Readers' reactions

November 16, 2001

Last week in The THES ... Ron Iphofen presented his contract for supervising PhD students.

If I am to be your PhD student, please understand the following:

* Before you begin supervising me, please examine your motives for doing so. I am not merely a name to enhance your CV or your research assessment exercise submission, a way of reducing the amount of time you are allocated for undergraduate teaching or a means of boosting the "research culture" of the department. I have a genuine interest in an academic puzzle and want to spend some time researching it

* The PhD is mine. It is not yours. While I will certainly value your guidance and feedback on my work, I do not have any intention of following slavishly your interests or referring in my thesis to every single journal article you have ever published. I have my own research questions and preferred methods - it was this motivation that led me to enrol for a PhD in the first place (and to turn down the well-paid job in the City)

* Before I applied to your department, I carefully checked in the departmental prospectus to see what facilities would be available to me. Please make sure that they are provided, otherwise I will consider moving to another university - and will certainly take my research council grant with me

* While I do not mind the occasional drink or meal with you, I have my own social life. It would be good to establish friendly relations with the members of staff in the department, but if this contravenes departmental policy I shall not be heartbroken. I will dutifully attend the department's Christmas party and the professor's retirement drinks, but please do not think these are the highlights of my year

* My partner may know of your work, because we share an interest in each other's lives and the people we work with. However, this does not mean he will ever contact you to discuss the finer points of your latest seminar presentation

* Work should be marked in good time. I am aware of all the other burdens in your life, but I believe it is possible to read and comment on 5,000 words within a month. If you have not been able to read my work, I would appreciate it if you were honest about it. I do not want to spend an hour listening to you obfuscate

* I will always acknowledge your contribution to any conference paper or article. However, please be clear that changing a comma to a semi-colon on draft work does not constitute grounds for co-authorship (nor does adding in a reference to your own latest publication)

* When I have secured a university lectureship, on completion of my PhD, please be clear about the boundaries of our relationship. I do not want to be asked to let you write a chapter in my book, nor to let you give a keynote speech at the conference I am organising. I most certainly do not want to be asked to offer you a job

* You should know that if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would not immediately give up my PhD. I am doing it for its intrinsic interest and the sense of fulfilment that it brings me. However, I understand that your motivation for remaining in academic life may be completely different. In the unlikely event of you being able to secure a better-paid post elsewhere, I shall fully understand if you have to stop being my supervisor.

PS: I have a wonderful supervisor with whom such a contract has been wholly unnecessary.

Rachel Brooks PhD student, Department of sociology and social policy, Southampton University

Ron Iphofen clearly does not enjoy his contact with students. Do not wait for a win on the lottery, Ron. Find something you enjoy doing and change jobs now.

David Dennison Course leader, School of Art and Design, Blackpool and Fylde College

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