Doing the PhD

a PORT for Modern Languages tutorial

1 Supervision

1.4 if things go wrong

Things generally go wrong because of a failure of communication. The first thing to do therefore if you are unhappy about something (or if the supervisor is unhappy with your work!) is to talk about it. Don’t hide.

Identify the problem:
- do you need advice and encouragement? Do you want to carry on with the same supervisor? Then talk to the supervisor directly. If you don’t feel able to address the issue with your supervisor, then tell someone else, but be very clear about what you want to get out of it. If something is UNOFFICIAL then it can be CONFIDENTIAL and will not be mentioned. In this case, you may get advice, but the person you talk to may not be able to take action. If you wish something to be done about it, then you may have to make an official COMPLAINT, and the action taken will probably become public in some shape or form, and the supervisor will be informed. If this happens, it may become harder to continue working with that supervisor. This of course may be what you want. You may be able to change supervisor for other and less problematic reasons, ie without going through any sort of complaints procedure: again, discuss your needs either with your supervisor directly or with someone else in the department. For example, there may be a Director of Postgraduate studies who is the obvious person in your department.

Your institution will certainly have guidelines and procedures that have to be observed in these cases, for instance the head of department attempts to resolve the problem, and then in default of a resolution, the head of school, and so on. Trade Unions such as the University and College Union (UCU) accept postgraduate members who also have teaching duties, and they may well be able to offer advice even if you aren’t qualified for membership. It is only in very rare cases (usually of gross misconduct) that a formal complaint is an appropriate or fruitful way for a student to proceed.