Great (student-supervisor) expectations


I’ve started supervising students a little more frequently now, and during the induction process have found myself coming back to the common theme of what reasonable expectations a supervisor can have of a student, and vice-versa.

I hope that by making students aware of how I operate early in the piece I might be able to avoid misunderstandings later, or can have a point of reference if things go awry. So, I’ve decided to compile a list of things that I think are important to cover, to act as a starting point for a discussion about how the student-supervisor relationship will work. I’m interested to hear how others negotiate this space if you have any comments!

1. How I operate

I’m pretty casual in the way I interact with people and the way that I dress, I try to ignore academic hierarchies when engaging with members of our group, and I’m known to use expletives on occasion – if you catch me doing the latter and it makes you uncomfortable, please let me know and I will stop.

The above factors, my gender, and my age, do not mean I expect any less respect than any other University staff member. Same goes for the way you treat everyone else in our group, and the way they treat you – any inkling of sexist, racist, homophobic or any other form of antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated. If you think I am out of line in regard to any of these, please call me out on it immediately.

I value my down-time: if you email me on the weekend, do not expect a response until Monday. I don’t take proper holidays very often and take them seriously when I do, so please expect to only have very minimal contact with me when I take leave. I will ensure a co-supervisor is aware that I will be away and that they may have to step in for you more frequently.

I am happy to organise weekly meetings for a set day/time for us to catch up and for me to help you with anything you need. You should be prepared for these meetings – try and save up your questions for then, rather than emailing them to me throughout the week unless it’s really urgent.

If we need more time or something in particular comes up, we can organise extra meetings on top of this.

I work from home two days a week – so I won’t always be in my office during work hours, but I will take phone calls and respond pretty quickly to emails.

2. Writing

When you send me a draft of something, depending on how long it is, allow two weeks for me to get it back to you. If I take any longer than that, then you are allowed to get grumpy and chase me up. If you send me things that need to be looked at when the deadline is less than two weeks away, then I’m allowed to get grumpy. I’m likely to relax this in the few weeks leading up to theses and reports being due, but in the meantime, assume I need two weeks.

I will look at two drafts of each report/thesis chapter, maybe three drafts for papers if it’s the last ‘polishing’ step – any more than that and it risks looking like my writing. Start writing early in your project, and I will be much more sympathetic about any writing-related difficulties you have further down the line. Usually you’ll be able to make a good start on an introduction and methods well before you know what your results are.

Regina understands

I am an absolute formatting nut – it’s quite an affliction. So if you send me something important to read and the formatting’s all over the place, I’ll tend to focus on that rather than the content, which is really what I should be looking at. So please, keep the number of font sizes and bullet types to a minimum and your line spacing consistent. And no Calibri font. I hate it.

3. Other (no less important) things

If you are carrying out a research project there are a couple of key non-thesis-related skills that you should probably also be honing during this time, and I expect you to apply for small competitive grants and communicate your research. It’s always good to get experience in the former and it’s important for your CV, and the latter includes conference talks or posters, blog posts, and generally ear-bashing relevant people within- and outside academia about what you’re doing.

I expect you to participate in lab and School activities. The QAECO lab is quite unique in its size, resourcing, and generally collaborative atmosphere with friendly people, which makes for a great work environment that you should try to make the most of. I strongly encourage students to go to lab meetings and fortnightly reading groups, and to sign up for any internal training workshops.


Set a timeline – it’s your responsibility to stick to it – I will not nag or chase you. Same goes for any other element of your project – I’m not going to keep track of your timelines

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough: organisation is everything, especially if you’re working to tight timelines. Please organise your files into logical folders, give your documents meaningful and unique names so you know which version is which, back up your work religiously, and above all else, never use the word “Final” unless you’re about to hand it over to the relevant authority – otherwise you’re only tempting fate.



  1. Great blog Pia. Yeah – I developed such a document last year (while in Brisbane!) after some difficult student moments! Mine is quite long now & I discussed it with my current crop of students before finalising it – to see if it was fair. Margaret Stanley

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