Marie was the last student in her class to finish her Ph.D.
She never imagined she would be in graduate school for 8 years (2 years more than the department average) after having graduated with honors from college.
In her first year of her Biochemistry Ph.D. program, Marie had perfect grades.
She was also diligent, and she put long hours into her thesis research.
However, Marie’s research was a dead-end project.
As a student who had perfect grades, she was not used to failure and she was embarrassed to tell her supervisor about the problems she was experiencing.
Nearly a year went by without any progress, when her supervisor realized it was a dead end project and he changed her thesis topic.
Her second project was more promising, but she spent a lot of time optimizing her experimental setup, and she could not generate results.
Marie did not know how to tell her supervisor that she could not generate results with her second project either.
She felt like a failure, and she started isolating herself from her peers who were already writing their first publications.
Marie lost interest in her research, and in a career as a scientist.
Marie wanted to drop out.
As a last attempt to save her degree, Marie decided to tell her supervisor about her frustrations.
Her supervisor was disappointed that she had not opened up to him earlier.
With his guidance, Marie changed her thesis topic again, and she started to generate promising data.
After two years, her committee gave her the green light to write her thesis.
By that time, Marie’s peers had graduated and she had trouble staying motivated to write because she felt so isolated.
Eventually, she finished writing her thesis but instead of 3 months, it took 9 months to complete.
Marie got her PhD in 8 years, the last from her class to graduate
The second to last student in her class graduated a year and a half before her.
Why did it take Marie so long to complete her thesis?
Marie was used to getting perfect grades in college and she was too embarrassed to tell her supervisor about her “failures.
She wasted a lot of time trying to do everything by herself because she thought that asking for a help was a sign of weakness.
Marie didn’t realize that what sets successful researchers apart from others is that they are always curious and learning.
Asking for help is a sign of confidence
It shows that you are not afraid to admit that you don’t know something and that you are motivated to learn
Asking for help does not make you a nuisance.
5 Steps to a Productive Meeting with Your Thesis Supervisor
(Even When You Feel Embarrassed or Ashamed)
1.Think about how you would like to meeting to go
Before you have a meeting with your thesis supervisor, you have two options.
You can either be nervous and think about how uncomfortable, awkward or embarrassing the meeting will be (especially if that’s how they have been in the past).
Or, you can think about how you want the meeting to.
What is the #1 result that you would like to achieve during this meeting?
In Marie’s case she just wanted to tell her thesis supervisor how everything would go.
Do you need feedback on something?
Are you feeling stuck somewhere?
Do you have a specific question regarding your study, or writing?
When you think about how you want the meeting to go, you will ease your tension and you will also be able to focus on what you need help with to make progress.
2. Focus on progress not perfection
“Feeling behind” is one the most common reasons that students avoid meeting with their supervisors.
When you avoid meeting with your thesis supervisor because you feel like you “should be further along by now”, you get into a vicious cycle.
You may fall behind even more in your research, and then it will feel even more awkward to set up a meeting.
Instead of waiting until you have the perfect results or an amazing manuscript, set up a meeting to discuss your progress.
If you have not made any progress since your last meeting (no matter how long ago it was), it is even more reason to meet with your thesis supervisor.
If you have results to show him or her, be proud of it.
Don’t focus on how much you “should have” completed by now – instead get their input on the work you have done and your next steps.
3. Be honest about the challenges you are facing
Do not assume that your supervisor is familiar with the minute details of your work.
Describe the problems you are facing and explain how they are interfering with your work.
Stay calm even if your supervisor disagrees or gets emotional.
Do not take their criticism personally or get defensive.
One way to make your meeting more productive is to prepare one or more proposals in advance to resolve your problem.
Your supervisor will appreciate that you took the time to think of solutions, and will be more likely to view your proposals favorably.
Your supervisor might not agree with all of your ideas, but be open-minded discuss how you can create mutually beneficial solutions.
4. Create an action plan
Did you ever walk out of a meeting with your thesis supervisor without being sure of what you are supposed to do next?
During an ideal meeting, you discuss your progress, challenges that you may be facing, and next steps.
It’s not a good sign if you feel more confused after the meeting than you did before (although that probably happens to almost all graduate students at one point or another).
You can avoid this confusion of you prepare for your meetings by filling in the following statement:
“By the end of this meeting I would like to be able to…” and think about whether you need help with your research, your writing, or resolving a a specific situation.
By the end of your meeting you should have an action plan that details what you need to do and by when, and how you will follow-up with your thesis supervisor.
5. Always keep your end of the deal
Trust is the basis of a long-term professional relationship.
When you meet with your supervisor, prioritize your action item list and set some approximate timelines.
In order to build trust between you and your supervisor, you need to demonstrate that they can count on you to follow through on your commitments.
Developing a relationship where you have honest communication between you and your supervisor can take time, especially if you had conflicts in the past.
Being honest with your thesis supervisor and open to their opinion can help you to strengthen your relationship, even if you have had disagreements in the past.
Be sure that you keep your commitments, and if for some reason you are not able to, let your supervisor know as soon as possible.
If you package your challenges with your supervisor into learning opportunities, you will become the independent, assertive, and proactive person that all employers (in academia and industry) are eager to hire.
For more tips to help you get your thesis DONE and be more productive in graduate school, click here to get on the waiting list for the “Finish Your Thesis Program” and you will receive a free copy of Dora’s guide “Finish Your Thesis Faster”