Relationship with the thesis supervisor

The relationship between a doctoral student and their thesis supervisor is crucial for the progress of the thesis work and integration of the doctoral candidate into the scientific community.

Before approaching a professor or accepting their proposal, it may be useful to step back in order to clarify your own expectations regarding thesis supervision and ensure that are compatible with the personality, supervision style and working methods of the prospective thesis supervisor.

It’s also advisable to consider the role played by the thesis supervisor with regard to the professional future of doctoral students, which generally extends well beyond the thesis defence. The support that the thesis supervisor can offer in concrete terms is closely linked to the relevance of the research topic and the method and approach adopted in the thesis for the field and scientific networks to which it relates.

Finally, it is also a good idea to take into account the availability that the thesis supervisor’s schedule allows them to devote to their doctoral students. Indeed, the supervision and support provided by a professor at the beginning of their career and small, dynamic research teams can often prove just as reliable and valuable (if not more so) as that offered by an internationally renowned professor with an overloaded schedule who is already supervising dozens of doctoral students.

As in all learning situations, the relationship between doctoral student and thesis supervisor is asymmetrical, even more so when the doctoral student is also the thesis supervisor’s assistant. The thesis supervisor’s position gives them the power to define amongst other things the type of input expected of doctoral students, the help they are prepared to provide, the form and style of communication established in the relationship, etc.

However, despite the power conferred by the thesis supervisor’s position, doctoral students are entitled to expect their thesis supervisor to be effective and offer encouragement and support. Doctoral students must be able to approach them regularly for meetings and advice.

It can happen (rarely) that you encounter interpersonal problems with the thesis supervisor. In such cases, the following section may offer some guidance.