That this post is late is regrettable; that it is appearing at all is a testament to the powers of accountability. I write posts for Wednesday. A good 300-ish people will look for it then. Margrit and Erin expect it then. I’ve worked it into my schedule.
And yet. Last night I couldn’t get a post finished, after having failed to write one to my satisfaction for most of the day. Did. Not. Like. It. Blech. And yet. Even when I gave up and went to bed, vowing to get it done first thing, I was still dead sure I was going to do it.
This morning, I’ve got three things queued up to read: a first dissertation chapter by one student whose work I’m supervising; an n+1 dissertation proposal draft from another; and some ground-clearing literature review writing from yet another. All these came in, I think, because of deadlines, because of accountability. As I told them all, and I’ll tell you now, I really don’t care if these are works of genius, or even really adequate, let alone groundbreaking or polished. What matters is that they got done. These academic apprentices got a serious amount of writing done and sent off for feedback, despite moving, and teaching, and intellectual crises. On time! Despite the terror of the blank screen and of the filled-up calendar. Done! Fantastic! I immediately sent all of them congratulatory emails, before even downloading their delicious attachments.
Getting something done is the hardest part of grad school, and of research in the professorial ranks. I think a really big part of my role as a graduate supervisor is helping my students manage this reality.
I was reading a couple of opinion pieces in the Chronicle this past week, addressing how to supervise graduate assistants, or how to reconfigure graduate degrees in the humanities to improve the time to completion stats. And in responding to those pieces, I crystallized my general opinion about supervision: supervision is active, and it’s equal parts about the product of research and the process of research.
A big part of supervision is holding students accountable to deadlines and milestones, with the aim of teaching them to create their own deadlines and milestones later on, and the support systems to keep themselves productive.
I’m an emailer, basically: how’s your work coming? Can we meet next week? How about you write twenty pages for this date: I’ll put it in my calendar to expect your email that day. Who is going to look at this when you get the next draft done, and have you set a timeline with them?
Is this stressful for them? Probably. But I’ll bet my house it’s less stressful than waking up one day and realizing you haven’t written a word for six months. And unless we both become sticklers for managing the process, we’re never going to get to addressing the substance of the content–because there won’t be any.
This is not how everyone supervises. Many of us were trained in the “get the dissertation written and get in touch if you get stuck, or, better, finished” school. Some of us see an active supervisory relationship as potentially infantilizing, and definitely as a lot of work. Me, I wish I still had some kind of “supervisor” who would prod me to get stuff done. I guess that’s why I have a writing group: it’s more peer-driven support than authoritarian compulsion, but, hey, it still gets the job done.
And isn’t that what graduate supervision is for? Helping students get their projects done?
What kind of supervisor are you? Or what kind of supervisor did you have, or want, or need?