Jan. 16, 2020

Let’s Talk Supervisor

By Filip Rakic, MSc student (Kutz lab, UCalgary)

The “Let’s talk supervisor” workshop offered by HPI on January 16th, 2020, was an interactive workshop that aimed to shed some light on the unique student-supervisor relationship. It was facilitated by Jaya Dixit from the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Calgary and is a standard training program for both graduate students and newly admitted faculty. The training involved a variety of activities ranging from interactive storytelling to open debate. Personally, as a newly admitted Master’s student (Winter 2020), I found the workshop to be an informative look at a unique and sometimes complex relationship.

Like any relationship, sometimes two individuals hit it off right away, while others take some more work, and sometimes two people just don’t get along no matter how hard they try. This is confounded by the inherent power dynamic there is between a supervisor and a student. One individual is an accomplished academic with the resources and network that follow said distinction, while another is someone tied to them through a common goal – your research project.

The workshop made it very clear to state that it is not a business relationship, as graduate students are not employees that can be fired for poor performance. But rather, it is mentorship centred around passion and interest for answering common questions. I found these points extremely helpful as a newly admitted student, since within the sciences, it is quite common to feel like a direct employee of your supervisor. Expectations, deadlines, and achievements become more complicated under the backdrop of monetary compensation. That is why it is encouraged, and quite frankly fundamental to have conversations early and also have conversations often. The recurring idea of the workshop was that no matter the relationship, as long as there is consistent and constant communication, things will be heading in the right direction. This advice was supported by the faculty member who was present during the workshop, stating that a lot of these problems can be quickly solved by simply communicating what is going on. Once things start to turn sour, deadlines begin to be missed, and work quality begins to slip, it will become more difficult to salvage the relationship. If something is going on, just communicate and begin immediately to chart out the logical steps to overcome the issue. Once again, the relationship between student and supervisor is a mentorship, and more often than not, life happens.

I’d also recommend getting into contact with our Faculty of Graduate Studies if you have any questions, concerns, or would like some additional resources. We are fortunate at the University of Calgary to be one of the few institutions in Canada with dedicated staff to support graduate students as we navigate our mentorship. Best of luck!