Thursday, September 6, 2012

different styles

My current and my former supervisor are very different personalities -not only in their general character, but especially in their style of leading a research group. 
My former supervisor is a very organized leader, who seems to have everything from deadlines for proposals to latest possible thesis defense date for each of his PhD students always present in his head. He says things like: "If you give me your paper draft until tomorrow at 3:30, I can read it on the plane and send the comments to you next Wednesday before 10am." and that is exactly what happens. He is running weekly group meetings not only to have all his students presenting their stuff once in a while, but he organizes who attends at which conference, who takes care of the next exchange student, the next group BBQ,... during these meetings and he lets his group know way in advance when he will be out of office.
My current supervisor is much more flexible with these things. Everything gets organized well and people know when they are in charge of something. But usually these decisions happen behind the scenes and often enough a new student arrives and only one of the grad students (the responsible one) knows about it. Same applies for his "out of office" times. If you need to be aware of them, because i.e. you have to hand in your thesis soon and there must be enough time for him to have a look at it, you'll know that he'll be away. But there is no general “keep the group informed” strategy as with my last supervisor.
While working with my former supervisor I found his perfect planning and thinking ahead very admirable yet sometimes even intimidating, as it set the standards very high for everybody who worked with him. Now I recognize that this actually brings the individuals in a group much more together. Everybody is on the same page and knows which deadlines, conferences, students, tasks,… are lying ahead. In my current group, the information gets transported where needed, but people work much more separate from each other – which has advantages of its own.
When it comes to my students, I often find myself acting not very strategic or long-term planned. I tell them when I’ll be away, but not very much in advance and I’ll let them know, when I see interesting conferences or workshops coming up, but I don’t have a specific timeline in my head for each of them. Even though I really appreciated that my PhD supervisor had this distinct plan and timeline for me as his PhD student.
I guess this is because I’m not their main supervisor, so I don’t actually make the strategy for them. I just push them, annoy them, motivate them, guide them, cheer them up on a daily basis. 

What is a good point in an academic career to have some deep thoughts and first actions about styles of leading a research group and strategies for successful PhD supervision? While you are “only” co-supervising? Or when you start with you first 100% responsibility student?


  1. I'd say the earlier the better, just to get in the habit of developing a good style. I had a friend in grad school post a schedule on his webpage for his students to know when he would be available and when he would not. If a student whined about not being able to find him, he pointed at the schedule prominently displayed on his webpage. On the flip side, I think having the schedule forced him to organize himself around something set, which helped him be more organized in general.

  2. I actually never thought about "using" my students to help me to stick to my own schedules. But it sounds like a great idea to direct their needs, so it helps them and me... sounds weird, but its actually a plan (=