8. Getting the Most from your Supervisor

This is the eighth article in the fourteen-part series ‘Dissertation Writing from Start to Finish’. For the full list of articles click here

Your dissertation supervisor can either be the most useful and supportive, or the most irrelevant person in your dissertation writing process. This is up to both you and them!

Your supervisor is there for you, so make use of their experience and expertise. Don’t be shy. You can’t expect them to do the work for you, they won’t, but you might find your supervisor useful for the following:

  • Guidance and inspiration in the early stages. For example if you only have a hazy idea of an area or a topic, they can help you think through what you have at the moment, and suggest possibilities for further investigations. 
  • Support throughout the project to tell you if you are going in the right direction, and suggest new directions or angles of thought you could investigate.
  • Final polishing, restructurings and an objective point of view to suggest making cuts you would not otherwise have thought of, or been willing to make. 

Typically you are given a certain amount of time to meet with your supervisor throughout the year, for example an initial 30 minute meeting in the summer term, a 30 minute meeting halfway through the winter term, and an hour long meeting in the new year to discuss your submitted piece of writing. Some supervisors are more generous with their time, but the basic amount is usually enough. Make sure to schedule these meetings. This will keep you on track, show your supervisor you’re engaging with the process and keeps them in the loop of what you’re up to. 

Come to these meetings with a purpose. Consider:

  1. What is the agenda?
  2. What do you want them to answer for you? (You might save up a list of questions to ask them).
  3. What’s the one thing you want to come away with?

After each meeting sit down for 10 minutes and scribble a write-up of the meeting, the key points, the takeaways, and what you now need to be getting on with

Finally, make sure you know when they are meant to be giving you feedback — agree on deadlines for both of you.

Finally, if one is to take a really mercenary approach to your relationship with your supervisor, it’s worth staying in their good books because they can be useful later for 1. giving recommendations if you apply to a Masters, and 2. giving references, for example with job applications. Personally, I had great supervisors in both my English and Law dissertations, and found them really helpful. 

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. In the next article we’re drinking some of the motivation kool-aid and discussing how to keep going and battle through the tough moments.

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