I have been out of the office (pretty much) since the middle of September doing three main things.
Firstly, you may recall that I attended the ISIC conference. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Zadar in Croatia for this and present my work in front of academics in the field. This did mean, however, that I was out of the office for a week and I did not have time to get much work done on the plans for my data analysis. I was not too annoyed about this as I was given the opportunity to share my work with others and that was PhD work in itself anyway!
Secondly, I took a week off! This was a scheduled holiday that I had had booked in since early this year knowing I would need a break after my RD5 review. I spent a week in a lovely cottage in the middle of nowhere which gave me the perfect opportunity to be away from the PhD and relax for a whole week. I discovered that this could be the perfect place for my third year PhD write up when I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed about everything I need to do! It’s quite a common thing to hear that PhD students don’t take holidays during their years as a student and for me that is totally a ‘no-no!’. I need a break every now and then to help recharge my batteries and get away from it for a while, which then helps me to be more productive when I get back. More importantly, when students don’t take this time (or even a short break) all the stresses and worries build up and they have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. For me, the time away was a stress relief and time that I had set aside to make sure my PhD work could continue steadily upon my return.
Finally, I took some time off to go home. My mam had an operation ad I wanted to be there, not only to support her, but to make sure I knew she was okay (for my wellbeing) and to see how she was doing in herself. This was a completely PhD free week and I thought the guilt would build from doing no PhD work during my time off, however, I’m
quite glad to say there was no guilt in sight.
So now I am back to Edinburgh and my to-do list is very long! I have lots to plan out, some PhD re-scheduling to do and also lots of little tasks to tie up. I also have some social media to catch up on (hence the blog post) as time away means that got neglected too. That is what I will be doing this week and then my plan of action begins. It may be that my secondary data analysis gets moved to next year and I focus on some of the more practical things, or it may mean it does not. My supervision this week has a hefty agenda and by the time we are finished I hope to have caught up with all supervisors with updates and plans… and set some deadlines for what I need to do next.
I have returned back to Scotland after a week in Zadar for the Information Seeking in Context (ISIC) conference and have many things to reflect on. The trip has been planned since May when some of our research group found out that their posters, presentations and doctoral workshop applications had been accepted. Last week we made the trip to the University of Zadar where the conference was being held. It has been an intense but enjoyable week and something I was quite looking forwards to with it being my first academic conference of the PhD journey.
The conference was split into two main sections – the pre-conference doctoral workshop and the main conference itself and I have so much to reflect on from taking part in each. Some of the things need further exploration and some need a lot of thinking but I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the workshop and conference as it has given me much food for thought about my own PhD research.
The doctoral workshop
On the day before the main conference, my colleagues (Frances, Iris and John) and I took part in the doctoral workshop. This was an opportunity to meet other doctoral students form all around the world and share our research collectively. It was an opportunity to present our work in smaller groups, and following this presentation we received feedback on our research from fellow students and academic mentors. It was a collective process of feedback and response in helping to improve our research and I as provided invaluable feedback my two academic mentors: Professor Ivanka Stričević and Professor Ina Fourie as well as all other students present.
The workshop gave me the opportunity to also present my work in a 10 minutes. This was not pre-prepared and I was nervous, but it was good to give an overview of my research to others in the group. I was questioned on my definitions of innovation, the relevance of the research to information science and given some recommendations on the use of different topics within the PhD (focusing on information behaviour and information seeking in learning). These suggestions were great and were just what I was looking for so they will be getting followed up and incorporated into my research.
My initial concerns when attending the conference was whether my PhD research had enough information science in the topic and whether it would fit. I questioned if my research could be improved at all to make it coherent within the information science domain and these concerns were unexpectedly answered in the doctoral workshop. The feedback I received has made me think about my topic and how I can emphasise the information science in it… it is an information science PhD after-all!. However, it has also made me reflect upon the reasons for doing my research and how much I enjoy it so changes to my research should not be something I welcome with uncertainty but something I should welcome with pride. As part of the doctoral workshop I asked questions regarding my theoretical framework and the relationships with my sponsors (relationship management) and was not surprised by these answers. I had experienced my RD5 review not long ago and we addressed these questions in my meeting so I was quite reassured when the answers form my mentors were within the same lines of what had already been said.
