee, though, so any personal approach must be informal and not binding upon anyone until approved by the research committee.

Also, it is important to remember that a supervisor of a Ph.D. is usually a senior lecturer at the university where the research is being undertaken and an acknowledged expert in the field in which you will be working together. This is of mutual interest and importance because only someone with this level of expertise will be able to give you the help that you need. So, tempting as it might be to approach someone with whom you got on well but whose credentials are not all they might be for such an onerous task, leave any formal approach to the research committee who in any case have the final say on whoever is appointed for you it is in your best interests to do so.

When your supervisor has been appointed, you should establish how frequently you are going to meet. This will need, of course, to take into account the work schedule of your supervisor primarily. Of course, you will have your own commitments and it is important that the schedule you agree is realistic as you need to be sure that you can stick to it. Again, though, you must, for the sake of academic protocol, put your supervisor’s commitments first: to put it simply, you fit in with them, rather than the other way around! In practice, however, your supervisor will more than likely be very accommodating to your needs and try to help you as much as they can. The supervisor will be the person to whom you will constantly look for advice but ensure that each of you understands clearly what their role is expected to be. Misunderstandings on this can often lead to tensions later so set the mutually agreed ground rules from the outset as stress between you when you have embarked should be avoided at all costs.

The supervisor is the single most important person in the research and writing of your Ph.D. so make sure that you are happy with the appointment of yours!

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