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Ideas and advice

Over the years the supervisor and student often spend a lot of time together and in the end they usually know each other fairly well in a personal-professional way. How supervisors and students can ensure that they maintain the relationship as an effective professional one, however supportive, understanding and friendly they become, is an important aspect of any supervisor student relationship.

Supervisors usually feel it is necessary to help their new student in the new social context at the institution. They eat lunch and drink coffee together and at the same time have conversations about research in an informal way. There are also times when they might travel together to conferences and are together for many days, from early in the morning to late at night. In some subjects PhD students are often over 30 or 40 years old before they start their research, which can make the age difference marginal. So where can I as a supervisor draw the line between the private and the professional?

Students want a neutral ground

Perhaps there are different contexts, situations and exchanges which need to be clarified to make the professional -personal interaction more manageable. One PhD student, Anna, was not fond of going to the supervisors’ home. It was too private. But isn’t it acceptable for the supervisor to invite students to their home? There are stories where students have lunch or come at a specific weekend each year. Then the supervisor has signalled that it is a private event. But as soon as the issue of the research work emerges, many students believe that the location should be neutral. It may be hard to be negative or critical if you're invited to someone's home, and the friendly interaction could interfere with the professional interaction.

A delicate balance

There are also stories of those who are too private and those who are not private enough. This is a balancing act where you have to feel the subtle nuances. In an introductory conversation, this kind of issue might be touched on to determine what suits the supervisor and what suits the student.

Some of the social issues about working together, visiting homes, and sharing an office space need to be discussed and agreed on in such initial meetings to enable the working relationship to remain effective as a personal professional one. Even details such as who washes the cups in the office and how many personal things you bring to your workplace are of importance.

Too private in an extreme way

However, there could be some more extreme issues in this consideration of the personal and professional. A special form of private relationship is the sexual relationship. There are many stories about such relationships between supervisor and student. Of course this kind of relationship is completely prohibited during the student's candidacy and should it happen, a third party should immediately be contacted and informed.

Contact person for Advice for doctoral supervisors

Margareta Jernås
Phone: +46 (0)31-342 94 33
Send e-mail to Margareta

These web pages were created by Silwa Claesson and Gina Wisker.

Page Manager: Olof Siverbo|Last update: 10/16/2014

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