The workshop was organised by Dr Theresa Anderson and Professor Ross Todd, both of whom have great experience of how valuable the workshops are. They encouraged us all to mingle, chat together and presented activities together to test our learnings from the day. We even had a post-doctoral workshop dinner to continue our conversations elsewhere and meet others we had not done during the day. For me, it was good to see perspectives of information science from an international view and explore research from other doctoral students at different stages of the journey.
I left the workshop with questions in my head about my theoretical framework and methods. More importantly I still had one major question which I was hoping to find grounds in the main conference…
Does my PhD really fit here in the Information Science Domain?????
From the main conference programme you can see that there were speakers from all over the world taking part in the three day event. Papers explored theories, methods and empirical research carried out in the current research context. I had gone into the main conference with specific talks highlighted that I wanted to hear, but ended up staying for the vast majority of them all. The topics were diverse and I was interested in exploring research in relation to learning in the workplace or learning in general to see the perspectives used to explore these areas. This theme appeared a lot more than I was expecting which made me feel a little at ease knowing my research was about learning itself. I was intrigued to find a theory talk that I may be able to incorporate into mine, and after discussions with the authors of the paper, I have decided this is something I must explore further in terms of how it can be incorporated into workplace learning.
I was particularly interest in this talk here as I knew it was the most relevant to my research. Within the first 10 minutes my eyes were glued to the screen as some of Dr Moring’s justification for choices were very similar to mine.
For example, I am using both information science and organisational studies literature because I feel you cannot explore learning through one single domain. I also use the Social Cognitive Theory to underpin my research but this may be incorporated with another theory as there is (yet) no single theory in any domain to explain the whole of my research. Dr Morning has similar justifications for her paper too which comforted me in knowing my decisions were justified and that someone else in the field has had similar ideas and justifications to me.
During the main conference I had three things to do: (1) a one minute madness presentation of my doctoral research (alongside all other doctoral students); (2) a one minute madness presentation of my poster, which was expected to be in more depth and; (3) my poster presentation.
As this was my first conference, not only PhD conference but international conference, I was spectacularly nervous for all of this. As I am not a fan of presenting in front of others, I needed to quickly pluck up the courage to address the whole conference for both one minute madness presentations. This fear is something just need to get over as my fears of completely messing my presentation up in front of everyone are clearly just all in my head. I must admit, I did practise the presentations beforehand knowing I often speak too fast. Whilst practising I realised I had far too many words to say in one minute so tried to cut these down considerably so I could speak slower and speak a little better with my accent. I think my poster presentation was delivered okay, and I had some interest in what I was doing. However, again my concerns were confirmed. My PhD has a certain audience and often not from the information science background so I had to explain the information science aspect of my research to those it was unclear to. Undoubtedly, this has clarified some decisions I need to make and some things I need to discuss with my supervisory team to make sure my research is relevant and fits in with all disciplines that the research crosses in its development.
I believe that the organisers of the ISIC conference did a remarkable job of selecting a perfect location for the conference. I mean, who would not want crisp blue seas and glorious sunsets as you participate in conference and after conference related activities.
On a more personal note, attending the conference gave me the opportunity to explore part of the world I had never been to before and see how other cities live. I was able to explore some of the historical aspects of Zadar like the Old Town and some of the more touristy attractions such as the fabulous Sea Organ. Overall, having time away from Edinburgh has helped me reflect on my research as a whole. I enjoy being in Edinburgh but have the opportunity to travel and meet academics form all over the world is an experience which is just priceless. Walking along the beautiful coast and having some time to think has helped me clarify
what I need to do for the next steps of my PhD and has given me a lot of food for thought. This food for thought will be relayed back to my supervisory team with the justifications of why I want to make the changes I would like to make.
Firstly there is a Public lecture hosted by the University and Equate Scotland. This will be delivered by Professor Caroline Wilkinson at 6pm followed by drinks reception. The event is open to all but you must register to attend.
