By Rachel Wilson-Lowe
Having a good relationship with your supervisors can make the PhD process infinitely easier. But whilst the PhD can seem like an all-consuming part of our lives as students, it is important to remember that supervisors have a multitude of duties (not just supervising your project); they have juggle their research, teaching, other student projects, and oh yeah their personal lives.
I find it helpful to think of the supervisor/student relationship like a dog owner and a pupper. Like the doggos staying at home during the human working day, we are often left with big chunks of time to amuse ourselves and have no firm concept of what our owners are doing whilst they are away. Our supervisors are the owners; our projects make up only a part of their lives. So when they are not responding immediately to our emails or requests for feedback, they are not snubbing us, but instead are dealing with their own personal and professional lives. But like pet owners, they are thinking about us and hoping we are happy, healthy, and not chewing up the sofa. Ok, I don’t really have a clear metaphor for the couch part of this analogy, but I’m hoping you get the point!
Listen, I know it can be difficult when your supervisors aren’t responding quick enough to your liking or when holiday schedules are interfering with deadlines. It can be hard to imagine that your project doesn’t hold the top spot in their list of priorities, like it does for you. But I came to this realisation quicker than most.
I started my project with two incredible supervisors, however within my first year, one is off on maternity leave and one has moved to Australia. Obviously amazing, positive changes in their lives and I am so incredibly happy for them (I am now also constantly scheming to have a supervision meeting in Australia somehow)! But I’m human, so of course I wondered how this would affect my PhD project.
One tip I found super helpful, and I cannot stress this enough, is communication! Instead of silently worrying that your project will go up in flames if things change from your original plan (which I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but aspects of your PhD WILL change at some point during this journey), discuss how these changes will shape your PhD going forward. Don’t be afraid to raise your concerns with your supervisors and ask for help if you need it. That is literally what your supervisors are there for!
My supervisor situation all worked out in the end as we reached the decision as a team to ask another researcher to join my project. My most recent supervisor is amazing and kind. And another person joining mid-project can add a fresh perspective and push your project in a new direction. It all tends to work out for the best as long as you are honest with your supervisors about your concerns and dreams for your project.
So, your relationship with your supervisors is going to change and grow across your PhD project. And sometimes it may feel like you care more about your project than anyone else…which you do! That’s ok! But just because your supervisors have other things going on in their lives, doesn’t mean that they aren’t there for you. Communicate your needs and they will do their best to find a solution that works for both of you!
Rachel Wilson-Lowe is a Sociology PhD student at University of Glasgow. Her research explores women’s experiences of abortion, specifically why/how women are using online spaces to access services and share their stories. She is an advocate for sexual/reproductive healthcare and rights worldwide. You can find her on Twitter @Rwilsonlowe