The relationship between a Ph.D. student and their supervisor is a crucial one and the foundation on which Ph.D.s are built. However, sometimes this relationship can get a bit fraught, especially when disagreements and difficulties in the relationship develop. It is often a lack of communication that causes the relationship to fail so, from the very outset, it is always a good idea to set some expectations at the start.
The supervisor will expect you to follow their advice and direction and the student will expect the supervisor to give appropriate guidance and be available to discuss their approach. Ideally, if these expectations are covered at the start of the relationship then you both know where you stand. If at any point you feel that your expectations are not being met and you are concerned that this is causing a detrimental impact on the progress of your Ph.D. then you should raise these concerns in writing with your supervisor immediately. You should raise the concerns you have, identify any additional training and help you need and ask for guidance about resources, recommended reading and any learning techniques. Any good supervisor should be able to give you the support you need.
Be open about your situation
It is often the case that supervisors are completely unaware that you’re struggling and if you are open with them about your situation then they will give you the help you need. However, if you are finding it hard to pin your supervisor down to have a conversation once you have raised it by email, then that can be an awkward situation to address but address it you must. It is always worth keeping in mind that your supervisor is going to be a busy academic and researcher in their own right and they will often be caught up in research, teaching, and doing admin etc but nonetheless, they are there to support you so you should not be afraid to contact them. Yes, you have to be realistic with the demands and expectations you can make, but at the end of the day your supervisor is integral to your success as a Ph.D. student and you need to consult with them.
Setting up a meeting with your supervisor
If you find yourself in the situation where your supervisor is never available then it is prudent to find out why this is the case. It might be that they are involved in a major research project or caught up in some senior level work with the university. If meeting face-to-face is going to be a problem then you should explore the idea of telephone consultations or setting up a Skype call to discuss your concerns. It is important to set up some kind of dialogue with your supervisor so that you can diarise mutually convenient dates to discuss your progress. Be aware that the Postgraduate handbook for your university will specify the amount of meetings you are required to have with your supervisor so if your supervisor is being elusive then do refer them to the requirements in the relevant regulations.
What you should do if the matter is not resolved
If you still find that setting up regular communication is a problem then you should speak to your second supervisor. In most universities you will be assigned a second supervisor and, in the absence of your main supervisor, you should approach them for guidance. If you still don’t get the support you need and you believe your Ph.D. studies are being compromised as a result, then you may need to take a more formal approach through the university complaints procedure. By not providing you with the level of support you need, the university may be in breach of contract so you will need legal advice if you want to take matters further.
At Match Solicitors we have helped numerous students who have had problems with their Ph.D. as a result of inadequate supervision. If you are currently experiencing problems then please contact us now.