Making the Most of Dissertation Supervisions

A dissertation supervisor’s time is usually quite limited and so you need to get the best out of the precious time you have with your supervisor. Try to think about what you can do before, during and after your supervision to capitalise on the time spent with your supervisor.

Before a dissertation supervision

You have the appointment fixed up and you’re planning what you need to do. Use this checklist of practical tips before seeing your supervisor:

  • Check the time and location of your supervision – don't be late.

  • Email or send a hard copy of any particular questions or concerns you may have that you think your supervisor would appreciate knowing before the session.

  • Bring along some of the work you've been doing to show your supervisor if you’re asked.

  • Make sure that your papers, books and other resources are in order so you don't waste time searching for a vital item during your supervision time.

  • Make sure that you have a pen (that works!).

  • Switch off your mobile phone before going into the room.

  • Write a clear list of questions and issues that you want to ask at the end of your supervision session.

So now you're thoroughly prepared. Good. Unless you have a very comfortable relationship with your supervisor already, meetings can sometimes be a bit like going to the doctor. You can be so anxious that everything goes well that you forget to take notes and as soon as you leave the meeting you realise you’ve forgotten half of what your supervisor has been saying.

During a dissertation supervision

You’ve prepared carefully and you’re all set. Here’s how to get the most out of the meeting with your supervisor:

  • When going into the room and greeting your supervisor, politely ask how long your supervision session is likely to last so that you can make sure that you have time to get through what you need to do.

  • If the meeting is steering away from the questions that you want to bring up, be sure to let your supervisor know that you’ve got issues that you want to tackle as well.

  • If you find note-taking difficult, politely ask your supervisor if you can record the supervision, but don’t get upset if she declines; just ask your supervisor to allow you a little extra time to get down all her pearls of wisdom.

  • Pay attention to what’s being said and try not to get distracted, because later you may regret not having listened more carefully.

  • If you don’t understand something your supervisor is saying (or any notes she writes for you), ask her to explain.

  • Be realistic about any agreement you make with your supervisor about handing in future work.

  • Get a clear date for any work your supervisor asks you to send in or future meetings so that you know exactly what to do.

  • Be honest if you’re stuck or struggling – your supervisor can only help you if she knows there’s a problem.

After the dissertation supervision

Your supervision is over – phew! If you have the time, find a quiet corner in the cafeteria or library to go over what’s just been discussed and make sure that you know exactly what to do next.

  • Run through your supervision notes and make sure that everything is legible and in logical order – you may need to write a few things out again, just for clarity.

  • If your supervisor gave you any notes during the session, check through the notes again to be sure that you understand everything.

  • Make a list of any queries resulting from the supervision – you can email your supervisor after checking carefully through your questions.

  • Get out your diary and plan in any work you need to do, highlighting your deadline but also making a note a few days before the deadline to finish the draft of whatever you’re being asked to hand in to your supervisor.

If you need to ask any further questions after the session with your supervisor, this is best done by email: be polite, clear and to the point. Stick to any agreed deadlines.

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