Communicating with your supervisor

Dear all

The Keep fit for your studies group discussions have gone online.
You can join the “Keep fit for your studies” online get-together taking place every Tuesday, at 11:00-12:00.
To join today’s discussion (14.4.20)  use this link

Each week I will send you the link via my tweeter account @Alicia_Psych

And through the Graduate School’s tweeter account @UniRdg_PhD.

You can also email to send me your questions, and topics you are interested in.



During your doctoral research, and particularly in the early stages, it is common to have many questions about the direction in which to develop your research.

Communicating effectively with your supervisor/s is an essential aspect of your academic research as they will guide you and help to clarify your thinking.

Many find it challenging to present their doubts to their supervisors, for fear of being perceived as not good enough to do doctoral level work. Alternatively, they may find it hard to present their drafts worrying they might receive negative feedback.

Keep in mind that your supervisor is ‘on your side’ and will want to contribute to your development as a researcher, and to help you to gain your degree. If there are disagreements, it is best to view these as part of the process of shaping your research. View feedback as an essential part of this process, and focus on what you can use to make adjustments to your work.

When communicating with your supervisor, keep in mind that they probably have not been thinking about your research in quite the same way as you have been thinking about it.

Present what you want to discuss in specific terms, and describe your thinking process so they can understand how you are going about your work. This way, they can help you to find ways of problem-solving the issues you are facing in your research.

Are you worried about discussing your research with your supervisor?

Here is what one supervisor would say:

“ To quote a famous running shoe….’just do it’.   A PhD is a learning process, over the course of the PhD your supervisor will help you improve the way you present data and organise your thoughts, so that you can clearly convey the information you are trying to impart.  This is a difficult skill and you won’t be great at it straight away, so use the meetings you have with your supervisor to practice. Ask them for feedback and listen to what they say, not as criticisms of you or your data, but as a learning process that helps you develop this vital skill.   Remember there is no such thing as ‘bad data’.  The data is the data, if it doesn’t fit the current thinking then brilliant, you (and your supervisor) have just learnt something……..even if you don’t quite know what it is yet.”
Dr Chris Jones, Associate Professor
School of Biological Sciences
Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing

Strategies to establish positive communication

Clarifying what you want to discuss: Identify the key points you want to discuss and describe what you hope to achieve in the meeting. Do you want your supervisor/s to give you an opinion, make suggestions about options, provide feedback on a specific issue you are working on?
This will enable you to communicate clearly and make the most of the meeting.

Keeping an open mind and focus on understanding: it is easy to misinterpret comments when we anticipate criticism, or if we think that there is only one right answer. Ask questions with the intention of understanding your supervisor/s’ perspective. This will reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.

Checking your understanding: after listening to your supervisor/s’ comments, summarise what you have understood. This will give them the opportunity to clarify and explain what they mean. If there are differences in understanding, explain your perspective calmly. Look for common ground and discuss alternative ways of approaching the topic to resolve any differences.

Preparing yourself:  if you have had difficult conversations with your supervisor/s you may be apprehensive prior to a meeting. Often, difficulties in communication are due to misunderstandings, not checking assumptions, or due to not allocating enough time to discuss issues.

Plan enough time before the meeting so that you can make notes of what you want to discuss. Explain what you think it is important that your supervisors understand about your research.

They may have a different opinion, but this does not mean it is a personal judgement about you. After the meeting, take time to reflect on what was discussed, focusing on the information and guidance provided.

If you felt the discussion was not helpful, ask if you can arrange a follow up meeting to identify a way to move forwards.

Seeking support: if you feel that the your relationship is starting to break down,you’re your do not feel able to discuss this openly with your supervisor, you can contact the PGR Director in your School or Department.

Explain that you want to discuss your concerns to find a constructive solution. You can also contact staff in the Graduate School who can provide advice to help you to manage the situation.