Secondly on the same day, there are workshops hosted by the School of Computing. These are at 4pm and will be followed by refreshments (and then the public lecture for those who wish to attend). The workshops are open to female pupils (S1-S3) and their teachers.
The workshops will also be held at Edinburgh Napier’s Craiglockhart campus and two workshops will run in parallel:
Normally I blog about things relating directly to my PhD. However, this blog post is a little different. It’s not different in being about social things surrounding my PhD, it’s different because it’s about research done outside of the PhD as part of finishing up the research internship I started before moving up North to Edinburgh.
It was back sometime earlier in 2016 when the decision was made to pursue a collaboration different to what we had already considered. As part of my initial internship plans, the idea of two publications or two outputs was not set in stone but it was something that my supervisor / mentor (Dr. Jeske) and I had in mind.
My internship supervisor introduced me to Ruoyun Lin, a PhD student doing her research into the psychological effects of social media use. This was great. We both were part of research groups with similar research interests. More importantly, we both had data from other research projects that we had worked on with Dr Jeske and this data had not been analysed. From this, the decision was made to combine two research studies into one as the themes overlapped and worked well as a pair. Combing the results of two research studies started our journey to writing a paper together and to search for a place to submit it.
Not long after deciding this, I got an email about a conference taking place in September (which coincidently had a call for papers out). My former internship supervisor and Ruoyun had chatted about the conference and decided it might just be the perfect place to submit. I agreed with their suggestions and we began working on the paper with a full paper conference submission in mind.
The conference took place at the School of Management (Swansea University) in September 2016 with the theme of ‘Social Media: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!’ This seemed like a perfect fit for our paper which looked at the benefits of using role models on social media and you can see more about what the paper is about here:
The current paper examined three research questions. First, what are the perceived benefits for social network users who have role models online? Second, to what extent does having role models online influence one’s self-presentation on social media? And finally, are users who expect more in return (greater reciprocity) more likely to have role models on social media? Using two opportunity survey samples and exploratory analyses, study 1 (N = 236) demonstrated that having role models was associated with greater perceived support for one’s career aspirations, and perceived access to information. The results of study 2 (N = 192) revealed that participants who had role models online reported that their online profile presented a more realistic self-presentation of values and priorities, as well as having higher reciprocity expectation.
We submitted the paper and found out in May that it had been accepted to the conference. I think we were all pleased knowing how much work we had put in and how much time the preparation had taken. Both my co-authors had both expressed interest in presenting the paper in Swansea. Unfortunately, due to external conference and academic commitments, I was not able to do so this time. I was a little disappointed about this but knew that my colleagues would do a great job and was happy to help out with presentation preparation when needed. I’m pleased this worked out in the end.
Feedback from Dr Jeske and Ruoyun was really good and they felt the presentation has gone well. Following the presentation, a number of colleagues at the conference expressed an interest in our work. The paper therefore helped us to start new conversations about research interests. For me, I like the idea that the paper started up conversations. It means it says that people responded positively and that interest was generated from the talk.
I was told of the biggest delight on the last evening of conference paper presentations, news I was overjoyed to hear:
OUR PAPER WAS NOMINATED FOR THE BEST PAPER AWARD AT THE I3E2016
… and I am still smiling about this now!🙂
From my perspective, joint collaborations are helpful in a number of ways. Firstly, there are lots of people with similar research interests. You just need to go and find them. Joint collaborations enable researchers to learn how to work in team with people they may have never met previously. Secondly, it’s really beneficial to a PhD student’s development if they can get some multidisciplinary work under their belt. I know my PhD is technically multidisciplinary but the work with my two co-authors on this conference paper has taken this to a new level. Here is a list of learning outcomes: I have learned so much about working as a team and how people from different institutions can bring different knowledge to the project, and this helps to make research more appealing so we can work to get it published. I have also learned how to (politely) critique written work and get feedback on my own. This has not only helped my own writing style but supported my own development in making sure I present my own feedback in an appropriate and non-abrupt manner. I think most important of all, I have learned one more thing: I have learned that no matter what institution you are based at and whichever research group you are in, collaborating with others outside of this context is great for many things. For me these have been increasing confidence, reflective practice and also feedback on work you are doing both in and out of the PhD.
