A lot of PhD students complain about the meetings with their supervisor: they don’t get the feedback they need, they are overwhelmed by all the tips they are getting but don’t know how to use them, and they are getting lost because their research needs to go into a different direction all the time, they feel they are treated like a child….
And you can probably give a few more examples yourself.

So what can you do to make sure the meetings with your supervisor work out as well as possible?

A few pointers:

  • How is your own inner stance? Do you feel like an equal interlocutor? Why or why not? And how does that influence the conversation?
  • How did you prepare for this meeting? Is it clear to you what you want to know? Do you know what kind of feedback you want to have? And in what way?
  • Is it clear to your supervisor what you want? Did you make that clear to him or her? Does he or she know what questions you have?
  • Did your supervisor have had enough time to prepare for the meeting? What kind of input have you delivered? In what way? And what kind of pointers did you add to that what you handed in? Or do you somehow expect your supervisor to read your mind?
  • If you are meeting to discuss text: did you make clear what the status of your text is? The first draft, almost finished, somewhere in between? Have you made clear up front what needs to be revised? Have you made clear which feedback you want on what?
  • Did you make an agenda for the meeting? Does your supervisor know?
  • Have you thought about what to say if your supervisor is going to mount his hobbyhorse again?
  • Have you thought about what you can say to steer to the conversation in the direction you want it to go?


Good preparation is half the work, as we say in Dutch. The better you prepare yourself, the more you know and the more you are able how to steer the conversation, the bigger the chance you can actually talk about the things that are important to you! And then you can walk out again with all the input you actually need.

Hope to hear how your meetings went!

photo via Flicker, with thanks to Jozoana

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  1. I’m only doing my masters right now, not a PhD (yet), but as I working on a research project I find posts like this very useful. Thank you Arjenne!

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