I recently read an excellent blog on ‘why supervisions can be hard’ by a former PhD student at Nottingham University. She describes how complex and fraught supervision can be. She starts off by explaining that she had never been asked to sit in front of someone for a full hour and discuss what she thinks. She highlights that the rules for supervision are not explicit before you start, that the relationship with your supervisor is both personal and professional, that you expose yourself during supervision- and its a little scary sometimes (https://patthomson.net/2014/02/20/why-supervisions-can-be-hard/).
I started my clinical training as an SLT straight out of school – having just turned 18. And ever since then I have either received some kind of supervision of provided some kind of supervision. I have had individual supervision and peer supervision (in a group). I have been supervised by SLTs, by managers, by nurses, by occupational therapists, by physiotherapists and by psychologists. I have had amazing supervision and not so amazing supervision. I have given supervision to SLTs, nurses, students and psychology assistants. I am sure I haven’t always given great supervision. Long ago, at the very start of my career someone told me that as the supervisee it is up to me to get from supervision what I need. I have also learnt that different people have been able to offer different things in supervision. Some supervisors have offered me clinical ideas, knowledge and problem solving support, others managerial, operational and strategic ideas and others emotional support. With some supervisors I have been able to ask for help with day to day concerns, with others this would not have been appropriate and actually I needed to demonstrate my knowledge and skills in order to gain their confidence in order to push myself or a service forward. Some of these are less tangible but all are useful. And through having so much supervision I have learnt about my own needs and preferences in this area.
As I moved from healthcare delivery into academia I breathed a sigh of relief to know that I would still be having supervision. That this supervision was all mine- no sharing it with anyone else, no politicising it, no focus on the broader service I work in. Before I started my PhD I was lucky enough to a) know my supervisor from my undergraduate degree b) have a period of time immediately before my PhD where we worked together to put my funding application in and consequently developed a working relationship. Putting all these factors together meant that I approached my supervision with a positive outlook. And my supervisor is wonderful. She made some clear recommendations about how frequently supervision would occur, that writing an agenda in advance and writing minutes up afterwards would be useful. And she checks all my minutes! And reminds me of anything I have missed, or clarifies anything I haven’t quite gotten right in them. My supervisor has always been extremely transparent and clear about what she expects from me. Yet puts no pressure on me – I am able to use supervision how I see fit. I write the agenda.
That is not to say it is always smooth sailing:
– I confess that I have had some moments of paranoia and panic: “What will my supervisor think about my opinion?”, “What will she say about what I have done?”, “Does she think I am stupid!?”. Putting my opinion out there can be daunting. (Of note this is simply imposter syndrome and will NEVER go away, whether I work as an SLT or as academic).
– I realise how genuinely terrible my knowledge of grammar and punctuation is. But my supervisor and I often laugh the root cause of this: I am a child of the 80s, educated in England, so that’s ok. And I think I am getting better at this with her help….
– Getting feedback on written work can be disheartening. I have found that I need to be much more patient in academia. I used to write and send reports that were ‘good enough’ in order to meet a deadline and get a patient what they needed. In academia the focus must be on the quality of the work- and thus I spend a lot longer than I would perhaps want to trying to perfect written work (articles, protocols, ethics applications, thesis chapters). This is a kind of pleasure-pain for me if I am honest- and perhaps should be more fully explored in an entire other blog post!
But these are the exact kind of things that my supervisor is there for. She calls me out when I get something wrong so I don’t make a fool of myself. And she buoys me up when I have a good idea. She is excellent at editing – I mean truly excellent. I am learning SO much from her. And I love to learn. I find the work I produce so satisfying. I am reminded of previous posts where I have compared a PhD to a marathon or to being a parent. It is difficult but so worth it. And my supervisor is my running coach and my conscience. Seriously: thank goodness for supervision!