What is the role of a post-grad supervisor?

I participated in a seminar today designed for beginning PhD students to explain the Confirmation of Candidature process. I willingly gave my time because sometimes students don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t want to ask their supervisors for fear of appearing silly. But another fact emerged – some supervisors didn’t know the process and instead of finding out, the student went to a seminar. Or, the process had changed and the supervisor wasn’t up to speed. There is a line here, a line within the role of a supervisor in an academic setting. What does a post graduate supervisor do? Do they guide the student academically, and leave all of the administration well enough alone? Or should a supervisor have some knowledge of the administration requirements of the candidature? Is it simply a cop out to tell the student to go and find out what’s involved admin-wise? There is a lot of help available for students – as it should be – but how much of that is because we (post graduate supervisors) have become lazy in our supervision? I think we, as supervisors, have a responsibility to be able to explain the entire PhD process to the student. Within that will be elements where we need advice of the nitty gritty, to be sure. But a question like “What’s in a confirmation document?” is something that the supervisor needs to know.

So at this seminar today, two issues emerged for me. One, the PhD student gets a lot of benefit participating in seminars to reinforce what they already know, or to learn what they were too shy/embarrassed to ask their supervisors. And, two, some supervisors would probably get just as much benefit (but are not required to attend).

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