Work Expectations

You need to know what your supervisor expects of you in terms of work habits and communication. Once this is clear, it’s much easier to develop a positive, productive relationship that is satisfying for both of you.

Often, we only become aware of our expectations when they are not met. Here’s an opportunity to think about your expectations so they don’t come as a surprise later. Consider discussing these expectations with your supervisor after you’ve spent some time thinking about them.

  • Research direction: How much direction in your research do you expect? How much influence do you want?
  • Knowledge: Should your supervisor teach you all you need to know for success in graduate school? How much do you want handed to you and how much do you want to find out on your own?
  • Status: Do you want your supervisor to act as your superior or more as your colleague or co-worker?
  • Time: How much time do you expect your supervisor to have for you on a weekly or monthly basis? How much is he or she willing to give you?
  • Feedback: Exactly what type of feedback do you expect from your supervisor? How do you respond to positive feedback? Negative feedback? Do you like feedback that’s general or more detailed?
  • Priorities: Does your supervisor expect you to have your thesis research as their number one priority?
  • Planning: How much planning does your supervisor expect you to do, and how much help are you likely to get?
  • Skills: What skill level does your supervisor expect you to have in the following areas: time management, research methodology, project management, statistics, computer use and writing?
  • Work Habits: How do you work best and most productively? At home or in a university environment? Alone or with others around to consult with? What is your most productive time of day: morning, afternoon, evening? Is your supervisor willing to accommodate your preferred work style or do you need to reach a compromise between his or her expectations and your preferences?
  • Communication: How do you prefer to communicate: face to face, on the phone, voice-mail, e-mail? Do you expect your supervisor to initiate contact with you?
  • Reviewing Work: How often does your supervisor want to review your work? In what format? Should you present the work in a meeting, or would he or she prefer to read it? Are rough drafts okay for review, or should you provide complete and well-edited work?
  • Consultation: Does your supervisor expect to be consulted on most decisions regarding your thesis or prefer you to contact him or her only with particular problems? Will you have fewer consultations as you progress, or is it important, regardless of stage, that you check in regularly?

The Ideal Match

Once you’ve thought about these questions and your responses to them, you will have a better idea of your expectations of your supervisor. Discuss these expectations with your supervisor and figure out:

  • which ones can be met
  • which ones can be met with support from the other person
  • which ones cannot be met

This discussion should result in a clear set of parameters for your working relationship.