How to have a productive relationship with your dissertation supervisor


Having a dissertation supervisor is vastly different from the student/instructor relationship that you’re used to up till that academic level. After years of being used to that, working with a supervisor can be drastically new and unpredictable. This bond requires a deeper understanding and can be an incredible learning experience. However, there are various challenges that you might have to face before you settle with an ideal supervisor. In this article we will go through some tips to work in a positive way with your supervisor.
1. Choose the right supervisor
As an undergraduate or a Master’s student you are likely to have a supervisor chosen for you. This choice is based on a broad match with the topic of your dissertation. However, for PHD and in come cases for Master’s too, the choice of supervisor is left to the student. This is an extremely important decision that needs to be taken early on. As it directly impacts the form and direction of your research. Following are some of the basic things you must be aware of before starting to work with a supervisor.
• Do they have expertise in your sub-field?
This is a vital question, especially when you’re doing a dissertation at a higher academic level. Most of the supervisors will have broader understanding of their field. However, it is not a reason to expect they will be well versed in the topic you have chosen for your dissertation. There can be a lot of theories, texts and frameworks that does not come under their scope. Therefore, you must make sure beforehand that you are working with a person who has knowledge of that specific area.
• Are they in support of the perspective you want to make in your dissertation?
It is not realistic to expect that the supervisor will be in agreement with all your ideas. Disagreements can be constructive. But there are a few approaches to certain fields that are not compatible. Pick a supervisor who challenges your concepts but is not going entirely in the opposite direction.
• Is their working pattern similar to your own?
You should know your working persona well enough to choose a supervisor accordingly. If you tend to be a procrastinator, then you need one who can give you deadlines to meet. If you are a highly motivated individual then you need a “hands-off” supervisor.
Also dig into what their grading style is. Are they appreciative of your efforts? Do they give detailed feedback that is helpful to improve your work? Or are they just being to critical ang negative. Take all these points into consideration when you set out to select a supervisor.
 • How many other supervisees are they working with?
A supervisor can sometimes be working with several students at the same time. This potentially reduces the level of attention they can give to you. But if they do not have any supervisees at all then that’s also alarming. Keep it balanced and find someone that has handled projects efficiently before.
2. Working alongside your supervisor
It is important to create a positive bond with your supervisor. It must have strong foundation of trust and understanding of each other’s expectation. The structure of your relationship depends on each person’s working pattern. Here are some useful things to keep in mind for building this bond.
• Work with them, not for them
The usual academic model we are used to is taking direction from the instructor and merely following them. This changes subtly when you are working at dissertation level. You certainly have to fulfill strict requirements in this assignment too. However, your supervisor is not a dissertation tutor that you are working under. Your relationship should be more like team mates. You are both working towards the same goal. Which is presenting a rewarding and original research.
• Engage the supervisor from the start
At times supervisors have a hands-off approach in which case it falls to you to communicate with them. Involve them from an early stage of your research to make sure any irrevocable errors from occurring.

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