I also found out that there are benefits of searching for and responding to calls for papers. Searching for them means you are exploring all options in terms of disseminating your research. Quite often, the call for paper has both full and short papers available so at any stage of the research there may be the opportunity for each. Particularly helpful are doctoral symposia which are part of many national and international conferences. If this is not the case, sometimes poster presentations are good options – just like my presentation for ISIC 2016. Either way, attending conferences where you present your work means that you can chat to academics in the field and gain insight into research practise outside of your research context. Similarly, talking to academics who get to know your work can help you to access more support in terms of advice and guidance on parts of your research that you may have questions on.
If you submit for a call for paper, it benefits your research as you have a deadline to write a certain paper altogether. Quite often students potter on with papers but do not submit these if there is not a set deadline. Working towards deadlines (or responding to set deadlines) ensures students can manage their time effectively and learn how to plan and anticipate their research better over time. Had we not found the I3E call for papers, we may have had to wait for an appropriate call for papers in the future and we may have had to search in more detail for outlets elsewhere. As a consequence of finding the I3E call for papers we were able to make a great collaboration paper out of two projects that were otherwise separate.
Jenkins, L., Lin, R., & Jeske, D. (2016). Influences and benefits of role models on social media. In Y.K. Dwivedi et al. (Eds.): I3E 2016 Social Media: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Ch. 60, pp. 673-684). Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) 9844. Springer: IFIP International Federation for Information Processing. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-45234-0_60 (http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-45234-0_60)
I’m quite looking forward to attending the conference as I will have the opportunity to discuss my research with other doctoral students in the doctoral workshop the day before the official conference begins. This will give me the opportunity to talk about challenges I have faced with my research and get some advice from fellow PhD students and academics in the field. There are two main challenges I plan to discuss and these are:
Developing a theoretical framework for such a multidisciplinary project like my PhD
Managing relationships with a sponsor who requests actionable recommendations as an output of the PhD study
I have some ideas about how I am going to talk about this and we have provided some supplementary information to the conference committee already. However, I am very much looking forward to seeing how other individuals would approach the above problems to see if: (1) I am heading in the right direction and; (2) whether there are any changes or improvements I could make. At the doctoral workshop, there will be a variety of students form different academic backgrounds. Therefore I am hoping that the workshop will help me to discuss my research with academics in the field and bring back some information and advice to Edinburgh about what I have learned from the workshop that day.
On the second day of the conference I will be presenting a poster on my PhD thesis topic. Again, I will have the opportunity to discuss my research with other students, but this time there will be other academic delegates there too. This will provide me with good grounds for talking about my research in a more formal setting and receive questions on what it is that I am doing. I’m hoping to meet the academic who wrote a book chapter about my theoretical framework and question its relevance to my research. I have been told that this academic will be at the conference! I’m also hoping that I can chat about my methods and how these will be used to explore my research questions, but who knows? I don’t know what questions I may get asked but as you can see form a previous blog post I have been able to talk about my research before.
I still have problems with my confidence when speaking in front of others, mainly as I think it will all go horribly wrong. I did, however, prove myself (half) wrong earlier in the year at iDocQ. I think my main problem appears when I need to speak in front of other academics in case they criticise what I am saying and not the research itself. I don’t really have a problem with talking in front of others about other stuff, and I have managed to chair a couple of student-led conference sessions during the year. But my fears will be tested during this conference as I have two ‘one minute madness’ presentations to deliver. Fair enough they are only one minute each, and that means I am not speaking for long, but it’s still quite nerve racking and I fear that I will be hit by stage fright the moment I start to speak.
Overall, there is not a lot I can tell you about the conference just yet as I am not actually there yet. However, I will be tweeting a lot from the conference and Croatia itself so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say when I get back. I am going to the conference armed with my little business cards and have updated ALL of my online profiles so hopefully these will come in handy when talking to others and chatting about our research interests!
