After publishing a feature in which five academics discussed how their PhD supervisors had helped to shape their teaching, we at Times Higher Education thought it would be a good idea to ask our Twitter followers how their own supervisors had affected their work.
The response was phenomenal; more than 900 tweets were sent using the hashtag #MyPhDsupervisor, which we created to group all the testimonials together. What unfolded was a story of gratitude and thanks, with the odd cynical dig thrown in.
“#MyPhDsupervisor taught me that there are two kinds of thesis: the perfect one, and the finished one,” said Claire Hardaker (@DrClaireH), a lecturer in the department of linguistics and English language at Lancaster University. “Best. Supervisor. Ever.,” she concluded.
Brenda O’Neill’s (@therunningprof) contribution had a similar feel to it. “#MyPhDsupervisor said there are 2 kinds of scholars,” wrote the head of the political science department at the University of Calgary. “Those who demand research and those who supply it. Never forgot that good advice.”
Alison Leonard (@scandinavigator), an archaeology graduate student at the University of York, recalled how her PhD supervisor had listened as she practised a conference paper in an empty room. “I learned afterwards it was his birthday,” she added.
“#MyPhDsupervisor doesn’t treat me like an idiot, despite my unfailing ability to constantly be one,” revealed Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog), a PhD student at Imperial College London, while Anne Galliot (@DrAnneGalliot), research development adviser in the Faculty of Arts, University of Brighton, remembered the motivational tactic used by her supervisor when she contemplated quitting. “You can’t do this to your mum,” the supervisor told her.
There was a heroic tale from Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat), academic developer at Anglia Ruskin University, who tweeted that her PhD supervisor “rescued me from an evil landlord – he turned up with a van & student helpers to liberate me & my belongings!”
Some of the PhD supervisors responded to the compliments. Leanne McRae (@LeanneMcRae), lecturer and course coordinator at Perth Institute of Business and Technology, tweeted that she had “no idea” why her supervisor told her to write a chapter that was not in her PhD outline – a chapter that she said became the “best chapter in the thesis”. Her supervisor, Tara Brabazon (@tarabrabazon), professor of education at Charles Sturt University, replied: “It only worked because you are the academic star that you are.”
Despite the generally happy tone, there was the odd critical voice. Unsurprisingly, one came from a user named Average Academic (@averageacademic), who describes him or herself as offering “the other perspective in the UK academy…For those of us [for whom academia] is just a job not a lifestyle.”
The tweet from this account read: “The three or four times I met #MyPhDsupervisor he seemed like a nice chap,” adding that he “did give me a great piece of advice: ‘always remember you are on your own’ ”.
Kingston University professor of film and cultural studies Will Brooker (@willbrooker), meanwhile, couldn’t quite fathom why his own name hadn’t come up. “Twitter must be broken,” he said. “I can’t see any of my students posting on #MyPhDsupervisor.”
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