Having two supervisors can be an amazing plus, particularly if they work well together and yet have very different views on your PhD. However, it can be rather unnerving to have a joint supervision meeting with two academics in the same room scrutinising your progress. I remember the first meeting which was a few months back, my first supervisor had retired so I had a new supervisory team, both of which I’ve worked with in the past. I was in the hot seat and had to present the focus of my PhD was in terms of it’s contribution and scope. That afternoon was hard because first, the questions went straight to the heart of the matter which revealed that my focus wasn’t as sharp as it could have been. It was also difficult because it was the first time we met as a new team and I had the task of getting everyone up to speed with my PhD in an articulate and succinct way. Or at least, that was the intention. That initial joint supervision made me realise how lax I had been over the summer and I had that much farther I had to go in terms of getting this PhD really going. I walked away from that meeting feeling a little deflated because it was a really difficult 2 hours. However, I was also feeling very reassured because they cared enough to point out the areas that needed substantial work alongside offering excellent advice on how to move forward.
Which brings me to last week, when our second joint supervision, was held. As the day of this second joint supervision approached I began to feel more nervous because, frankly, I was struggling with this phase of my data generation and I wasn’t quite ready to meet. I shared my unease with my first supervisor, where the exchange went like this:
“Ah, my data is a bit of a mess! I can’t meet quite yet, so can we reschedule for later in the month, when I’ll be ready!”
“Well, if you’re struggling, shouldn’t you come ask for help?” he replied. I think my face must have looked a little sheepish, so he continued, “I think it’s better to meet soon rather than later. Come the mess, so we can talk through it. It’s a work in process.”
This supervision meeting was the 4th meeting I had that day and my head was racing a million miles an hour when I finally sat down with them. The first question “So bring us up to speed with where you’re at” helped to focus my mind and enabled me to start with something very concrete (i.e. what I’ve done so far). We then went into an excellent discussion which analysed my rationale for doing certain tasks and challenging the need for the extra sub-steps that I’ve incorporated into this stage of my data generation phase. It was the result of talking through my initial ideas that I was able to clarify my focus. It brought me to a point where I could go “No, I’m not doing that, but yes, I’m keeping that and working with that more – and here’s why…”
I believe it’s a natural tendency for PhD students to feel that they need to be fully ‘prepared’ before meeting their supervisory team, which is understandable. You want to feel in control, and/or portray that you’ve got a research plan that’s working – whatever the reason, there’s this underlying need “to get it right.” I certainly felt this way but thanks to the wisdom of my supervisor who reminded me that they’re there to help us make sense of the mess – because that’s what a supervisor is for, to help. It was a good reminder that going to them with a methodological (or theoretical) mess can be sometimes better than presenting a half-baked product that I had spent weeks on, only to find that I need to go back over and (try to) undo / redo / change substantially. It made me feel that acknowledging that I need help is necessary for progress, and that these sort of PhD ‘messes’ can be welcomed by supervisors, which is an encouraging thought.