I haven’t blogged for a while but there is a valid reason for this. I have been working on my transfer report to support my RD5 review. This is the review which determines if students are able to progress onto the PhD and whether their research projects are of PhD standard. So therefore this review is very important to my PhD progression.
I had my review on Wednesday this week. For some bizarre reason I was not nervous at all until the 15 minutes before I went in (when I bumped into my supervisor outside the printing room). I’m not really sure why this was. You might remember from my previous review blog post that I was very very nervous for that one… and it’s the RD5 which is the most important one so that’s a mystery to me. It could be because I knew my panel and I had spent the previous 10 weeks writing and preparing the transfer report in support of the RD5 review – who knows! Either way, I was able to get up and head into the office in good time and not panic until the last few minutes. As I had been full of cold for 5 days before my review, I did not think it would go so well. I thought my snotts might take over and wear me down. However, I gladly started to recover and by the time my review came, I had managed to control the cold (with a bit of vicks) to a point where it did not interfere with my review at all.
Oh I should say now that I passed my review first time round and am now officially a PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University (yippeeeee!). As I am only 10 month in, I had major doubts to whether my document was up to scratch and whether all of the effort put in would be worth it. I wholeheartedly thank my supervisors for the help they put in and the time spent helping me prepare and review the document. My fellow PhD students proved sanity and good advice when I needed their knowledge and experiences of their own RD5 reviews to keep me going. I also thank my family who came to visit bank holiday weekend as this was a lovely distraction away from the review. My dad told me that he reads all of my blog posts so this is a hello to him so that he can laugh when he reads this (hello Dad!)… and thank you to Chris who provided support and the prosecco for during and after the review ;-)
What happened during my review?
So for my review what did I actually need to do? My university class this as a mini viva because it is the first time (as such) your panel will question you on things like the background, methods, contributions etc. However, this is not enough. For my review, I had to write a transfer report which comprised about 50 pages on the topics below:
Context to the research (ie, why it is important)
Literature review (where does the research lie within the literature)
Contributions (ie, gaps in knowledge to be filled and also theoretical and practical contributions)
Methodological approach and the research paradigm
Theoretical framework (the theory underpinning the work)
Methods used and the stages of research
A timetable / plan of the research for the next two years
Lots and lots of references
For me, this document was really important so that I KNOW what my research is about, how it will be done, and why. I think spending 10 weeks on the one document has helped me understand the research from a different perspective and has helped me bring it together as a whole. During the review I was questioned about my research questions first of all as they needed a little clarification and also about the contributions. I stumbled a little on these but it was good to chat to my panel chair about this because now I know my response if asked again. I was then asked about my sample and approach as this is a really important thing in my second year. If I cannot get organisations to participate in my research, what would my plan B be and how would I approach this? I can’t say that any of the questions shocked or surprised me which is good, but the nerves did kick in during this time thinking that I would not answer them right or thinking that I would make a terrible mistake. My supervisor and I agreed that I am ‘better on paper than speaking’ but this just means I need to improve my confidence when being grilled about my research. It turns out that having an ‘outsiders’ perspective on the research is a really positive thing and my supervisors and I now know what we need to tighten up and what we might think to change – the research questions being one of those changes.
My learnings from the RD5 process
During the process of preparing for my RD5 review, I learned a lot about my research, my supervisors and myself. Firstly, things don’t always go to plan, but don’t fret, this is normal apparently. My supervisors and I don’t always agree on everything, but I think this is good. It promotes discussion and encourages me to go look into things further so that we can come to some overall conclusion. I like that we all come from different research backgrounds (information science, employment and psychology) so the research can consider all perspectives, even if they are not all included in everything. This is what makes us all a perfect fit for the research I think!
More importantly, I learned lot about myself and here are some of the things I now know:
I can’t write academically to save my life. Well, it has improved quite a bit since I started but I had a 3 year academic break so this meant I did not write, search literature or even read much for that. I think that submitting work to my supervisors has helped with this a lot as I have been able to see mistakes in my writing style and worked to improve this. One of the comments of my transfer report is that it was well written so it cannot be as bad as I think.
