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Supervising MA students - advice?

(19 Posts)
RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Mon 11-Apr-16 13:14:14

I hope I'm in the right section!

I am an academic, new to supervising MA students. I'd be glad of advice on my situation. I don't know if my expectations are too high, or what.

One of my students repeatedly gets in touch, telling me when s/he could meet. S/he always gives very precise times, often in the near future (e.g., I could do tomorrow from 9-1, or Tuesday from noon. Alternatively I can manage next week, but not Wednesday). The course handbook makes clear that meetings should happen at least twice per term, but there's no requirement for them to be this soon, and I have explained this. I generally reply suggesting a time within the week, and explaining that I need time to read and mark the work. I have said bluntly, on several occasions, that it is not reasonable to expect a meeting within 24 hours, or even two days.

Am I being unreasonable? This student never seems to mind if I schedule a meeting at a more reasonable time, and is very polite. But ...!

geekaMaxima Mon 11-Apr-16 18:29:20

As long as the student always gives alternate times that are manageable (e.g., Alternatively I can manage next week, but not Wednesday), then where's the problem?

It would indeed be annoying if the student only asked for meetings at 1-2 days' notice or became difficult when refused, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Is the student requesting too many meetings?

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Mon 11-Apr-16 19:47:06

It's that I feel put on the spot.

I am quite willing to negotiate times, rather than dictating them - I think that's part of postgrad study.

But I feel that expecting me to read 9k words in less than 24 hours is rude - I'd expect a student to explain why they even suggested such a quick response - and even suggesting next week is a bit quick! I wouldn't mind if it were a special situation, and if s/he explained why there was a need for a quick response (other students do this, and I have said before that if there is a special case, I can try to read work in a day or two). But it's a routine thing.

geekaMaxima Mon 11-Apr-16 20:30:15

Wow, if you have 9k words to read then I can see why the meeting requests would be annoying, bordering on ridiculous.

Tbh, I usually set quite hard and distant deadlines for commenting on work. I wouldn't return a 9k tome in less than a month, longer if I had several to read. Even if it were possible for me to turn it around in 1-2 days under exceptional circumstances, I wouldn't tell students that because it creates an unrealistic expectation about what constitutes a reasonable turnaround. And if a student requested a faster turnaround without really good reason, I'd just say no, that's not possible.

Can you set some generous turnaround times (worst-case scenario for how long it would take you in a busy month) for giving comments to your students, and stick to them? Maybe the turnaround will vary depending on length of work, but aim to return work neither early nor late. Any meeting requests in the meantime get the standard reply that you won't have feedback available until date X but if it's about something else then you're happy to meet, etc.

Any student who genuinely needs earlier feedback will ask, but I don't think the possibility needs to be advertised in advance.

Masters students aren't that much ahead of undergrads in their maturity and understanding that supervisors have hundreds of demands on their time. Maybe your expectations might be a little high? If you get a special snowflake who wants special treatment, just say no a lot, cheerfully and politely. As long as they're polite back, there's no problem.

ChipInTheSugar Mon 11-Apr-16 20:32:46

Can I ask why you would be reading 9k words?! I'm a 3rd yr MA student and my supervisor wouldn't entertain that!

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Mon 11-Apr-16 20:43:00

It might be an issue of different disciplines, chip? The finished dissertation would be around 15000 words, so drafts towards it will gradually get closer to that length. Obviously, some of it is quite familiar and can be skimmed, but most students rewrite as they go rather than writing a chunk, then another, then another, and putting them together at the end.

If your supervisor is refusing to read second drafts, I would be a bit concerned.

geeka - thanks, that is reassuring. I think I've been too gentle about setting boundaries/expectations. I have been trying to figure out what other supervisors think is a normal length of time in which to return work!

geekaMaxima Mon 11-Apr-16 21:05:43

Just ask your colleagues straight out! How long do they think is reasonable to turn around commenting on 9k words of MA work?

