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Expectations between students and supervisors - what/who are you getting involved with?

Several years ago I read an article by Prof Georgia Chenevix-Trench at QIMR in Brisbane ( and it made me wonder a) what I expected from my PhD students, b) what my PhD students expected of me, and c) how can I make sure I am recruiting PhD students who are a "good match" for my group? I know that I want to recruit dedicated, mature, motivated, persistent, clever and self-directed students - but without having some kind of "agreement" or "understanding" about our student/supervisor relationship, we might be doomed from the start.

Have you thought about what your expectations of your students/supervisors might be? Here is the list that I have come up with, and I send it to potential students ahead of interviews, to open a dialogue on our expectations of each other.

So before I post my document for new PhD students - what do you think of this????

PhD projects in the Nanosensor Engineering Lab: expectations of students and supervisor

PhD projects can be a fantastic experience, setting you up for an enjoyable and satisfying career in science. Unfortunately, they can also involve extremely difficult periods, especially if the expectations of student and supervisor are not made clear before writing scholarship applications. Every group, supervisor, student, and project are different; therefore, you should find a good combination that suits you best. The aim of this document is to generate discussion, not generate a binding agreement! Please be ready to discuss these items with me during our interview. The aim is to complete a PhD in 3 years with each chapter published.

Supervisor’s expectations of the students (“we” indicates supervisory team)

  1. Motivation – we need to be convinced, through initial meetings, research experience/publications (preferable), or short lab projects, that the student is sufficiently interested in a project within the group (reading about projects, thinking up ideas, asking questions, etc).
  2. Project plan – student should be actively involved in developing the project plan, not asking for a recipe.
  3. Scholarship applications – all students need to successfully apply for a PhD scholarship to cover their living expenses (provided through Monash or external funders). Furthermore, you can help the lab and your CV by applying for small travel grants/awards for conference travel and time in collaborator labs, once you start your project.
  4. Work ethic – students are expected to be working 8:30am – 5:30pm Monday to Friday, 80% of this time in the lab. This leaves 20% of workdays, plus evenings/weekends (only when there is significant benefit) for writing, planning and data analysis (keeping in mind point (5) below).  However, the fact is, if you are making progress then no one is going to worry about your work hours. If we don’t know where you are and what you are doing, expect to be chased up.
  5. Balance – while a strong work ethic is important during a PhD, its equally important to have something unrelated to your work that gives you a break, social interaction, and boosts your mental and/or physical health. Drag the other students along with you!
  6. Compliance with training requirements and OH&S – enough said.
  7. Literature – early on there is a “catch-up” phase to get up to speed with the state-of-the-art, and then you need to find a way of efficiently sifting through the literature to find new papers often – use journal club to learn how to get the most out of the literature. Why? Because its important that your work is cutting edge; the only way to know if it is or isn’t is to know what new techniques/results/ideas are out there.
  8. Regular submission of data “write-ups” – students are expected to submit written work and raw/analysed figures (both are important!) regularly throughout the project so that we can help improve skills (writing, analysis, interpretation) in preparation for thesis writing and publication. If you need help with communicating in English, there are courses available and you should enrol.
  9. Group involvement – discuss your experiments and ideas with other people in the group, so that you can identify co-authorship opportunities. Also be prepared to work beyond the group with our collaborators in Melbourne, other universities in Australia, and if you work is aligned, then with international collaborators.
  10. Group meetings and journal club – students are expected to be actively involved in these meetings, but they need to be useful meetings, so provide feedback so we can improve them
  11. Project management – we expect students to rapidly take charge of scheduling lab time, planning/writing/analysis time, actively initiating/organising weekly meetings with supervisory team, ordering reagents/consumables (3-12 week time delays!!)
  12. Push the boundaries of knowledge in your field – this is not sarcasm, it is a requirement of a PhD. Its uncomfortable initially, but you will be glad you did it and we can help.

What students can expect from supervisors

  1. Staunch allies to help you navigate the difficult path ahead – your most enthusiastic cheerleader and your greatest scientific critic (other than yourself!)
  2. To be treated with respect and dignity at all times, to have a workplace free of harassment as per university guidelines.
  3. A computer and desk, a personal lab space and all equipment/reagents, and equipment access required for your project. You also should be located in close proximity to your labmates and supervisors, and to other groups working in similar fields (eg co-supervisors). This will ensure that you have those critical “water-cooler” discussions that help provide external advice.
  4. Proper introduction to the lab, training in all safety procedures and protocols required to successfully complete your work (prior to you developing some methods of your own!)
  5. A combination of a regular fortnightly meeting with your principal supervisor at least, plus “open door policy”, especially in order to resolve time-dependent issues (e.g. ordering a reagent). However – YOU need to be the chief organiser of meetings with your supervisors.
  6. “Pep-talks” – designed to keep motivation going all throughout the project – this ranges from robust scientific criticism of your experiments/designs/data through to popping the cork when you submit your thesis (and the associated papers, presentations, awards, etc.)
  7. Feedback on written work – you should expect detailed feedback on early drafts of your thesis and papers. You should also ask for feedback on your writing style and structure. However, supervisors have limited time, so if your writing contains significant structural or grammatical errors, they may not be able to help with this (i.e. they are NOT proof-readers). MGE has courses and workshops to help you improve your writing.
  8. Conference support – once you have an interesting “story” to tell (comprising a series of high quality experimental results, fully analysed and described) we will help fund your travel to conferences if your abstract is selected for an oral presentation. Other opportunities (posters, local meetings etc) are possible, subject to negotiation and equal opportunity.
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