I don’t like tasks that take a long time (so why on earth am I doing a PhD???). I found that I get intimidated when I have a lengthy task that might take a while. I often want things done yesterday and don’t like the prospect of it taking forever. However, this approach is absolutely useless. Instead, I found that splitting larger tasks into smaller and more manageable tasks helped me get through it at a decent pace. I can then create a checklist of things I need to do and tick them off one by one as I go along. This way, I can see smaller progress steps and then feel happier with progress when I can see things are getting done rather than the big task not being done.
I don’t like noise when I’m editing a document. We use a shared office space and this is great when I am doing other things, but editing a document is not one of those other things. I have found that I need silence (or a quiet space) for that so that I can concentrate which is something I am not used to. I have always preferred to work around people but this changed when I started working from home a little more over the summer and I found my productivity was even better than at the office (when editing my work).
I need to take a good break every now and then. I found that taking time off really helped. During August, I look a little extra time off as I had holidays that I had not taken. This helped me to focus more on my tasks when I got back. It also helped to get time away from my desk and home so that I was not in the same surroundings during one of the most stressful months of my first year of study.
I need plenty of tea and snacks through the day when I am concentrating on writing. I found that this was odd. Normally I don’t like to take long breaks but during the RD5 preparation period the opposite happened. I found that taking a good tea (and cake!) break every now and then helped me to boost my energy levels through the day and also got me away from my computer. It meant that I did not feel so overwhelmed by what I had to get done knowing I could split my day into chunks and look forward to a little taste of heaven.
I discovered that I need to do other things than the PhD. I know everyone advises not to let the research take over your life, but when you’re home alone quite often, what choice is there? I discovered that keeping myself occupied within non-research related things was good. I found that I can make a mean lemon drizzle cake and I enjoyed the process of baking this (and learning how to do this from my Dad) at a time where I would normally be stressing over work. More importantly, I look time away to go for coffee with friends and made sure that my days off were my days off, even if I did not have much planned.
I discovered I like to moan on twitter, which student does not?Although not very productive, it’s good to get my struggles out there and moan a bit. However, I do know I would never moan about other people specifically and I would only moan (publically) about the stupid things I have done or the daft things I am encountering.
I am stupidly (negatively) critical about things I do even if they are not bad. From previous experiences, I always criticise myself on what I do as I expect that others will do the same. This is not a problem as such but it stops me seeing the good stuff I have done and the progress I have made. I will not go into the event that has made me think this way but thankfully I have a great PhD team around me who see how far I have come and constantly tell me all the positive things they see in me (I love you all for doing this!).
So what advice would I give to people facing a similar review?
Prepare early – I found that my preparation took a lot longer than expected, then the reviewing and editing took even longer. If you prepare early it gives your supervisors (or people involved) time to check over the work and help to make improvements;
Get someone to proof read – after the review, my supervisors and I both said we should have got someone external to look at the work. This is because there were mistakes in it that we did not spot and an external person might have picked these up before the review;
Take a break – take a break both in writing and also from the work as a whole. This helped me concentrate more when I returned back to the work if my goals were set beforehand;
Seek help when needed – I have learned to ask for help when I needed it. I got stuck with a few things and I could not get these done on my own. For example, I asked other PhD students about the timetable of research and problems they encountered to help me write my timetable;
Don’t panic – I would always say don’t panic (easier said than done). Whatever the result, your efforts will be noted so if you have put the work in then the outcome should reflect this. If you don’t, then you can’t expect miracles to happen.
If you do feel worried, tell your supervisors – I found that I was concerned, but my supervisors helped reduce my worried by explaining things that had happened in other (anonymous) reviews they had been involved in. This helped me understand that everyone has problems and successes and whatever happens its probably happened before to someone else.
