Last Friday I had the first meeting of the semester with my supervisor. She hasn’t reviewed my work for sometime as for a while I was under the supervision of my secondary as my primary supervisor was on sabbatical. So my challenge prior to the meeting was to write a brief updated schedule of my work. I was dreading it!
Because the last time we worked together was not a positive experience for either of us. I felt as though she was not supportive enough and I think she thought I was not delivering what I promised. We went round in circles like this for close to 18 months and then I switched.
Under my secondary I started to produce decent work. Not up to my usual standard and not as good as I had done in the past but passable. I was getting positive feedback, encouragement and I felt emotionally supported; something I hadn’t felt for a long time. Naturally this equated to the hypothesis in my own mind that supervisor A was shit and supervisor B was ace.
Then I was forced to take a short time out (broken limbs have a habit of stopping you in your tracks) and this gave me time to truly assess the situation with a slightly less partisan gaze. And I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t ALL Supervisor A’s fault … that perhaps I was someway to blame too.
The problems arose from misguided expectations. I didn’t handle the transition from Masters to Ph.D at all well. And neither did my supervisor. She had agreed to supervise a competent, well read, intelligent grad student who was producing 1st class masters work, but what she got was an insecure, neurotic wreck! It was never going to go well whilst we both ignored the obvious – I was flailing! Instead of looking at the situation clearly I chose to go down the road of blaming my supervisor, instead of realising that I was not admitting things had simply got too much for me. This generated an atmosphere of mistrust on my part and I am sure frustrated the hell out of her. Every time she edited my work all I could see were the negative comments, which I felt were over harsh and unfair. Now, reviewing the work I produced in this first year, I can see that she was completely and utterly right, though maybe not in how she approached the situation.
There was fault on both sides. My expectations of my primary were far too high and too dependent. I had failed to grasp the situation that my Ph.D was just that; MINE. That my supervisor was not a ‘saint’ nor was she already and expert in my chosen subject. She was there to guide and encourage me and keep me from going off track, not to spoon feed me ideas and practically write my thesis for me. For her part, she was disappointed in me because I had failed to grasp the situation and was obviously struggling, but she didn’t know how to deal with it. She also couldn’t understand why a normally competent, high achieving student was producing (at times) utter gibberish!
The reason things smoothed out when I changed supervisors was because it was a fresh start, a clean slate and a different approach, I was enthusiastic because I felt my primary was being harsh on me and felt the change would do me good, and my secondary always knew she was going to hand me back after a limited period w=so was acting as caretaker rather than my harshest critic. It broke the negative cycle I had allowed to develop.
The meeting with my primary this semester was such a contrast. The break had done us both good, and the feedback I got from her regarding my progress and my updated outline was the most positive and encouraging I had received. I think we both feel we are back on track with the situation. We both seem to have come to terms with our working relationship. We had a frank and honest discussion, and I asserted my control over my research. This has been born out of a new confidence that has arisen on the back of my NYC conference. I walked away from the meeting and for the first time I felt ‘Yep. I can do this’ … it was a revelation I shared with fellow blogger Jacqueline.
I think the moral of the story here is if things are going wrong STOP! THINK! and change the situation, before it gets out of control.
never forget – Supervisors are human too!