by PhilipJ on 2 April 2009
I was walking across King’s College Circle and overheard what I assumed to be a couple of graduate students talking about their advisors. As we were walking in opposite directions I only caught a brief snippet of their conversation, but what I did hear I found very confusing:
Grad student 1: “How do I know if I have a bad supervisor?”
Grad student 2: “I really don’t know.”
Everyone’s advisor is different, but so are the needs of individual students. For different students, the same advisor can have completely different interactions and expectations (in fact, necessarily so: a senior graduate student or post-doc should interact differently with their advisor than, say, an undergraduate hanging around over a summer). It all comes down to whether you and your advisor work well together, which I personally think is only related to your own expectations. Some advisors want you in the lab (or the field, or writing code, or whatever…) 100 hours a week, with group meetings on Saturday mornings. Other advisors are in absentia for most of the year and give you very little hands-on supervision. The balance of supervision, freedom, traveling to conferences, etc: it’s all based primarily on a student’s own expectations.
If I run across these two people having the same conversation again, I think I’ll pipe up with the following: If you aren’t sure, I think there are bigger issues than your advisor.