I have read many blog posts about the student – supervisor relationship within the PhD and it is one of the most unique relationships out there. I mean, who ‘really’ do you get to spend 3 years with (or however many years you do your PhD in) and have someone there all the way through to support you through the journey. I quite often have an issue about blog posts on managing your supervisors as these blog posts tend to be direct and tell you what you should / should not do. In reality, all supervisory relationships differ and what works for one person might not be the best for another. This is kind of why I am writing this blog post today. Many universities have training on how to manage the supervisory relationships but these are generalist and tend to focus on how to get on. In reality, students and supervisors don’t get on, some don’t like each other and some don’t want to work with each other so it’s something to keep in mind.
For me, my supervisory team and I had never met before. We have research and learnings in different research domains and I didn’t even know my supervisors existed before seeing an advert online. I knew nothing about my supervisors, about how they worked and what they did so it was a relationship that was completely new to me. To be quite honest, it was taking a big leap into the unknown as I had no idea how my supervisors worked and what they would expect of me when I began, but it was a decision I made wisely and I had researched all involved beforehand… even asking another PhD student their opinions too.
However, I have heard a few horror stories over the past 10 months and some which have been all but nice. When in a training session a few weeks ago one student explained that they were constantly scrutinised by their main supervisor (the equivalent to my Director of Studies), and that they were always putting them down. When questioned from other people, the student said they just put up with it as they were there to learn and that it was not a bad thing that the relationship was strained. This is something I have heard quite often and something I’m not in agreement with. So this has led me to write my own blog post but not how to handle the supervisors relationship. My blog post is about my own learnings on the relationships involved, and what has helped us to make it work. I summarise my most important learnings below:
Set expectations early
I think it’s really important to work with our supervisors to set expectations really early on. I’m not saying that you NEED to talk about expectations all of the time, but it’s a topic often missed by some students and supervisors, ending up in arguments of what was expected and what was not. I don’t think my supervisory team and I have even sat down and had formal discussions on expectations but it does come up in my supervisor quite often. Not so much as ‘we expect xyz…’ but between us in agreeing deadlines, work, progress and so on. We also tend to discuss next steps of the research, expectations in terms of where I should be and what I am not expected to know at this point. A prime example is of my theoretical framework development, something I am not expected to have solidified at this point in my research but something I am expected to have covered. Expectations have most certainty been an important aspect of supervision for me.
Meet or communicate frequently
I think it’s also important to meet with your supervisors regularly, more frequently in the early days of the research. This has worked for me really well and we meet once each week to see how things are going, review work and discuss and problems that have appeared since we last spoke. For us, we remain in constant communication via email, face to face and phone (if needed) so I understand that frequent communication has been key to help my supervisors and I get along. The most important thing is to do what feels right, some supervisors might not want regular updates and some might. In my opinion I’d rather update my supervisors via email if I know I’m not going to have a supervision for a little while or if something urgent has come up. For us, this seems to work. I think it helps to keep my supervisors involved if they know what I am doing and how I am getting long, but they also know when I do not need so structured support. We agree when I don’t need a supervision a certain week or when I just need to get my head down and get on with research work and this is something we agree on as a team.
Keep supervisors updated
That kind of brings me onto keeping the supervisory team updated, on research progress and much more. For me, I like to make sure my supervisors know what is going on so that they are always part of the progress and are there to help when needed. Also, I think it is important to keep supervisors notified of any problems that may affect the PhD work. For example, time away or problems you are having can be taken into account. More times than not, any problems are probably not as bad as you think and talking to your supervisors (or a supervisor) about them might help to take the burden away and the problems may feel easier. I found that my supervisors get concerned if there are things that could interfere with my work, but they also take care to make sure I’m doing okay and make this a priority over any work I do.
Ask for help when needed
Keeping supervisors updated is important, but I think also asking for help is important to. I mean, who do you go to when you need help with other things – quite often, the person in charge? I have found my supervisors extremely flexible when I need help and they bent over backwards to accommodate my requests. It is normally just clarifying things I need to do or extra help with what I have been given but it’s actually asking for help that I used to find hard. I used to think that asking for help showed weakness but now I think the complete opposite. It shows supervisors that you can’t always do everything perfectly first time round but also that you are continuously evaluating your capabilities and recognising when you need help the moment you ask for it. I think it also keeps supervisors involved in the process of learning. They are the ones who are teaching you how to research like a professional so they are the ones who kind of need to know if you are finding something hard of if there is something you cannot do.
