I am new to supervising postgraduate research and would welcome advice on how to build a good rapport with my students

August 18, 2000

A Rapport with your students will come naturally, provided you have a professional approach to your supervision and allow students time to raise issues with you.

Being professional in your supervision is not the same as knowing what you are doing as a researcher, although that is part of it. Neither is it necessarily the same as doing what your supervisor did. Find out what your institution or department requires of its supervisors in terms of mode and frequency of interaction with research students. There will be institutional and/or departmental codes of practice. There may also be training for new supervisors, and there will certainly be no shortage of experienced colleagues with lots of useful advice. One may well be assigned to mentor you. Do not be afraid to seek their advice - they may feel embarrassed to ask you if you need it.

You will soon develop your own ways of interacting with students.

Pat Cryer

Convener of the Postgraduate Research Issues Network of the Society for Research into Higher Education

A Many a potentially good PhD founders on unrequited expectations and unexplored problems. It is important from the outset to discuss and negotiate expectations about the frequency and length of supervision meetings, the kind of advice, guidance and feedback required, and the speed of feedback (in both directions). Ask students to write summaries of meetings, including the points discussed, what was agreed and what is planned, including deadlines. This provides a record and a kind of contract for both parties so misunderstandings can be dealt with quickly.

The summary is valuable for monitoring progress and sharing information with a co-supervisor. Ensure you discuss with co-supervisors - and students - which of you will take responsibility for each part of the supervision. Then keep one another up to date. Part-time students will appreciate a supervisor who recognises the complexity of their lives. Try to be flexible about meetings.

Pam Denicolo

Director of postgraduate research University of Reading

A Your relationships will change over time. Research students tend to need a great deal of support and guidance during the early stages of their projects. During this phase, you will have a more comprehensive knowledge than they have and they will look to you as an expert.

As they progress, they will develop specialist knowledge of their work that is unsurpassed. They will "own" their research project - and your respect for their viewpoint, their contribution as a colleague and their progression towards independence should set an appropriate tone for how the relationship develops.

As supervisor, coach and mentor, you should minimally provide training and advice on: learning, essential reading, appropriate research techniques, resource-management, and setting timescales for specific objectives, including final completion of projects. You can go further by ensuring students also have access to sources of information and training, in, for example, specific experimental methods, possibly as part of a working team; transferable skills such as writing and presentation; and career development.

Some students may go on to become lifelong colleagues and co-researchers.

Peter Mertens

Chair of the training and accreditation programme for supervisors Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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