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SPRING

2nd May


this involves convincing themselves - as much as their supervisors - that they are progressing and moving closer to the completion of the project. Thirdly, good supervisors are honest in their criticism but constructive. In this sense, the supervisor needs to be both partisan and supportive of the project but at the same time its most loyal and trenchant critic. The supervisor is the student's first and most committed reader. A student who submitted her thesis recently put it this way: "Sometimes I find it funny how I always say 'I have to write a chapter for Les' rather than 'I have to write a chapter for my PhD'... You start to internalise your supervisor's voice. If a chapter isn't working and I think 'What would Les say?' then that helps me to fix it." Fourthly, supervisors should enable students to explore ideas but not let them drift too much. In this sense supervisors need to remind the student of the stages of the thesis as a whole and the larger timeframe. Finally, the best supervisors are ones who also keep the longer term future of the student in mind in terms of academic and intellectual development, but also of what might come next in terms of a working life after the PhD.

What qualities by comparison make for a good PhD student? A cynical or self-serving faculty member might say a good PhD student is someone who leaves the supervisor alone and produces an immaculately conceived PhD after three years of lonely industry.

 


A PhD student needs to read widely and imaginatively and this is perhaps the first quality a good student needs to cultivate. Secondly, a student needs 'mobility' and they need to engage with the world. As one colleague put it, they should "step out into the streets with their books with them." Mark C Taylor puts it to his students in these terms: "Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it." Thirdly, PhD students need to write regularly and to write to deadlines. This is a much harder skill to cultivate than it might appear on first sight because writing can often be a real struggle. The progress of a project is not measured in the ability of a student to 'talk their thesis,' rather it is calculated in words amassed, chapters drafted and how much of the whole thesis has been committed to the hard drive and then to paper. Fourthly, the hallmark of a good student is the capacity to hear criticism and react to it productively. Supervisors sometimes repeat the same critical points over and over and wait, sometimes in vain, for the student to act on them. Assimilating critical feedback and acting on it is an important skill that is not at all straightforward. Finally, in order to complete the PhD students need to remain loyal to their project. It is a long process and the temptation to become distracted by a short-term gain and interesting side projects can be very strong. In this sense, students need to remain vigilant about making the completion of the PhD their first intellectual

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6 May