All 8 entries tagged Supervisor

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July 23, 2012

Choosing your PhD examiners – by Anna

So, I'll be submitting my thesis really REALLY soon now. In about 2-3 weeks. Gulp! Over the past few weeks, my supervisor and I have been discussing whom to approach for my thesis examiners, and I've picked up a few surprising facts that I thought I would share with all you lovely people.

First the basics: You must have two examiners - one internal and one external (i.e. one from Warwick and one from another university). These two examiners read your thesis and then come to your viva, where they tell you whether you passed, give you feedback, ask for any necessary changes, and (hopefully) give you advice on future directions, where to publish etc.

So far so good, but it actually turns out there are a few surprises here, most of which are actually pretty cool and make the viva sound a lot less scary!

The first surprising fact is that your supervisor is not even present during your viva. This kind of blew my mind actually: it means that your supervisor - the person you've spent the past 3-4 years trying to please - actually has NO SAY in whether or not you pass your PhD. It's all down to your examiners.

Which might sound a bit scary in itself, except for the fact that you get to choose your examiners. Yes, you did read that correctly! You get to CHOOSE academics who are likely to be sympathetic to your topic, approach and methods. Unlike, say, your upgrade panel back in your first year, your viva will NOT involve someone who may have been randomly assigned to you and who may totally disagree with the entire basis of your project (which did sort of happen to me....but that's another story).

So, what are the most important criteria for choosing your examiners?

One is, obviously, that they know about your area of research. This sounds simple but actually turns out to be sort of complicated, because if you're like me then your thesis probably combines several different research areas. My thesis, for example, involves not only classical Hollywood cinema (my nominal research field) but also postcolonial studies, film aesthetics, gender studies, gaze theory, textual analysis, postwar history, etc etc. No one person is going to be conversant in all these things, so choosing examiners involves compromising and striking a balance, aiming to cover at least a couple of the most important areas that you refer to.

You might ask why it is to your advantage to have relatively broad coverage, rather than just choosing any two people who will likely pass you without too much hassle. The reason is because the viva is actually intended to improve your work! I.e. if one of your examiners has an issue with something you wrote, then other readers likely will too so it's useful to have it read and criticised from as many angles as possible. (This kind of blew my mind too - that the viva is actually supposed to be useful!)

Another criterion is seniority. I've heard it said several times now, by people who would know, that younger/less experienced thesis examiners are more likely to have a particular agenda to push. Lecturers tend to need a lot of experience, apparently, before they are able to see the bigger picture and pass a well-supported thesis even when they disagree with it. (I would hope that this isn't universally true, but like I say, I have heard it a few times now.)

Reputation and renown are also important factors. Your examiners, particularly your external, will become key contacts for you as you enter the job market and seek publishing opportunities. They would normally expect to serve as a reference on your job applications, in fact. They also, hopefully, will be able to give advice on where to publish and put you in contact with other key researchers in your field. So it's important that they know lots of people - and that lots of people know them.

However, it's better not to have an examiner who is retired or close to retirement. You want them to stick around for awhile to help you along!

Finally, you can often get a feel for someone's personality, even if you haven't met them, by asking around a little. Some researchers who fulfill all the above criteria will have a reputation for a sympathetic, helpful attitude towards their younger colleagues. Even when they disagree with you, you might expect these researchers to do it in a constructive way. Others, not so much. This is probably less important than the other factors but it can still mean the difference between a pleasant viva (yes, they do exist!) and a miserable one.

Does anyone else have any experiences to share about choosing examiners?

July 05, 2011

Stressful supervisions – by Nic

Follow-up to Supervisor a source of inspiration? – by Faisal from PhD Life: a blog about the PhD student experience

Hi everyone! I'm Nic, and I'm guest editing the blog while Anna is on holiday. It's been a while since I've posted (thesis submission looms) but it's great to see such lively discussion here!

The responsibilities of PhD supervisors is obviously a hot topic. Faisal has blogged about it, and we've just set up a poll on the Rex's PGR homepage. Go and cast your vote now!

Creating a relationship with your tutor is a crucial part of the PhD process. Sometimes it's difficult and stressful. If you're worried about this aspect of your study, talk to your SSLC rep, visit one of our Research Exchange Advisors or contact the Student Advice Centre.

Don't suffer in silence!

Goodbye Mr Chips

Supervisor a source of inspiration? – by Faisal

Hey, we all know the importance of supervisors, and this has been emphasized in several blogs. I agree that they are a constant source of inspiration and guidance. His/her advice keeps us focused on our research area. PhD is mostly based on a new research topic, and sometimes it is on topics that are also new to the supervisor. I understand that the idea is that a student will do the research and the supervisor will guide him/her. (I mean supervisor selects the student for doing research, he is not the one who is going to do the research, he will only guide).

