The Supervisory Relationship

This blog aims to present both my own ideas about graduate student writing and my commentary on other people’s ideas. I’ve struggled a bit with the best way to do the latter. I find that I often draft comments about interesting things I’ve read, but then don’t post them (because writing is easy, sharing your writing is hard!). Those sort of reflections can quickly become stale, so they end up sitting unused in a draft folder. Increasingly, I just share the things that I find interesting on Twitter; the commentary aspect is lost, but at least the sharing is timely. Since not everyone follows me on Twitter (@explorstyle), I am going to start including a list of the things I’ve shared on Twitter at the end of these posts. The post itself will consist of a comment on one recent item of interest. Today’s link isn’t particularly recent (unless, like me, you feel like July was just a minute ago!), but I know that it is one that graduate students will find relevant.

This post from the Thesis Whisperer blog on what doctoral students need from their supervisors highlights the potential for difficulties in the supervisory relationship. The post discusses what doctoral students can and should expect from their supervisors—and whether that relationship needs to be as fraught as it so often is. The post was inspired the actions of a new doctoral student who was looking to avoid the inevitable pitfalls. I thought the post did a great job of summing up two equally undesirable poles: one, avoiding all rookie mistakes or, two, suffering through every indignity that every doctoral student has ever endured. Surely neither of those extremes is ideal. Although a PhD is never going to come without some struggle, the process shouldn’t be a source of actual trauma. We all hear far too many stories about the misery caused by inadequate supervisory relationships; the Thesis Whisperer’s characterization of her role as that of a ‘global agony aunt’ is telling.

In general, I believe that the uneven quality of supervision, while unfortunate, must not be allowed to derail the writing process. Instead, the thesis writer needs to see themselves as capable of gaining the necessary expertise from a range of resources. Ideally, the supervisor will figure heavily in the writer’s development, but an unwilling or inexpert supervisor needn’t signal doom for the writer. And while I don’t think that the goal of supervision should be to make sure that each generation suffers as much as the last, I do know that trial and error can be an invaluable route to meaningful expertise. A good supervisor is many things, but not necessarily a protection against travelling down unproductive pathways. Those pathways are crucial—not to replicate a needless tradition of suffering but rather to give thesis writers the depth of experience necessary to complete this demanding and defining writing task.

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

I love this cartoon from @xkcdhttp://xkcd.com/1108

More good advice from @GradHacker on successfully navigating conferences: http://www.gradhacker.org/2012/09/17/successfully-navigating-conferences-part-2/

From @GradHacker, a post on getting our ideas down on paper, so they don’t keep us up at night! http://www.gradhacker.org/2012/09/14/write-it-down-go-to-sleep/

From @ProfHacker, a post on the things that we should make easier and those that we should make harder: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/make-it-hard-on-yourself/42568

From @chronicle, something to make you laugh and feel better about your own presentation mishaps! http://chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/when-your-presentation-goes-awry/33710

@scholarlykitchn says the exact right thing about PowerPoint and Prezi: http://wp.me/pcvbl-77T

From the NYT, a clear discussion of the subjunctive in the always-delightful After Deadline blog: Save the Subjunctive! http://nyti.ms/QgRZQE 

From Barbara Fister, a very nuanced take on the way we talk about plagiarism: The Plagiarism Perplex http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/plagiarism-perplex

From @chronicle, a call for reverse mentoring: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2012/09/06/why-we-need-reverse-mentoring/

The recent @GradHacker podcast on productivity systems is full of interesting and helpful insights: http://podcast.gradhacker.org/?p=122

From @ProfHacker, a helpful overview of Twitter for academics: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/how-and-why-to-participate-in-a-tweetchat/42380

From @GradHacker, a useful discussion of the pros and cons of Prezi: http://www.gradhacker.org/2012/08/29/prezi-a-dynamic-presentation-or-nauseating-experience/

I love this post from @stancarey on the choice between following bad rules or standing up to their eternal enforcers: http://wp.me/pglsT-3o7

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