Getting the Most Out of Your Tutor

This article was co-written with Richard Race.

From our own and the Keele Education Discussion Group's (KEDG) experiences, a great deal of informal discussion has centred on the researcher/supervisor relationship. We aim to be as constructive as we can in this article and ultimately examine what we mmean by getting the "most"out of the tutor. We want to examine the relationship objectively from two angles: firstly, what a research student can do and secondly, what the supervisor can do.

However, before we begin, we feel that it is useful, at any stage of the research process, to examine our motives and processes behind participating in research. In other words: What do we want? And what do others want of us? Obviously we have the determination and enthusiasm to participate in postgraduate courses or research. We have asked ourselves often the following questions: Am I clever eenough? What do I know? What about teaching? And what will be the implications of full or part time study?

The answers to the above questions should be provided by supervisors. But who among new postgraduate students has the nerve or courage to approach a supervisor to answer these questions? What thereforee can you do as a student to find your own answers? Firstly, we would suggest preparation in applying for postgraduate study. Find out as much about your supervisor and find out about their current prrojects. Secondly, be honest with yourself and your supervisor. The issue of full and part time research students is discussed in the Support Group's article in the Journal of Graduate Educationbut life goes on outside of the research process and your supervisor will hopefully understand. Supervisors, believe it or not are human after all. Thirdly, work at the relationship. Grit your teethh when you have to and if you work with someone for between three and six years then the professional/personal side will develop. Think of the future also. Your supervisor will provide you with the reeferences for the next step in your career. Always remember that the relationship is mutually beneficial, your supervisor learns from you as well.

Overall, we feel the researcher has an obligation to be professional in all interactions with supervisors. It is up to the researcher to plan agendas, set convenient short and long term targets and ensuure that they are realistic and compatible with supervisors. Supervisors understand that any research takes time and inexperienced researchers who e.g. have limited theoretical knowledge or methodologiical experience in their chosen field of study will take longer to get on top of the major issues concerning their work. Supervisors will help students with difficulties but how far can a supervisor goo before the work becomes un-original?

Supervisors are paid to be critical, so don't take it personally. In our capacities as members of KEDG and as research students, it is remarkable how communication breakdowns destroy or hinder relationnships between researcher and supervisor. This possibly explains why so many students leave postgraduate study. If a draft needs alteration, then so what? Supervisors are paid to help and in our expeeriences, the more critical the supervisor, the better the finished product. Joint supervision provides two or more viewpoints and this can be helpful.

We hope to have provided food for thought and answers to the questions: What can research students do? And what can your supervisors do?

In conclusion, you can get the "most"out of your tutor by:

  • working at the relationship
  • listening and learning in formal and informal settings
  • participate in a mutually beneficial professional relationship
  • ask about other peoples experiences within the research process