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Postgrad students rely on their supervisors for help and support. They ask for guidance and direction in their writing and experiments. The supervisor provides correction and even becomes a mentor in the process. Offering advises on how to navigate postgrad life and its challenges. Students pursuing postgraduate education often have to overcome a number of overwhelming situations. The support of family, friends, peers and their supervisors help them to stay focused and on track. However, not all supervisor relationships are positive.

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The support from your supervisor can help you avoid the stress of repeating the same mistakes, and when they are unavailable for guidance, things can go awry. For example, as the postgrad student, you may reach burnout. Worried and stressed as to why your experiments are not working. Discouraging supervisors can also influence your career path. Faced with negative comments from someone you look up to can leave you in despair and force you to abandon the area of study altogether.

A recent postgraduate study carried out by the higher education academy found that support from academic staff made the biggest difference to how students often felt about their studies. You are either encouraged and inspired or discouraged and downcast. Sometimes a student and supervisor have different working styles, perhaps there is micromanaging and this may result in I conflict between the two. Given that they are both smart individuals, it may be hard to settle their differences without stepping on the other’s ego.

However, as much as they are some negative experiences, several Ph.D. holders give credit to their supervisors for supporting them through to graduation and beyond. The supervisor plays more than one role, teacher, mentor and the springboard that facilitates your process to bring your work to life. The quality of your Ph.D. is influenced by them inconsequentially. Styles of supervision defer on the type of research being done and the subject area of interest. Striking the right balance between affiliation and control can help improve Ph.D. success and the supervisory relationship. Providing extra mentoring support is also another positive factor. There are some ‘styles’ frequently practiced while doing a Ph.D. One of them is the clone.

The clone

This involves the candidate is expected to replicate the supervisor’s instructions for his or her work and produce research that supports the supervisor’s reputation and prestige. This method is stifling at best and it is an egotistic representation of the length an authority figure will go to, to recreate their works. It has little room for creativity from the student themselves. In other circumstances, the postgrad student becomes something of a personal assistant or apprentice to the supervisor. This relationship may continue even long after graduation with the student cast in a secondary role for an overdue period of time. This patron-client role is uncomfortable for the student who is caught up in a power imbalance.

The ghost supervisor

This happens when you have a reluctant and absent supervisor. The supervisor barely knows the students, rarely responds to emails and when the student needs their guidance, they are absent. The supervisor who is supposed to have a dominant role in the student’s project work is more of a ghost than a present mentor. As previously discussed, absent supervisors are often discouraging to have because they leave the students to grapple in the unfamiliar territory until they reach burn out.


In this case, the supervisor is overly familiar with the student. Treating him or her as a friend or member of the family who may or may not ask for favors such as babysitting or carrying out errands at no pay for the supervisor. It is an awkward and unfair position to put the student in. Professional When the student is treated as a colleague in training it is beneficial to both for the experience they gain after the postgrad graduates. There is mutual respect and a good professional relationship is maintained.