In no certain order, here are ten ways to be a great PhD student and manage the relationship with your supervisor:

1. A PhD comes with a lot of bureaucratic and formal procedures. Do your absolute best to prepare everything for your supervisor so that you will minimize the effort he/she has to put into this. Keep in mind that in a supervisor’s list of priorities, your PhD formal procedures may fall in a rather low place. Keep every important deadline in your mind, make sure to remind your supervisor often and well in advance and if possible prepare everything yourself and only ask for their signing off. Expect nothing from your advisor in these matters.

2. Similar to the first rule, throughout your degree, you are going to require feedback on pieces of your writing, be they abstracts for conferences, draft papers, or your actual thesis. Agree with your supervisor on how well in advance they like to receive these and make sure to hit these deadlines. You do not want to be in the situation of sending a poster to your incredibly busy supervisor a couple of days before the conference with the subject “Urgent”.

3.  It’s your job to organize and outline your project so that your supervisor will not be lost. Having to manage several different projects and people in the lab is something that your supervisor should know how to do, but you can ensure that this task does not have to be hard for him/her. Make plans for your meetings, plan your project in advance and do everything in your power to assume the burden of organizing things. 

4. Sit down and agree on some rules from the beginning. I know this is uncomfortable, but putting it off has the potential to create a lot of friction. I cannot stress this enough. Make some formal agreement on the topics of:

a.Working hours. Are they flexible or not (Ideally discussed during the interview).

b. How much holiday you can take and when to ask for it.

c. When you are going to submit your thesis – set a hard date.

d. How much in advance they require things from you. 

5. Accept that you cannot change your Supervisor. If you do not like some of his/her approaches or ideas, you can try within your means to find common ground, but there is a good chance that in the end, you will have to adapt. This reinforces the point that you should choose your Supervisor very carefully.

6. When your supervisor asks you to do something relevant (presentation, piece of writing or reading), your only answer should be “When do you need it?” It’s easy to forget this, but your supervisor is also your boss so if he/she expects something, you’d better provide it. Of course, you shouldn’t have to accept these kinds of requests all the time but every now and then expect your supervisor to cut into your planned time by asking for something out of the blue. 

7. If you want to attend a training event or conference, make sure to rule out every other possible source of funding before asking your supervisor. Going to your mentor and telling him/her that you have secured funding for X conference is one of the things that’ll make him/her happy.

8. Read a lot, for your own good but also to be on a similar playing field with your mentor. If a new paper comes in your immediately relevant area of research and it has escaped your attention, your supervisor may end up pointing it out to you and put you on the spot. 

9. Be the young, “foolish” person with loads of ideas and energy to try new things. The ideal mentor-protégé relationship is the one where you will provide the hustle and energy while the experienced mentor will shut down any not promising ideas and make you focus on the good ones.

10. It is worth investing some of your time during the beginning to learn how to become more organized, effectively manage your time and prioritize. These will be invaluable skills and the sooner you start cultivating them, the better. A PhD can cause a great deal of stress and the best antidote that I have found to that stress is to have everything planned in detail, so that in your day to day work you are just following your own plan and have very little thinking to do.

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

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