I often get junior colleagues asking random things like this throughout the year and I'm happy to answer.

jhff Tue 12-Apr-16 07:17:54

It won't help for this year, but the first thing I do with new project students is have a session on expectations. I find it saves a lot of hassle later on if it's clear from the start what you are/aren't going to do. Generally, I'd only aim to reply to an email within 3 working days, nevermind reading 9000 words. (The idea being that they should be developing skills to be self organised and able to ask questions in the weekly meeting rather than emailing constantly.)

For this year, it might be worth checking your project handbook, and direct the student to it. We're not allowed to give anywhere near the level of feedback your talking about. We're only supposed to read and give detailed comments on one chapter before submission.

chemenger Tue 12-Apr-16 11:24:20

I would be very wary of reading substantial drafts, make sure that this is permitted. We allow supervisors to give advice on structure of dissertations and to look at a sample of writing to advise on style but we do not allow students to submit whole drafts for feedback.

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Tue 12-Apr-16 11:36:05

It is definitely permitted, and required.

jh - yes, and I did this verbally, but not in writing (which I think may be the issue). I think the problem is that this student has heard me say 'I might consider doing x in special circumstances' and has decided I meant 'You can always expect me to do x, no matter how often I clarify that I won't routinely be able to do it.'

It is tricky, because I am keen to support this student, but I can't seem to communicate.

Booboostwo Tue 12-Apr-16 12:49:34

Doesn't your department have a policy on reading drafts which is cited in the course handbook? I read one plan per chapter, one draft per chapter and one draft of the whole thing at MA level, more at PhD level but that was agreed departmental policy.

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Tue 12-Apr-16 12:57:49

The course handbook says that meetings, and amounts of reading, are dependent on the supervisor's discretion and will vary from supervisor to supervisor.

Speaking to colleagues, I don't think student is expecting an unusual amount of reading or an unusual number of meetings - it's that I cannot seem to communicate that I find the way expectations are communicated odd, and off-putting.

Booboostwo Tue 12-Apr-16 19:29:26

I'd be tempted to talk to everyone and see if you can't revise your policy towards something more concrete. It's better practice and you're likely to get fewer complaints.

As for this student I would just tell her outright that it is better if you contact her with possible meeting times as you have a tight schedule and you need to take into account your other commitments to ensure you have enough time to give her work the attention it deserves.

Sunshowercap Tue 12-Apr-16 21:10:24

I insist on a week between them sending me a draft, ad me seeing them. Sometimes I read it the night before, but that's my choice. I would find a student trying to tell me when they're available to be a bit out of order. It's me who offers my availability. They should be available (within reason) when I need them to be.

Sunshowercap Wed 13-Apr-16 09:55:03

I wouldn't return a 9k tome in less than a month

Gosh, I only require a week! And a month for a full PhD draft. Maybe I need to slooooow down a bit ...

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Wed 13-Apr-16 10:05:37

Thanks all.

boo - I thought it was good practice to set out expectations for emergencies at the outset? That's what I've always been told: you explain what will normally happen, and you explain what you are prepared to do if the student makes a good case that s/he has exceptional circumstances. My vested interest in doing this is that we know some students who struggle don't realise there would be any flexibility in the arrangement.

But clearly I've managed it wrongly here.

sun - yes, that's how I feel! Just wrong-footed by it.

Booboostwo Wed 13-Apr-16 13:23:39

I don't think you've done anything wrong at all. The student sounds a bit pushy, probably because she is stressed about doing well.

The departments I have worked at had more precise guidance on what students could expect from supervisors. It didn't stop any supervisors from doing more but it made it easier to calm down pushy students and it certainly helped resolve discussions about inadequate supervision.

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Wed 13-Apr-16 13:58:40

Thank you. smile

I'm learning, that's all - I'm conscious of it. I'll get better.

I certainly don't hold this against my student. As you say, it is stressful.

Sunshowercap Wed 13-Apr-16 14:21:54

We set out quite precisely the usual number of supervisions an undergraduate or MA student can normally expect.

This is because we have had the experience of noxious toerag sharp-eyed students claiming they have been disadvantaged because other students received more than them. It's bean-counting of the most unproductive type, but there are some nasties out there. Don't be bulldozed!

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