Supervisor relationship

The relationship with your supervisor (or supervisors) is central to the evolution of your thesis project. Your supervisor’s knowledge and experience will be invaluable to you as you refine your topic and negotiate the hurdles that you will encounter. Your supervisor’s role is to give you feedback on your work, provide support and guidance, and help you stay on track.

It is important to understand, however, that you are the manager of your research project. Your supervisor will have other supervision, teaching and research commitments, so it is up to you to take control of your project. You need to decide what kind of support and guidance you will require throughout your candidature. You then need to communicate these requirements to your supervisor and negotiate mutually acceptable roles and responsibilities. You should also update your supervisor as the support you require changes over the course of your candidature.

This tutorial is designed to help you understand the respective roles and responsibilities that make up the supervisor relationship, and offer practical ideas about how to manage the relationship so that you obtain the required support and guidance.


Supervisor relationship

To give you a clearer sense of roles and responsibilities in the supervisor relationship, select the most appropriate responses to the following questions.

Plan a strategy to get the most out of the supervisor relationship

In order to get the most out of the relationship with your supervisor you need to visualise the journey ahead of you and plan ahead. Don’t wait for your supervisor to prompt the next step. There are a number of different strategies that you can employ to make the most of the relationship with your supervisor:

  • Schedule formal meetings.
  • Set deadlines for the submission of written work in advance of supervision meetings. Make sure that you stick to those deadlines. The more time you give your supervisor to read your work in advance of meetings the more useful their feedback will be.
  • Write an agenda for upcoming meetings and send it to your supervisor in advance. Note down any issues that have arisen since the previous meeting. Make sure you leave plenty of time for discussion of written work that you have sent your supervisor.
  • Keep notes during supervision meetings. This is extremely important. If you don’t take notes you will soon forget the finer points of the discussion.
  • Write a reflection afterwards that details how the meeting has contributed to the evolution and progression of the thesis project.
  • In order to make sure that there are no misunderstandings about what was discussed during a meeting, email a brief list of main points to your supervisor afterwards.
  • Communicate, collaborate and negotiate with your supervisor. The thesis is your project, but remember that your supervisor has a wealth of experience.


Keep in mind that just as you would like your supervisor to be reliable and keep his or her word, you too need to be reliable, to keep to the arrangements you make, and be well-prepared for every meeting.


Create a supervision meeting template

A supervision meeting template will help you to manage your research project. It will allow you to keep an accurate written record of supervision meetings, manage the relationship with your supervisor more effectively, and give you a clearer sense of the progress that you are making.

Your template should consist of an agenda for the meeting, which you should send to your supervisor in advance. It should also contain a summary of what was covered in the meeting, which you complete afterwards and send to your supervisor to check that it matches his/her recollection. Make sure that your template contains the following:

  • date and time of the meeting
  • who the meeting was with (e.g. primary supervisor, associate supervisor, or both)
  • an update on progress made since the last meeting, including any concerns that have arisen
    If written work has been submitted for the meeting, list any questions or concerns that you have about the work
  • leave space for a summary of what was discussed during the meeting and which actions or goals were agreed upon.

You might also include an updated thesis outline and timeline for completion.

Consider asking your supervisor for permission to record your meetings; some students find it helpful to have a comprehensive audio record of your discussions, and some supervisors are happy for students to create one.