Changing PhD supervisors

I’ve lost my first supervisor to retirement.

I remember the day I got the email.  I was re-packing a suitcase trying to decide what I really needed for the weekend away at my mate’s wedding when my iPhone rang, indicating I got an email.  I remember trying to read it on the phone and then heading towards the living room to read the email on my laptop.  I think I re-read it several times just to make sure I understood fully the message: My first supervisor decided to retire, my second supervisor will take on the role of the first and plans are in place for choosing a second suitable supervisor.

That initial feeling of shock really threw me and I remember having “two” selves, one reacting to the news and the other analysing my own reaction.  My first reaction was a feeling a mixture of anger and sadness.  It wasn’t directed at my first supervisor at all but, I was quite surprised at how strong I reacted emotionally.  It was a little weird.  I remember watching myself react and thinking “Why this feeling of loss?  It’s not like he died or anything.”

OK, so it’s technically not losing anything since there was nothing to be “won” in the first place.  But I did feel a sense of loss nonetheless.  Opportunity, personal choice, university cuts – many factors contributed to his departure.  When you work this closely with an individual you do get attached.  We have along history that goes back to my MA TESOL days (i.e. nearly 5 years) and have had a good working relationship where real progress was made.  I moved forward with my PhD plans on an intellectual basis that was rooted in practical, “do this” sort of steps.  I think he knew my preference for a more linear way of working and that I liked “doing” stuff.  He kept me on my toes by throwing back to me what I just told him in order to make sure that I knew what I was talking about.  It’s one thing to tell someone about your PhD, it’s another thing to have another person tell you about your own PhD.

And so, we had our final 3 way supervision where it was essentially a hand over type of meeting:  Taking stock of what was accomplished and reiterated the scope of my PhD.  At that point I was having some serious doubts about my PhD – conceptually and methodologically.  That meeting helped realise that a) actually, I do know what I’m doing and b) the methodological approach that I’m using is appropriate and lastly c) I’m gonna stick to it and keep going.  From that meeting I was able come to terms with my first supervisor leaving and turn towards the new path ahead of me.

Looking forward, I realise that I have another wonderful opportunity to work with different people with different approaches to supervision and I’m actually relishing the new challenge of working with a new supervisory team.  It would mean that I would need to present my PhD to a new audience (i.e. my new second supervisor) and learn to be more articulate in the process – something I’ve come to admit that if I want to do well in my viva, I’ve got to work on talking about my PhD.

And so, a new team and new challenges ahead.  I feel confident moving forward.  I’ll continue to have exceptional support (which was never in doubt) and also have a team that will push me towards excellence.  Can’t ask for more than that.

2 thoughts on “Changing PhD supervisors

  1. I understand the feeling very well I think 🙂 I too had that sense of loss and was quite unhappy for a few days when I first heard! You’ll be brilliant with whoever u are Eljee, that I know…


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