Why you should listen to your supervisor

Thursday, November 08, 2012
File under: Seminar Room

The other day I was walking with my two children to an appointment we had on the playground. It wasn’t far away, probably 15 minutes of walk, but for some reason my kids were very slow. I kept telling them “C’mon, it’s just down this street, then going left and down another street and we’re there.” Still, they were very slow, going forward reluctantly, looking at the houses at both sides of the street.

Then it dawned on me: they had no idea where we’re going. I perfectly knew the route and to me, it was just a question of going there, but to them, it just looked like we were trotting down some boring road in the middle of the city, and they we’re wondering “why?”

I think the situation is similar if you’re a starting graduate student set out to spend the next X years of your life to get a Ph.D. It’s a pretty big project, probably the biggest endeavour you’ve embarked on so far. Then there are other subprojects like developing new methods, running experiments, writing papers, giving talks, etc. Afterwards, as a PostDoc, things are similar, writing grant proposals, getting funding, getting tenure, organizing a workshop, and so on. All of these projects involve many small steps and take a lot of time, from weeks to months, or even years.

It’s not even restricted to academia. If you think abou it life is full of those larger projects, and while you can intellectually grasp what lies ahead of you, this is much different from knowing the road because you’ve been there before. And that’s something your supervisor can provide to you, basically telling you that he knows the way and you should keep on walking and you’ll eventually get there.

Posted by Mikio L. Braun at 2012-11-08 14:58:00 +0000

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