Is your PhD supervisor a facilitator or a barrier?

There are two basic kinds of PhD supervisor.

There are the facilitators, who take some responsibility for their students’ progress and generally try to be helpful. Then there are the barriers, who see their job as to stop you progressing unless you meet their expectations (which may or may not be made clear).

The facilitator will try to give regular feedback, taking an interest in the work as it progresses and trying to point you in the right direction. The barrier will tell you to go away and come back when you have something worthy.

The facilitator will try to help you get better. The barrier will ask why you can’t do it already. Or worse, they’ll just stop responding to you entirely.

Doing a PhD is hard enough- it’s even harder when your supervisor works against you.

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Who you work with is just as important as what you do

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9 thoughts on “Is your PhD supervisor a facilitator or a barrier?

  1. There is another type – manipulator, who uses people around him in to order get promotion as a professor. Never provides feedback, nor the right prospective because he wants to control you like a puppy. After 2 years you realize had learned nothing.

  2. I have two supervisors. One is a great facilitator. The other is refusing to read my thesis revisions before the submission deadline because I didn’t take long enough to write them.

  3. This Post is an eye opener for an intending Phd student like me. I think I now know how to classified my Supervisor base on these paradigm. Thanks as usual.

  4. Hello,

    Thanks for the post. It made me realize that I am not paranoid and that there are people who are actually like that (the “barrier ” type).

    But to me, there is also a third kind of PhD supervisor: the absent one. What do we do with them ?

    In my case, he is a really very nice guy, but he expects me to do everything alone. He is never there, and when I basically beg him to have a meeting, he ends up just listening to me explain my topic (again) and tell me that he thrust me and that I should just do what I think is best because he basically doesnt’ get it.

    I am just ranting a bit, but it feels good ! ;D

    Thanks a lot for your blog, by the way ! It is really helpful when I feel lonely with my PhD troubles !

    • Hi.
      If you can read this message, would you please give any suggestion to deal with this kind of PhD supervisor? I have the same problem and do not know how to encounter it?

      Anw, thanks for your useful blog!!

      • The absent type mentioned by The_Bug? You have to find support elsewhere. This comes in many forms (not just supervisory) and can include just talking to people about their research so you can learn from those around you. You have to be proactive and explore every opportunity.

      • Students should not have to confront this type of egregious supervision, e.g. “Barrier” or “Absentee” supervisors or overarching issues caused by neglect from the university that impede them from completing their studies. A supervisor is supposed to give feedback and guidance, not to be a hindrance or “barrier”. The university should fulfill the established expectations and provide the learning resources and services that are listed in their programs as stated at the moment of enrolment. When a university fails to meet its obligations, including supervision, the university and supervisors should be held accountable as members of the academic community. Also, students who are put in this position and forced to withdraw from university due to lackluster supervision should be aware that there are organisations and complaints procedures for them to share their concerns. I believe most universities in the UK have a somewhat standardised code of practice for postgraduate research degrees. Within this code you can find the duties and responsibilities of departments and supervisors. A student could find it useful to read this code of practice and the students handbook in order to address the problems with supervision and research guidance. For the records of those involved, a supervisor is supposed to keep a record of appointment dates with the student and a record of the written work submitted, including the feedback and when it was provided, which can be produced later if necessary. The concerns for a lack of supervision should be reported informally and/or formally, to the departmental director of research as well. If the university does not take any action to solve the situation, there are other overarching organisations that can assist the student with their concerns, since the university failed to meet its obligations. (Supervision being obligatory for the university to provide.) I had similar issues with the University of Essex. James does a great job with all of the advice and assistance that he gives with PhD theses, but if you would like some advice with the steps you can take in reporting poor/absentee supervision or asking for your fees to be refunded, you can contact me.

        A supervisor who is absent or hostile to your research does much more harm to a student’s life and wellbeing than you may realise.

        Best of luck with your studies,
        Carmen

  5. This is an important post. It is important to pick up on signs of whether a supervisor is a facilitator or barrier early on. The sad thing is that a barrier supervisor leads to much helplessness and doubt in the student leading to a loop of negativity and lack of progress. “I’m not good enough so I deserve the bad treatment” etc.

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