Subject to contract

Both supervisor and postgrad know where they stand if there's an agreement in place, says Ron Iphofen

November 9, 2001
Grumpy man with fingers in ears
Source: Alamy

It might sound unsympathetic to establish a "personal contract" with one's postgraduate students when everyone appreciates how hard it is to do a PhD. But since the student is not the only one who needs protection, the following 12 points are ones I wish I had used some years ago and will continue to use.

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

* Before you begin your PhD, examine your motives for doing it. It is not enough merely to want the "badge". You must have a sustained interest in the subject and the methods you adopt to research it - having a vision of the "finishing post" will not be enough to keep you in the race

* The PhD is yours. It is not mine. I can advise, guide, suggest and warn. I will not write it. In the last analysis you must make the final decisions and commit "pen to paper". You own it, not me, so if you choose not to take my advice, that is your prerogative. My responsibility is to record the fact that the advice has been given

* I cannot be "all things to all students". I cannot be your counsellor, mentor, therapist, friend and boss - my primary responsibility is to supervise

* I will inform you about the conditions of postgraduate work in our department. Not all departments are (or can be) the same in terms of their provision - it is up to you to decide if the facilities meet your requirements. If not, study somewhere else

* Supervising your PhD is not the only thing I have to do

* There is no such thing as an emergency. This is not brain surgery. Contact me by email, by post or through the secretary. You do not need my home telephone or mobile number. If you do find them, I will not reply to any messages you leave. I cannot be contacted at home, in the evenings, at weekends or when I am on vacation. My spouse/partner does not know of your work and, more importantly, has no interest in it

* Drafts of your work must be submitted in good time - I will need at least two weeks to fit in the time to mark a draft. The notice on my door is meant to inform, not to offend: "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine"

* Articles and seminar papers written solely by you need have only your name on them. If I make a contribution I expect my name to be included as a "co-author". I am happy that the degree of co-authoring is acknowledged. But do not forget the subtle ways in which I might have influenced your work, your progress and your ideas. I trust that our supervisory dialogues will have had some positive influence on your work. If not, then please choose another supervisor

* Just because I let you call me Ron does not mean that I am your friend

* Do not resent any of the above strictures. After your PhD you will thank me for this advice since it will save you much embarrassment, rejection, anger and frustration. You may still hate, resent, despise or love me - that is your choice. All in all, you will really feel that your PhD is truly yours

* You are not the first and will not be the last to suffer in the name of academic progress. We have all suffered - and some continue to do so - in ways you can only imagine

* You should know that if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would give up my job. You would then have to find a new supervisor.

Ron Iphofen is senior postgraduate tutor in the faculty of health studies at the University of Wales, Bangor.

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