With supervision via videolink now the status quo, how do you keep your supervision meetings running smoothly? The Bristol Doctoral College asked Dr Jonathan Ives (Bristol Population Health Science Institute) and Dr Ben Pohl (Department of History) for their tips for supervisors and postgraduate researchers alike.
1. Have an (ongoing) conversation about touchpoints
You may now have been working remotely for several months (or longer if you are on a distance learning programme). However long it’s been, ensure you keep a dialogue open about the effectiveness of your supervision meetings:
- Should you be meeting more or less regularly?
- What time of day seems to work best?
- Are differences in time zone making things difficult?
Don’t be afraid to keep returning to these questions.
Supervisors: Depending on their approach to work, your PGRs might find the idea of a fortnightly phone or video call stressful, or on the other hand they may feel abandoned without regular contact. Make sure you have the conversation and find out what is right and realistic for you both.
2. Find time for informal conversations
Without corridors, common rooms or coffee machines available, we’ve lost the chance to bump into each other in an informal context. Try and compensate for this by making time for an informal chat. Don’t be afraid to stay in touch with each other, but find an approach that works for you.
Supervisors: you may want to set up a weekly online drop-in session for discussions about more practical challenges such as access to resources, hitting targets or motivation; this could be a chance for students to share their experiences and troubleshoot issues.
3. There are some upsides to remote supervision! Embrace them.
It might be difficult at times but try and make the most of the circumstances. For example, you may have struggled to coordinate a time to meet both of your supervisors together – with more flexible schedules, now could be the opportunity to get everyone together.
4. A well-structured supervision session is always important
Whether in person or online, the importance of a focused and well-structured supervision is critical. Make sure you have an agenda agreed beforehand, send any items for review in advance and have all the materials ready to go through together. Follow up by sending your supervisor an email to confirm what was agreed and what the actions are. STaR can be a useful tool for keeping records, but email or Sharepoint also work fine.
5. Set small and manageable tasks
Work with your supervisor to set some smaller goals as well as the bigger ones – these could be informal or formal, such as a mock or actual book/monograph review. Tasks like this are supplementary to your main research but emulate the critical engagement with scholarship that will help keep your brain active.
6. Get used to screen-sharing
It’s a really helpful way to look at the same thing at the same time.
7. There are lots of formats for virtual supervision
BlueJeans, Skype, Zoom and Teams are all words we’ve become very familiar with, but what about if your internet is slow or you don’t have a quiet space to have a conversation? Don’t be afraid to go back to basics and explore whether telephone or email would work better for you. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor if you need help, financial support or equipment to make your supervisions possible.
Student perspectives on remote supervision
“For me, the most valuable thing during Covid-19 has been regular contact with my primary supervisor and his valuable guidance. I made use of remote supervision to communicate my concerns and work together on solutions. For example, I was worried about not being able to collect data for the research project, about me not being productive as before and about the Covid-19 situation in general, etc. In this case, my supervisor supported me a lot to adapt to the situation.”
Krishani Vithana Pelpita Koralalage, Population Health Sciences Institute
“I think remote supervision has been useful in some respects, as it seems that supervisor and student are now usually working to the same sort of schedule and in the same manner (ie. working digitally). I have found this means both my supervisors have been very accessible and easy to contact.
“My advice to other students would be to use supervisions as waypoints to keep you working as best you can and build a routine (they’re also great opportunities for just catching up and general human interaction!). Also, keep a record of each meeting and what you talked about, as these discussions might become useful or relevant to later work.”
Dan Booker, Department of History