Submit your work on time
I think if you take all of the above points into consideration, another important point is to submit your work on time. If you have an agreed timescale and you have not informed your team of any problems, then this expectation is already set. Not submitting means breaking the trust your supervisor has for you and also messing up their time. If you have a supervisors like mine, they may allocate time to look over major pieces of work for you and have specific times they dedicate to this so late submissions will not only make you
look bad, but will interrupt the time they had set aside too. One thing to remember is that supervisors often have other commitments too, like teaching and additional academic work. Therefore agreeing deadlines and sticking to these deadlines means your work can be prioritised at that time, whilst in the mixt of doing everything else they do. I also feel that being honest about deadlines helps to build trust in your work and abilities – if you are able to manage the project well, you will become aware of deadlines that are suitable and which ones are not so you can make amendments on the not so good ones.
Be honest (and ask them to be honest too)
I think THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the student – supervisor relationship is to be honest. I always work by ‘honesty is the best policy’ and I have found that it has worked so far with all supervisors, both PhD and before (fingers crossed). For me, this means approaching your supervisors if you are not happy with something (they or someone else has done for example) of if you feel something could be done differently. One of my supervisors and I had a ‘moment’ like this a while back and it is something I had never encountered before. It was something I did not know how to approach but simultaneously did not want to leave it either. For us, it was best to get everything out in the open and talk about things, to find that actually it was fixed in the space of five minutes. We were able to talk properly in person and sort out what we thought was a problem when in fact it was no longer a problem at all. I would not recommend discussing big issues via email, text etc as these can be misinterpreted and taken the wrong way, and it also means that things cannot be taken out of context as we all know sarcasm in an email does not go down well at all. I think encountering problems and discussing problems straight away has made us a better team, firstly because it shows honesty within the team (as you don’t want the team bitching behind your back as such) and that no-one will get mad, and secondly as it helps to build up trust within the team knowing we can be honest all of the time. I think if students can’t tell supervisors when they have a problem with something, this can impact on the work a lot. The student might bottle up feelings and start to dislike what is/has happened and this might then impact on the work done. I would always advise students to talk about this when they can so that they and their supervisors know where they stand. In my opinion, I would hope that a supervisors would want to know if there was a problem, whether it is caused by them or not, so that they can help the student work things out and love what they do again.
Understand your supervisors strengths and weaknesses- they are human after all!
I think based on the point above, we have to understand that our supervisors are only human. Some make mistakes and some don’t. If you get to know the strengths of your supervisor, you can work with them for it. Knowing weaknesses of your supervisor can also help you adapt your approach to them and not expect them to do something they may be unable to do. I understand that my supervisors have their own way of doing things, and some approaches are not always agreed upon as a team. However, I understand they are both excellent teachers and mentors and their actions are directed by wanting their students to do well and not by anything less. The both have good research and supervision reputations and would not be part of my supervisory team if they did not feel they could do a good job together and work together as well as they do. That being said, I also try to understand when my supervisors may not be able to do something so I do not set expectations of this too high. For example, setting deadlines for feedback or meeting dates to fit in with schedules and also ensuring that ways of communications (email, face-to-face) are appropriate to get a response back in a good time frame.
Overall I have learned many things and those things are summarised as follows: as a student you need to be considerate, respectful and on-the-ball so that you can help establish the strong relationship with your supervisors. However, you also need to be honest when things are not going right. Such honestly will hopefully allow your supervisors to see that you are the student learning and sometimes students push in the right direction, or reassurance, now and then. That being said, at some point during the PhD, whether it be in the middle or a the end, the student is the one who will become the teacher as they will be the one with the final expertise in the research undertaken in the years of supervision ahead. So ensuring that the student has a hold on the supervisory relationship from day one means by the end, they will be well on their way to achieving the results they want from the degree.