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How should I manage the relationship with my supervisor Professor Gael McDonald Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Business and Law [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Backgrounding An important early part of the supervisor-student relationship is learning about each other: Read some papers they have published. Find out how many postgraduate research projects they have supervised and in what areas. Read some of the theses they have supervised. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Supervisory styles There are three prominent supervisory styles: Directive style: ‘I am the boss/expert/guru, and you are the apprentice so you do what I say’ – characteristic of many traditional academics. Collaborative style: ‘we are colleagues and we’ll work together’. Facilitative style: ‘you take the lead and I’ll help you’. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Characteristics of good supervisors They have strengths, not only in relevant content , but also in appropriate methodological and data analysis areas. They are open-minded with respect to other perspectives They are willing to and capable of working together rather than competitively. They are willing to communicate openly and frequently with you, and sensitively balance criticism and praise. They are willing to acknowledge their own weaknesses and to openly suggest where you might go. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Characteristics of good supervisors (cont’d) They actively seek and listen to your view on constraints, issues and directions with respect to your research. When they criticise your work, it is focused on your arguments, rather than on you as a person. They actively display the attitude that the research is your project, not theirs. They demonstrate flexibility and willingness to change direction. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Supervisory Teams A supervisory team with complementary strengths may often be beneficial but may also introduce some complexities and dynamics that might have to be managed. A good supervisory team: There are complementary skills sets. The team demonstrates open-mindedness to each other’s perspectives and other paradigm commitments as well as to yours. The team is willing and capable of working together. The team members demonstrate equal or nearly equal commitment to and involvement in your project. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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How do I go about clarifying expectations? Supervisors may be required by their university to formally negotiate an agreed list of expectations with you. Important expectations for you and your supervisor: Expectations about milestones. Expectations of each other (you and your supervisor(s)). Expectations about the nature of your research. Expectations about writing and chapter turn-around. Expectations about meetings. Expectations about communication. Extent of the support you can expect from them. Expectations about publishing and ownership of ideas. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Maintaining the relationship(s) A healthy relationship with your supervisor(s) is arguably one of the most important predictors of the success of your postgraduate research. If the supervisory relationship falters or, worse, becomes toxic, then the focus on completing your research becomes secondary to just coping with the relationship. Style awareness. Communication. Inclusiveness. Timeliness. Responsiveness. Flexibility. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Handling emerging problems Common Issues What can/should I do if my supervisor and I can’t agree about issues involved with my research, or if my supervisor gives me incorrect advice? What can/should I do if I have a supervisory team where the supervisors don’t get along or have contrary views, opinions or paradigm preferences? What can/should I do if my supervisor, in my view, is making unrealistic or unacceptable requests or demands? What can/should I do if inter personal conflicts develop with a supervisor? [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Some students are so in awe of their supervisor they forget that they need to manage the process themselves. The role of supervisor can vary from low involvement to a high intensity engagement. Manage your supervisor. Be receptive to the advice of your supervisor. Sit on advice you don’t like. Share information. Resolve difficulties early. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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How can I better handle the criticism that I may receive from my supervisor? Remain calm and listen to what is being said. Aim for an accurate appraisal of the criticism. Separate receiving the feedback from working on it. Put down the defensive shield. Work on the criticism. Ask additional questions. Be open to making changes. Meet again with your supervisor. Allow your supervisor some time to consider your responses. Action the changes. Indicate some appreciation for the feedback. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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What advice should I be cautious about? Undertaking major changes of direction. Not fitting comfortably within the boundaries of a consolidated piece of research. Not being of a suitable academic standard. Unreasonably extending the period of the research. Not fitting within your area of interest. An unappealing change in ideology or methodology, when the existing one is valid. Any activity that involves undue expense. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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What are some further strategies for handling supervisor criticism? Do not over-hype the criticism. It is not about you. Encourage and welcome constructive feedback. Have some immediacy. Find out what form of feedback your supervisor prefers. Experiment with alternative methods of receiving feedback. Look at body language. Reframe. Don’t become submissive. Don’t in any circumstances, let yourself be abused. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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What are some further strategies for handling supervisor criticism? (cont’d) Work with your journal. If necessary, get additional feedback. Ask for positive feedback. Give a bit of slack to your supervisor. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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Key recommendations Right up front when you establish the relationship with your supervisor, seek clarity on what your supervisor’s expectations are and on the myriad of areas that could impact on your relationship. It is your responsibility to keep the communication open and to keep your supervisor aware of your progress. Don’t be too shy to ask for feedback if it is not readily forthcoming. If you are having difficulties with your supervisor, ensure initially that you are working from an informed basis. When dealing with your supervisor, and in an effort to avoid any inter-personal conflicts, it is important that you retain a professional demeanour through all interactions. Lastly, the key to a successful relationship is open, honest and frequent communication. Now repeat, open, honest, and frequent communication. [Add Presenter contact details here]

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