On fostering the most important relationship in your graduate school career…

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I guess  I can’t really complain when my office in the summer is this.

As a field biologist, I must say this summer has been a beautiful, albeit crazy one. In the last ten days in the field I have been wearing a winter coat while shivering, drowning in pools of my own sweat, and have been soaked by sudden torrential rain more times than I can count. Don’t get me wrong I love being outside but once in a while; it’s nice to know you’ll be inside a reliable building and able to maintain your body temperature all while staying dry for an entire day.

Last week I was looking forward to a half day in the lab – I had a meeting with my supervisor. The meeting lasted over four hours and it was one of the most productive meetings we have ever had. It got me thinking about how my relationship with my supervisor has come to be over the years so I figured, why not blog about it!

Your relationship with your supervisor is a critical one that will likely impact the rest of your career, and as such fostering a solid relationship with your supervisor is one of the most important things you do during your time as a graduate student. I have had the same supervisor for my entire graduate career, and by no means do we have a perfect student-supervisor relationship, but I would easily say we have a solid relationship. That being said, it wasn’t easy to get to that. It took a lot of work and I have learned a lot over these ~ 4 years. Here are some of the things I have learned:

  1. Communication is very important. Make sure it is clear what method of communication is the best for both you and your supervisor. Do they prefer you email, text or phone them when you have questions? Do they have an open door policy or do you have to book an appointment to chat each week? Making this clear will prevent confusion/ frustration for both of you.
  2. Accept that there is more than one way of doing things. This was something I struggled with a lot when I first started grad school. Everyone has their own ways of running tests, interpreting data, organizing their time, etc. Be open to new things, and be willing to explain why you do things the way you do them.
  3. Share important things about your life. Now there’s no need to fill your Supervisor in on what happened at a party last Friday night or what you ate for breakfast (unless that’s what works for you then go for it!). Having at least some sort of personal relationship has definitely helped me manage my relationship with my supervisor. Understanding commitments your supervisor has outside of work, what hobbies they might enjoy or chatting about family are all great starting points. They’re real people too and understanding each other’s obligations can help create a healthy relationship.
  4. Make expectations clear –
    1. Time: Are you expected to work 9 – 5 in your office each day or are does your supervisor have the “get it done and I don’t care how or where” attitude?
    2. Work: Are you expected to help undergrad students with their projects and to what degree? Are you working on side projects for your supervisor outside of your thesis? Do you have lab duties each day or week? Do you plan on writing fifty papers and want revisions for all of them? Make sure you discuss what an appropriate and manageable amount of work is for the both of you.
    3. Course to completion – Make a yearly timeline together. In fact, in Biology, it is required that you do this once per year. It helps you both plan your time accordingly and keep everyone on track.

As I said before, fostering a strong relationship isn’t the easiest thing. I have been lucky to have an honest and productive relationship with my supervisor, and that isn’t the case for everyone. Hopefully these tips are helpful for some students out there in the Queen’s community. If you’re reading this and have some advice on building a strong student-supervisor relationship, feel free to chime in!

Posted in All, General, New Students, Student Perspective, Thesis
One comment on “On fostering the most important relationship in your graduate school career…
  1. Great advice for all new (and it’s not too late, current) students.

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  1. [...] those is something that we’ve been asked a number of times. Finally, we’ve talked about the relationship between you and your supervisor. While you’ll form many relationships in your graduate training, the one with your supervisor [...]

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