Do negotiate the terms of your working relationship. Ask him what his expectations are of you. Also ask what he is able to commit to do for you. For example, under normal circumstances how long will he need to respond to an email query? How long to evaluate a chapter submission? By the way, the amount of time it takes a supervisor to evaluate a chapter depends largely on how good (or bad) the chapter is. The weaker the chapter, the longer the feedback takes.Don’t expect your supervisor to spoon-feed you. He may suggest some good resources you should consult, but don’t expect him to provide you with a comprehensive reading list; that is your job. She may make some editorial corrections on your manuscript, but don’t expect her to be your editor; that is your job. You are a postgraduate student undertaking an independent (guided) research degree.Do initiate interaction with your supervisor. She is not thinking about your thesis day-in and day-out. She cares that you pass and she is available to help where needed, but you have to drive the process.Do what your supervisors tells/asks you to do. If he asks you to make a number of corrections, make them – properly, thoroughly, carefully! Don’t return it with a half-hearted attempt to make a handful of the easier changes.Don’t treat your supervisor like a half-wit. She is not an idiot. If she asks you to read a complicated 500-page book and then resubmit your proposal, don’t send the revised draft 6 hours later; she knows you can’t have read and processed the book that fast. When she points out that your thesis needs to be 150 pages instead of 80, don’t return it with the same number of words, but large font, double-spaced instead of 1.5 spacing, and character spacing.
05 The Supervisor-Student Relationship
By Kevin G. Smith
The Supervisor-Student Relationship
Theological Research Seminar
The Role of the Supervisor
• The supervisor as
• The supervisor as
• The supervisor as
• The supervisor as
At the PhD level, the role of the
supervisor is more that of a
colleague and advisor than one of
being a subject-matter expert.
From the beginning, you will
know more about your topic than
your supervisor will. He will be
able to advise on technical and
methodological issues, and
discuss the content with you, but
he will not the subject expert.
• Diligently study all prescribed materials.
• Carefully apply your supervisor’s advice.
• Initiate contact and request meetings.
• Abide by the approved research proposal.
• Work on your thesis diligently and steadily.
The Role of the Student
• Rule 1: dignity, respect, and courtesy
• Rule 2: no harassment
• Rule 3: accessibility
• Rule 4: privacy
• Rule 5: honesty
Secrets of Success
• Negotiate the terms of your
• Initiate interaction with
• Follow your supervisor’s
• Rush ahead without your
• Expect your supervisor to
• Treat your supervisor like a
1) I shall provide guidance about the nature of
research, requirements of the degree (including the
nature and extent of an ‘original contribution’),
standards expected, choice of research topic, and
acquisition of the requisite research skills.
2) I shall guide you in the preparation of a research
proposal that complies with the requirements of SATS. I
shall do this initially by discussing your research idea
with you, and later by offering detailed feedback on
draft research proposals. I shall only feed back on draft
proposals three times; the fourth draft must be suitable
for submission to the postgraduate committee.
3) I shall keep a written record of supervisory meetings:
in particular, of agreed work plans and of actions which
need to be carried out by the supervisor and by you,
the postgraduate student.
4) I shall hold you
accountable to the
completion dates agreed
in your research proposal,
and request periodic
5) I shall respond requests for comments in a timely
manner, typically two working days for email
communications and two weeks for feedback on
written submissions (e.g. a draft proposal; a draft
chapter). When I am unable to keep these response
times, I shall notify you.
6) I shall make myself
available for periodic
meetings at your request;
the meetings may take
place in person or via
7) I shall monitor carefully your performance relative to the
standard required for the degree, to ensure that you are made
aware promptly of inadequate progress or standards of work, by
specifying the problems and discussing ways of addressing them.
8) I shall assist you in the
development of research
and writing skills, but I
shall not serve as your
9) I shall provide academic feedback on your thesis
chapters on a sliding scale; that is, I expect to provide
substantive feedback on the earlier chapters, but only
minimal feedback on the later chapters (towards the
end of the process you should be working quite
independently). I shall comment on a chapter a
maximum of three times.
1) You must heed my academic advice, and diligently make all
required changes or corrections.
2) You must discuss with me your expectations concerning the
kind of guidance and feedback you wish to receive.
3) You must commit to work steadily on your research, and to
inform me if for some reason you are unable to do so for an
4) You must keep to the chapter submission dates proposed in
your research proposal. If for any reason you find yourself
unable to meet the deadlines, you should notify me so that
we can renegotiate the dates.
5) You must share and discuss with me any major change or
refinement to the research project.
6) You must not undertake any field research without my
explicit approval to proceed with it.
7) You must submit one chapter of your thesis at a time, and
await my permission to proceed with the following chapter.
8) You must take responsibility for editing your work properly
before submitting it to me for feedback.