8 Things You Will Never Hear From Your PhD Supervisor
Your supervisor should play a helpful and supportive role in your PhD – but you should also be realistic about what to expect from them. Here are 8 things you'll never hear your PhD supervisor say:
1. “There's no rush with that. Take your time.”
In your PhD, you'll need to be able to move quickly, and to produce work fast. The work may not be as good as you want it to be, but sometimes it's more important for something to be done than for it to be perfect. When your supervisor asks you for work, they'll often want it done on a tight time schedule.
2. “Don't work too hard this weekend.”
It is vitally important that you have free time as a PhD student, to relax, to see friends and family, and to indulge in your hobbies. But you cannot rely on your supervisor to help you with this – you have to set your own boundaries about how much you should be working and when you need time off. Your supervisor would rather you worked all of the time, so don't wait for their permission to give yourself a break.
3. “This is perfect and needs no corrections.”
You need to learn that no piece of work that you produce will ever be perfect. There will always be room for improvements, and ways to make something better. Don't be discouraged if you have worked hard on a piece and your supervisor points out ways that it could be improved – this is part of the process of learning and growing as a researcher.
4. “Some things are more important than your PhD.”
Everyone has different values about what is most important in their life, and PhD students tend to be very career-focused and ambitious. But if doing a PhD is negatively impacting your physical or mental health, or your relationships with your friends and family, then you need to reconsider your work-life balance. Your supervisor will always push you to focus more on your work, so you need to strongly advocate for your own well-being.
5. “There are jobs outside of academia.”
Because they have spent their careers in academia, supervisors tend to forgot about preparing their students for the world of industry. If you're interested in eventually working in industry or in another type of role outside of the academic system, your supervisor is unlikely to offer much help or encouragement. You should start networking with those in industry positions, and talking to other former academics who have made the transition out of academia. Your supervisor is not the best person to advise you on this.
6. “I'm asking you to do this because I don't want to do it.”
PhD students are at the bottom of the totem when it comes to assigning work. Unglamorous assignments like teaching introductory courses, marking exams, or writing peer reviews are often passed on to PhDs because more senior researchers would rather not do them. This is the nature of delegation, and you can actually learn a lot from doing these routine tasks. But be prepared that, as a PhD student, you will be asked to do the less interesting work.
7. “Sometimes I feel unsure and insecure about my own work.”
All people deal with doubt and insecurity, and academics are no different. There are times at which everyone has thought that their research was pointless, their ideas were stupid, and that they were personally not up to scratch. Because supervisors are more senior, it wouldn't be appropriate for them to reveal these insecurities to the students who work for them. However, remember that when you have doubts about your competence, you are definitely not the only person to feel that way! Even the most senior and respected of people struggle with doubts, though you probably wouldn't hear them admit to it.
8. “Good job!”
This one is not entirely true – some supervisors do work hard to give positive feedback. But often, supervisors can forget that giving praise is as important as giving criticism when it comes to motivating students. It's possible that it will be very rare for anyone to tell you that you're doing well or that a piece of work was excellent, so you need to develop your own motivational skills. If you think that you've done good work, then congratulate yourself! Don't let your supervisor's opinion become more essential to your self-worth than your own opinion.
For more tips and advice for PhD students and other academics, see these articles: