In this episode I talk to Maria Dede about her experience changing supervisors, and the impact that had on her research and her supervisory relationships.

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Podcast transcript

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Hello and welcome, R, D And The Inbetweens, I'm your host, Kelly Preece,

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and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers, development and everything in between.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of R, D and the In Betweens.

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So in this episode,

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I really wanted to provide a kind of the start of a counterbalance to the episode I did a few weeks ago about the supervisory relationship.

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So I talked to Dr. Edward Mills and Dr. Tom Hinton about the supervisory relationship from both sides,

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and they had incredibly positive experience as supervisor and supervisee.

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And were able to offer lots of kind of examples of best practise and where a supervisory relationship can be really rich and fulfilling,

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both professionally and interpersonally. Now,

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I recognise that not all supervisory relationships are like that and that the

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supervisory relationship can be fraught with problems for lots of different reasons.

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So today I'm gonna be talking to Maria Dede

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Maria is also a PhD student at the University of Exeter, and she has had to change supervisors a couple of times during her research degree.

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And I'm going to talk to her a little bit about what that experience was like,

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why these changes happened, how she dealt with them, and also how they affected her PhD journey.

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So, Maria. Are you happy to introduce yourself? Yes.

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My name's Maria. I'm in my final year and I might be PhD in philosophy.

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And, you know, I have, um, I'm not funded.

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So I have I have had to work throughout my PhD to pay tuition and to pay sort of like living expenses and hopefully will be graduating at the end of this term.

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Brilliant. Thank you, Maria. So one of the main things that we wanted to talk about today, actually,

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was the experience you've had during your PhD because you've had a number of different changes of supervisor, is that right?

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Yes, technically, I am now on supervisor number four and five, although to be fair,

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at least one of them was sort of like and was kind enough to just place their name, for bureaucratic reasons.

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So, yes, maybe four or five isn't right.

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Actually, what happened? But technically, that's another

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I also had to change one supervisor because they agreed to supervise me and that was fine.

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But they had to actually leave the university and because they got a different position after a month.

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So it was just much more practical.

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But I found another person. Yes, you can. Can you talk us through kind of each of those changes and I guess when they happened

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and why they happened for also the the effect that had on you and your studies?

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I. So the first year I was with my first set of supervisors and after a year,

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it was their initiative that maybe we would be better off if I found someone else.

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And to be fair, that was a very good idea.

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And I'm very grateful that they went forward and suggested that because I wasn't sure that it would have occurred to me and I wasn't like in it.

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And I really considered as an option because it's not something that I had sort of like had.

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I knew that you can change, supervise,

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but it wasn't some there was widely discussed and how to go about it and under what circumstances and things like that.

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And so if it was up to me, I was considering just stopping my degree.

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The main problems. That we had, and I think from what I can tell, at least retrospectively is.

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Potentially our style of working and our expectations and how sort of and potentially

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what what our role me as a student and my supervisor as my supervisor  would entail.

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I think it was. Our approaches was just clashing a bit.

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And I don't think I was a particularly good student for and for my supervisor just as much as my supervisor wasn't a good fit for me.

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So you use your supervisor suggested that you that you make that shift.

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So can you tell me a little bit about how you got what the process was like finding new supervisors, what role you might played in that?

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To be fair I don't think I played much of a role in that some other people were suggested I met them and.

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We really sort of. At this point, I was I was happy because it had been a year.

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And I feel. I don't necessarily want someone I didn't.

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I'm okay with having someone that isn't, you know, that specialised in exactly the same thing that I do.

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That doesn't matter. I can deal with that. And it's more along the lines of I want some that I can work well with.

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And so I met my supervisor and then we just instantly I felt so much comfortable and we hit it off.

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I immediately thought I would. I was very happy for them to supervise me. And yeah, they were happy to do so.

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So the arrangement was made, but I didn't actually have an active role in it.

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Not particularly. Well. That's incredibly positive.

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So, yeah. So that's the first change that supervisors one and two, to supervisors, three and four.

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Is that right? Technically four and five.

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Okay, so there was somebody else in in the interim then.

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Yeah. That was that, that was a person that they agreed supervise me.

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I met them, they were fine but then they just moved, then they got. Okay.

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Okay. So there's lots of different things in there but kind of reasons which are you know,

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there are all sorts of reasons why you might say supervisor had to do with kind of right.

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You say chemistry, working style in interest or kind of specialism in the subject.

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You know, you you mentioned you know, it does happen. People leave and people leave the university and that creates problems.

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So, you know, this is a lot of change for you during your during a really, really important formative time.

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So can you talk to me a little bit about it?

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So what was the time period over all of these changes?

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Like it did happen over the course of a year, two years, three years, and I think it all happened.

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I think if I if I'm not mistaken, I think I've been with these supervisors for just

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Right after my first. Yes, I think most changes ve happened over the scope of like.

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A few months. After my first year, so practically that had the impact that that had, is that it obviously.

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It really delayed my upgrade. So I didn't upgrade.

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until my third year or something like that like really late, which went fine.

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And it also obviously my upgrade got delayed

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taking into account the changes of supervision, because you need you need some time just to adjust.

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Work with new people and maybe taking your research in different directions and things like that.

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And yet, practically speaking, it was. It it did have an impact because, again, it just.

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It I think it just extended the amount of time in my PhD where I felt that I'm not exactly sure.

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What what am I doing? So I just as a result of this.

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I was just doing things like, I'm just gonna write this, I'm just gonna research this, and hopefully eventually it will all come together as it did.

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But it just for long. The sentiment of uncertainty. In probably a bit too long.

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And how how so you said, you know, you keep going. How how did that affect your motivation?

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How did it affect your focus and your ability to actually do the do the research to do the work?

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I was lucky enough so with my current, supervisor they have been very happy to do like.

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Let me pursue angles and ideas and things that I find interesting.

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So a lot of that had to do with I liked my subject not all parts of it.

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Some of them were really annoying. But for the most part, it was nice and I was interested.

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And the other thing is that because. Exactly.

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Because I'm self-funded and I I have to keep a variety of other jobs.

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It's like my day to day life really, really has.

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And it's like it's well organised between like day jobs and hight jobs and, things like that.

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So I found that that really that structure really helped me sort of like stay focussed in the amount of time that I had to dedicate.

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Like, if you know that you only have like five hours today because then you need to do to get to your other job.

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You make these five. That was count. So I found that really helpful.

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Yeah. And, you know, I think that's important to recognise as well. You're not just juggling.

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The complexities of the research project, the complexities of the supervisory changes, but also.

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You know, you. You're conducting your.

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You're doing your PhD research in what gets referred to as a non-traditional way.

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Well, I find problems with that because I don't think it is actually in my experience.

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But, you know, you're working alongside your PhD And that's that's a lot to juggle.

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Right, it. Yeah, it is. To be fair, I kind of like I love to both sort of like whine about it because I want to be fair.

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Obviously would have loved not to be doing so much work.

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And since I said, like since I stopped doing with the pandemic like two of my jobs

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I have been so productive and I think I've written over written more in the last year than I have of the previous three.

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But that being said, I also kind of enjoyed it because a PhD

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Particularly when you're doing something so theoretical as I can be a like, very isolating.

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Like, you don't have labs. You don't get to work with teams and or things like that and even people in your own office.

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It's so specific that it's rather unlucky. There were actually no sort of.

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Have the mental capacity. I just want to hear you talk about your own work.

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So I quite enjoyed that change of pace. I think that it was.

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I think that if I only had to focus on my PhD, I would find it harder, whereas having the variety between engaging with different activities,

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different types of work, different groups of people has again, like it's time consuming and can be quite social

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But it also has like it gives you some sort of like an like an intellectual stimulation.

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It's quite nice. Yeah.

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And so, you know, we talked a little bit about the changes and what happened, the kind of how how we manage that from a work basis.

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And I wonder if you could say a little bit about.

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I guess how that felt is the kind of broad way I'd phrase it, but I guess the impact on your well-being, I guess is what I'm trying to get out,

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because, you know, we're we're in a period now where people are dealing with a huge amount of change.

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On top of the normal change that happens within a research degree programme.

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And so I wondered, you know, could you would you be willing to say something about.

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About how that affected your well-being and how maybe how you coped with that?

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Uh, yeah. So. I think.

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Well, I think that the the biggest issue is that.

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In relationin terms of the whole supervisor changes.

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It just for a long time,

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it made me feel that I should probably quit that clearly academia is not for me and that I would probably be better off doing something,

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something else. And I think that's because. You just at least for me.

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It never occurred to me that. Some that the problem might lie elsewhere, that I'd sort of like, that I couldn't.

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It never occurred to me they just might be that, yeah, I just can't work well with this particular person.

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No one's fault. It's just it is what it is. I just automatically assume that it's my fault I'm doing something bad.

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Like, clearly. I know. Like I didn't belong here.

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So that does take a toll. Firstly, because.

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Again, it sort of it leaves you it really tests your commitment.

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Usually you get these days like, oh my God, I am in my.

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I don't have a job. I don't have a salary. I'm working like three part time.

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We had we had side jobs to do something that I might not be a good fit for.

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And it that does take take it still like, you know what?

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What if I disappoint my parents? What about my family? Like, who looked up to me.

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What what what does it say about me and things like that. And to be fair but looking at now four years later, all of it, it was just.

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Again, like retrospectively, just so simple, it was so simple, what once so I have once I.

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Work with different people. Most of these problems just went away.

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I mean, not all of them. I think my my relationship with my first supervisors really has impacted my relationship with

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my current supervisor as well, even though I think we are, a much better fit.

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I still, for instance, feel very. And I still I think I'm kind of scared of asking my supervisor for things or

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approaching them with something that might not strictly be related to my project.

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But, you know, it might reflect like a broader sort of an academic issue.

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I think I just can't get a. Oh, look, I get nervous when I hand them in things.

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I was a little part of me that thinks that.

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Anything I give them or suggest to them that would just sort of like look at it and go yeah that's ridiculous and just laugh at me,

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which I'm pretty sure, like, I know that that's not what's going to happen. Just be hard to move away from that.

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Yeah. And I think there's there's a there's two. Really significant things I want to pick up on there that you that you raised.

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One of them is the impact this kind of I'm gonna call them organisational changes.

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I know that they're more than that, but there's kind of more organisational and administrative things of changing supervisor.

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Actually, the impact that that can have on your confidence and your faith in your ability to do this project is really significant.

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And, you know, impostor syndrome is rife through academia and the postgraduate research community anyway, without kind of,

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you know, when we have these exacerbating issues, actually, they just feed into those feelings are already there.

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And it's really interesting to hear you say that, you know, you were thinking about about quitting.

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So I guess my question is, why didn't you. What made you stay?

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Well, that's a good question. I'm. One of that is because the change happen when it happened, like.

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And that's why we'll always be really grateful for my first supervisor, even though I didn't work out well with us.

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And I'm very happy that they suggested the change when they did, because I probably would have ended up quitting if we had gone any further with this.

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And the other one was that because we because my parents helped me with my tuition fees, I just felt so guilty that, oh, my God, like,

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these people have paid so much money for me and I'm just gonna disappoint them like

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that because I'm too spoilt and or I don't lknow or whatever nonsense I was thinking.

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And even though I know that that's not the case, I know that my parents love me unconditionally

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It's just like you feel like you're letting people down, even though, you know, again, you know, it's not the case.

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It's just a reaction that you can't really control because it's not just I think that's another thing.

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Like it's not just you that's invested.

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If necessary, in this research degree, you are supervisors in your departments, the university, you know, the whole kind of institution.

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Even though I know it doesn't feel like it sometimes. But everyone is highly invested in you doing this.

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And, you know, your partners and your family and your friends, everybody's providing that support for you.

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And if you're getting, you know, like financial support as well. Additional pressure.

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Oh, yeah, exactly. And also it's like Why am I failing at this?

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What's wrong with me? What am I doing wrong again?

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Even though I know. I know. Well, that that's that's not an accurate way of describing it.

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It's just like this little voice in your head that you cannot get up.

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I mean, it's so common.

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And it's you know, and I'm really pleased that you shared that because it is so common for people to feel like if something goes wrong.

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Either your failure or there's someone to blame. And don't get me wrong, there are situations in life where people are to blame, but so often.

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Problems arise not because somebody is, you know, purposefully doing something to cause harm,

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but, you know, there's been a lack of communication, a lack of clarity.

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And so, you know, no one necessarily is to blame for the situation, you know, that's not missed.

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Like you said, I was really pleased to hear you say, you know,

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there was no one in your situation to blame in the in your first supervisory relationship for it not working.

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It just didn't work. And we all know that like that happens to us all in life in various ways,

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which is which is so weird because it it almost feels like what no one told me about this.

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Isn't that something that was common knowledge? Like. Yeah, cool. Like, it's definitely not unusual to not perfectly get along with your boss.

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Why is that not a thing that people just discuss? Much more common.

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Why in particular? Because sometimes you just don't know what you need.

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And I think that was my problem. I didn't know what I needed. Like what?

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What is it that's going wrong for me? Is the research is the structure is it's like and like the way that I'm being managed with what's happening.

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I don't know, particularly because it was. Yeah, exactly. This like the first kind of setting that an educational setting that called in

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allows for you to be like so actively engaged in shaping your own project that,

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yeah, it's a different skill set that you don't say you have, you know, just coming in.

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And it's just the feeling of. Yeah, again, like isolation, failure, like I remember official supervisor meetings.

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My only thought is like, why do you hate me? What have I done? And oh my God, I'm such a moron.

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These are the two thoughts and I'm not the most productive thing.

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And again, I'm talking about a person that you didn't actually do anything specifically wrong or bad.

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I don't have no complaints. It's just that. Yeah.

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Then how the relationship doesn't work rather than a person being at fault.

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Let's talk about where you are now. So. You've had this set of supervisors for how long?

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And three, four years. Okay. Yeah, three years. So how how is that going?

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How does how different is your experience now that you've got that stable supervisory relationship, that stable kind of support team?

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I think the biggest. The biggest difference is that when we will now arrange for a supervisor meeting, I still a little bit get nervous.

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But now I can. We feel much better than I previously.

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It's like now I know that. It was that the experience is going to be pleasant.

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That going to be no sort of like, you know, heart palpitation, nausea.

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So it's definitely been an improvement. And its definitely it makes you feel much more confident.

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Yeah, of course I can do this. I'll persevere and it will be fine.

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It also, I mean, practically speaking, of course, it makes a difference in the like the research, having people giving you so like an.

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Having the same the same set of people, looking at your work, seeing how you have progressed,

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seems sort of like any potential issues that you have with your writing or like your methodology and things like that.

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Yeah, because I think there's something really important in there about consistency, you know, and being able to see that development over time.

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Whereas, you know, when you come into a piece of work you're just getting a snapshot of where it's currently at,

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not kind of the journey that it's been on. And that can be about, you know, the quality of the writing and the quality of the ideas.

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But it can also be about the kind of evolution of the project and the way in which things have developed and changed

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And that's really important context.

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You're exactly like you're working with people that have a good overview of your work, your ideas, your ways, like how you do things.

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And definitely establishs a sort of like. I like a good trusting relations.

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And it also it helps you because I mean. Particularly in in social sciences, which is what I do.

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It's sometimes it's just. You also need to adapt your work.

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To what your supervisors sort of

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To directions that your supervisors give you. So in that sense, consistency is definitely like helpful.

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You agree with one supervisor and then someone is like

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But, you know, I think it's better when you do ABC and then you work with another one that says exactly the opposite.

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And then you work with a third one with other points, like it's so nice to work with people where you know exactly where you stand and what to do.

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Yes, I think that's really important. And I guess my next question is what?

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What advice would you give to someone who is going through a change of supervisor for whatever reason?

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First of all, it's fine. It's okay. It's definitely not what you're definitely not the only person has ever gone through.

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That doesn't mean that you are bad at what you do and it doesn't mean that

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You won't be able to complete your PhD at all.

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Whatever research project you're doing. So first and foremost, that's fine.

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And secondly. It's better to work with.

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It's better to have someone that your work working styles match rather than let's have someone that is an.

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More relevant to your exact project, because after a couple of years, you will know more about your project than your supervisor

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So you can do that by yourself but the relationship and have like having a trusting relationship with them.

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It's much more important. Thank you so much to Maria for talking to me and being so open and honest about her

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experience of changing supervisors several times and the impact that that had on her work.

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I'd be really interested to hear from more people about their experiences of the supervisory relationship, the good, the bad and the in between.

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So if you interested in talking to me about your experience as a supervisor or a supervisor, please do get in touch.

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And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to, like, rate and subscribe and join me.

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Next time. We'll be talking to somebody else about researches, development and everything in between.

 

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