PhD Progress & Thoughts

An Open Letter to my Supervisors

(That I will likely never show them until I graduate)

Dear Doctor and Professor (you know who you are),

Thank you for your supervision so far. It’s been 6 months already, yet I have learned so much from the both of you about academia, research, and my PhD topic. Your approach-ability, your candidness and your sense of humour has made the last 6 months a pleasure. I wonder what you would think of my blog, or my Twitter account. I’m unlikely to ever find out due to your expressed disinterest in these platforms, but I digress. I appreciate your help so far, and eagerly anticipate our future projects together.

I won’t gloss over the rough patches with rose-tinted glasses. You should both know by now that I’m practical, and pretending that challenges never existed would result in none of us learning from them. For the future, there are things that I would like you to consider in case you get another student like myself; my challenges are certainly unique consequences of my personality, I won’t deny that much.

When you have a student like myself, you both would get the greatest benefit from a statement of each other’s expectations at the outset. There are structured forms on the internet to assist with this, and I have desired on many occasions to use them. While I appreciate your expressed confidence that you don’t see the need for them, these documents are more for my benefit than yours.
Explicit explanations on student expectations, usual ways of working, and areas of flexibility and compromise would have assisted my navigation around many challenging topics, and made my task of communication much easier. Chalk it up to my type-A personality, or my anxiety concerning my constant desire to do the right thing, for the future I would like more expectations to be written down rather than assumed.

The second area I would like to improve all-round is your mode of interaction. Granted, my desire to study from another state will be a challenge for you, however I still want to feel connected and included in your communications, and for a mildly proactive approach to be taken when there’s potential for errors to be made.
My tendency to excitedly dash off with a new task in a harebrained attempt to ‘prove myself’ has landed me in hot water once or twice already. Thus, careful explanation of protocol and the job at hand would help me avoid these hot-water-incidents regardless of our relative distance. I’m not putting the onus of responsibility entirely on you for this one – I need to slow down and become more careful in my approach to work in the future – hence my appreciation of your help. Direct me, but don’t micromanage me. As such, lists and ordered activities are perfectly acceptable ways of guiding my work because you can be sure that the communicated list will be completed by whatever deadline you set.

You will meet more type-A students, no doubt, who will stretch themselves in a desire to gain your approval. You will meet more like me who need statements and recorded expectations to guide them because assumptions don’t work so well. Our issue won’t be motivation, but standard directions and structured protocol. We appreciate positive feedback before you point out areas of improvement; without praise we wonder if we’ve done something wrong, and without feedback for improvements we wonder how we can do better.

Aside from those two things I would say that we’ve begun our journey very well. I’m more confident than ever that I can finish my PhD by the due date, and that I will have a career after graduation. You fill me with hope for my future, and have assisted me in making my past useful. There are not many people who have had as much faith in me as you do, and for that I cannot express my gratitude enough. Thank you for investing your time and effort into my project and my potential, and for believing in me enough to say it aloud.

Here’s to the past six months, and for the work that I’ve yet to do.





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