I have met lots of my fellow PhD's, and we all appreciate our supervisors guiding us and helping us in various aspects of our research. But when it comes to the question "Is your supervisor helpful in securing additional funding to complement your research, e.g., to attend a technical seminar which charges the participants?", the answer is mostly "NO", especially for overseas students because most funding organisations cater for British students, i.e., the overseas student has to find the funding him/herself.

If the student struggles with technical aspects of the PhD research and could not find adequate solutions from the supervisor then what are the options ? Then consider online forums, join a relevant scientific society, read more papers, ask your senior PhDs and go to a post doc. Noting that the only good solution is to keep on trying as this is what research is all about.

June 28, 2011

My super supervisor – by Sruti

Hi friends!

Undoubtedly, supervisors play a major role in our research by giving a direction to it. I have a weekly meeting with my supervisor, who always provides constructive feedbacks on the assignments that I submit. I find weekly meeting very helpful to keep me on track and it gives me the opportunities to discuss about any reseach related questions face to face. He is always a source of inspiration and motivation to all his students. Furthermore, monitoring your progress weekly is always advantageous. Apart from weekly meetings, if he finds any good journal paper or links for softwares that might be useful for me, he sends it via emails. He responds to most emails within few minutes in the office hours and sometimes explains our quiries over phone, if we are in lab. Thus, the reseach has been made very interesting.

June 15, 2011

Supervisor Dread – by Izzy

Supervisor dread!

I don't know how often is average for actually meeting with your supervisor but currently I am averaging 5 meetings in 9 months… This appears to be going fine, particularly in the January to May supervisor drought because I felt no pressure what so ever and just kept plodding along… However now and again I get that email - subject: supervision. My heat stops and I start breathing really fast and I have to really force myself to open that email. What if she says:

‘Dear Izzy

I saw you and your friends sunbathing for four hours on Thursday are you doing any work? Perhaps we should have a meeting to discuss this.’


‘Dear Izzy

You seem to have forgotten that reading academic books is something you have to do to complete your PhD. Heat and Closer do not count.’

My supervisor has never said any of these things and in fact she would probably think reading Heat and Closer enriches my knowledge of popular culture. Nothing, NOTHING is worse than waiting outside her door. Recently three of us (who all have the same supervisor) needed to speak to her and we stood outside her door for ages, none of us wanted to be the one to knock on her door.

I feel I have to stress my supervisor is LOVELY and I have never had anything but a positive supervision with her, which has much more to do with her completely positive outlook on life than any reflection on my abilities… But to be honest this makes the nervousness and dread even more difficult to understand! Anyone else suffer from supervisor dread?!!

Supervisor dread?!!

Strangely this picture comes up when you google image search supervisor dread!!

June 07, 2011

Epic Quest for Publication – by Ruth

Greetings, fellow postgrad researchers. My name is Ruth, I'm a first year Sociology PhD, and I'm (perhaps foolishly) attempting to get published. Unfortunately, the path to publication seems less clear with every step I take.

Let me take you back a year in order to provide some background. In the summer of 2010 I spent around three months doing little other than reading a blog and taking copious notes. I then produced an extensive MA dissertation based upon my research.

I was quite proud of the piece, and my referees seemed to think it was a rather decent too. I recieved a high mark and was recommended to publish it. I realised that a good MA dissertation isn't likely to translate directly into a good journal article, but (in the spirit of youthful naïvety and optimism) I felt enthusiastic about the work needed to bridge this gap. 

After beginning work on my PhD I returned to the MA dissertation. I revised the piece, cut it down by several thousand words, and then submitted it to a journal recommended by my supervisor. Expecting rejection (this was, after all, my very first attempt at submission) I then began work on a second article based upon ideas and data that (to my disappointment) never quite managed to make it into the original piece.

The inevitable rejePublication: the NeverEnding Storyction came, along with a wealth of useful advice and comments. The editor and reviewers were broadly positive and had lots of pleasant things to say, and I felt enthusiastic about future revisions. In the meanwhile, I chose to concentrate upon the second article, having had its abstract accepted by a journal edited by my supervisor. I felt so confident about this one: it had a clearer structure, sharper analysis and a more thorough interrogation of the literature. Or so I felt.

It turns out that nepotism will only get you so far (my inner moralist is loving this). I've just received a second rejection, with my supervisor arguing that the piece was more muddled and less defined than the first. Amusingly, one of the more critical reviewers said that I should submit a new version of the second article to a journal that she just happens to edit, but it would need completely re-writing first.

None of this is entirely unexpected, but I'm feeling a little deflated. I expected rejections, and I expected revisions, but the impression I'm getting is that I need to sit down and write something entirely new from scratch for the umpteenth time.

