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PhD SUPERVISOR: How to Establish a Good Relationship

Your PhD journey is not just about taking classes, doing research or writing the thesis. A big part of it is influenced by your relationship with your PhD supervisor. Let me share with you what you need to do to establish a good relationship with your PhD supervisor or professor in your PhD journey.

how to establish a good relationship with your phd supervisor

Get to know them before you start

First of all, before you actually establish a good relationship with your PhD supervisor, naturally, you would want to know their background and what they’re specializing in. Make sure you do some research about your potential supervisors. You’ll be able to find out about your potential supervisor/ professor online because most universities now openly publish information about the work that they’re doing.

But you also need to know a little more about them. For you to do this, you can always ask around such as your friends, previous students and family members who have studied or are currently working in that university. Another way you can go around this is by contacting them and informing them that you are interested to do your PhD and you are looking for a potential supervisor.

For instance, if you are the type that needs a lot of guidance, you might want someone who is hands-on. But to be honest, many supervisors and professors, especially senior ones, are very busy. So you will only know about this once you’ve started your PhD.

Show interest in their work

Another way for you to see whether the potential PhD supervisor is right for you is by researching their work. If they have done work/research on the area that you are interested in, it could be a sign that he or she would be a suitable supervisor.

It would also be good if you could show some interest in their work. Read up on what they’ve written/done. And once you’ve started your PhD don’t lose contact with your supervisor, try to communicate often and discuss your research and his/her work as well.

Communicate regularly with your PhD supervisor

If they are busy, you need to be the one to update them about your progress, by making an appointment. Don’t be afraid to be assertive but respectful!

If he or she is very busy and cannot meet you physically, try asking for their phone number and ask if he or she would be okay if you need to WhatsApp/contact them whenever necessary. But if they decide to give you their number, avoid messaging every single day. Instead, compile the questions and concerns that you have so you can ask them every other week. PhD as in an independent intellectual journey 🙂

For instance, if you are unsure of how to read about your potential topic of study, you would need to do some research. One way to start is by doing a literature review.

You could also schedule and organise when you plan to submit so your supervisor will assess work according to the planned timeframe.

Discuss about expectations

Some supervisors may not know the students’ hopes and expectations.

For instance, if you want to graduate on time (GoT), inform him or her. Then your supervisor will know that you mean serious business and will expect you to be more assertive.

Talk about the kind of assistance you might need, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Also, it’s very important for you to be honest about what you’re struggling with, whether it’s about understanding the material, conducting fieldwork, or the methodology.

Whatever it is, always remember that you need to really try your best when researching. And one way to do that is by trying to be a critical reader.

KEEP IN MIND: Your PhD supervisor has many students

You need to be independent, do your research, your own analysis.

The supervisor is only supposed to guide you.

Some supervisors might read your chapters and some might even proofread it, but that’s rare.

If your PhD journey is becoming stressful, try talking to your supervisor or professor so he or she could help you out. This is the reason it’s important to have a good relationship with your supervisor. If you’re worried that you might overshare with your supervisor, then talk to your peers, colleagues, family and friends about it. It’s important to get it off your chest.

Doing a PhD takes several years and it can often be a long and lonely journey. So do take care of your mental health!

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