We very often observe that PhD students are unsure of what they might actually be able to expect from a PhD supervisor, as well as what actions a good supervisor would or wouldn't take.
There isn't a clear-cut guideline for what your PhD advisor must do. The line between right and wrong is rather grey and maintaining a good working relationship with your supervisor doesn't depend on achieving any one goal.
The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with information about three fundamental elements that together form the foundation of effective PhD supervision.
1. Supportive Supervisor
Your supervisor ought to encourage and successfully steer you to work through the 3–4 years towards earning a PhD, especially when you are off track or when there’s something to handle that exceeds your power. Having a helpful supervisor means you have someone you can rely on and who will be on your side. Support should include not only mental support but also a helping hand when needed, maintaining a positive attitude towards your project, and displaying empathy.
A supportive supervisor should display a keen interest in seeing you succeed and encourage you to broaden your horizons and try out new things. They should be able to offer sympathy when something goes wrong, show understanding for your situation, and motivate you when you are feeling down.
2. Gives dedicated time to provide PhD supervision
The amount of time your research supervisor has to provide guidance, constructive academic advice, and mentorship will have a big impact on how smoothly your PhD goes and, ultimately, how successful it is. If your supervisor doesn't have time to meet with you, it doesn't matter that they are the leading expert in your field.
A good PhD supervisor will make the time to meet with you on a regular basis, either in person (ideally) or virtually, and will be accessible and accommodating of your needs. As a student, you want to be conducting research in an environment where you know you can stop by your supervisors' office for a quick chat or that you will at least occasionally run into them around the university.
Finding a PhD supervisor who not only has the academic background to guide you but also the time to do so is of utmost importance; you can get a sense of this by speaking with their current and former students. Furthermore, it is comforting to know that your PhD advisor will not be taking a sabbatical during your time as a PhD researcher because of his or her permanent position at your university.
A good supervisor is someone who is knowledgeable about the subject area in which you are working on your PhD. They must therefore possess in-depth knowledge of the field, be up to date on the most pressing issues and innovations, be able to predict future trends, and be respected members of your research community. Your research interests align with theirs and vice versa.
Your supervisor should ideally have received pedagogical training in how to supervise PhD students. The research expertise is complemented by the pedagogical knowledge.
Overall, supervisors, and students can reflect on and shape their relationships employing the above three fundamental elements so that the latter can finish their doctoral journey in a pleasant and psychologically healthy way.