I can deal with this - in fact I just had a terribly excited conversation with my supervisor about ideas for a new paper taking my analysis in a quite different direction - but I'm sad to have moved so far away from the original piece I wanted to publish: a work that's internally consistent and works in its own right but is way too bulky for most journals.

February 25, 2011

Outside, looking in – by Nic

Loneliness is a common problem for postgraduates, along with the feeling that you’re not getting the most out of PhD life. It’s easy to feel distanced, especially if you’ve spent some time away from academia.

In 2007, I thought university was behind me. I’d started a journalistic career and was teaching at an FE college in Birmingham. It was a chance encounter with an old tutor on a platform at Moor St station that prompted my return to Warwick.

I’d expected readjustment to academic life to be easy. What I hadn’t foreseen was the nagging feeling that I was here under false pretences. This was only confirmed by my first attempts at writing, which were frustratingly aimless and, even worse, boring.

I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake in coming back. And with this came the horrible sensation that (gulp!) I was going to get found out.

Pretty silly, I suppose, but confronting these fears meant facing a few home truths:

1. There’s no such thing as “the academic style”

Looking back, I was too anxious about seeming cleverer than I felt. Result? I ended up writing in a strangulated cod-academic language that was often incomprehensible. Your ideas are the most important thing. Style is valuable, but it will come naturally if you read, discuss and write as much as possible. Don’t force it.

2. There’s no hurry

Well, okay, you do have a submission deadline to meet! But it’s a long time for one piece of work, and it’s important that you learn at your own pace. Set a rhythm with your supervisor that allows you to get the best out of your meetings. I’m not suggesting that you slack off, but equally don’t spend your PhD feeling guilty. Your work will suffer and you’ll find ways to prevaricate.

3. Publish and be damned

Or, to put it another way, don’t run before you can walk. It’s easy to look around and feel like you have to keep up with your peers, who are churning out conference papers like there’s no tomorrow. Certainly, giving papers and publishing your research is vital, but make sure that you’re ready. I didn’t speak at a conference until the end of my second year; I’m still not published. And that’s fine. You’ll be judged on your contribution to the research community, so make sure your contribution is the best it can be. Do get involved, but don’t waste time comparing your achievements with others. It’s quality, not quantity, that counts.

4. The green-eyed monster

Related to my last point, it’s very common to feel envious of others’ achievements. People just don’t talk about it because it makes them sound kinda small… Well, here’s me in confessional mode: I often look at other academics and think, “Why aren’t I more like them?” And then I feel like a bad person! It’s natural to feel envious if you’re feeling insecure, but it’s also utterly pointless. You’ll never be that person – put your energies into finding out what it is that you do well. Chances are that once you find it, you’ll realize what it is that makes you unique as a researcher.

A final thought: I spent so much time worrying about being diminished by my time away from academia, that it never occurred to me to consider an alternative. My hiatus had given me a unique perspective on my research – it was a strength, not a weakness. I just had to find the confidence to admit it.

February 10, 2011

Problems with your supervisor – by Anna

I went through a change of supervisor last year.

There, I said it. I SAID IT. *sobs like Halle Berry at the Oscars*

Just kidding.

It actually wasn't that bad. It really wasn't. Things had been getting difficult with my old supervisor for awhile: we seemed to disagree at a fairly basic level about what kind of project I was doing. To be honest I'm still not sure exactly what she would have preferred, because towards the end she did a lot more telling me what I couldn't do than what I could do. I had trouble moving away from the direction that I clearly felt my research to be taking me in. Things got worse and worse, and after discussing it with my personal tutor I came to the conclusion that a change might be in order.

But to be honest, once I had that realisation, things mostly got a lot easier. I felt freed up, like I had extricated myself from a big emotional mess. Even telling my supervisor that I wanted a change was easier than I expected: I had been terrified, like almost shaking, before our meeting, but once I said it we both instantly knew it was the right thing and were able to discuss things more calmly and clearly than we had for months. She clearly felt relieved too. It was kind of like breaking up with your boyfriend....well not quite.

My personal tutor then approached the person I was considering to be my new supervisor. Luckily she said yes. There was a period of transition, lasting like 3-4 months, in which I had to get my new supervisor up-to-date on my project and we started getting used to working with each other. And probably for another 4 months after that, we were still in what felt like an adjustment period - I was producing at full speed (heh), but it still felt like we were getting used to each other.

But now things are going really well, and I have no regrets about it. In retrospect it only seems like it was a better and better idea. It did set me back perhaps 6 months in total, but now I'm producing the best thesis I can write - the thesis I really want to be writing - and I don't think that could have happened otherwise (not to mention the loss of productivity that would have continued had I not changed).

Anyway, I would be happy to discuss stuff with you and direct you to the right resources if you are having supervisor issues. Honestly, it's not as bad and scary as it might sound.


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