By Susan Carter
My eight years of being a consultant for doctoral students taught me what supervisors sometimes do not see: that candidates can struggle over whether or not to take supervisory advice. Here, I want to defend two suppositions.
1) It is always wise to pick your battles, and on that assumption, students do well to defer to supervisors when the issues are relatively minor.
2) When writing decisions are important, students need to learn how to refuse advice that they disagree with and demonstrate why.
Because students transition towards independent researcher status when they are able to make decisions and then make them work, academics who support them could initiate talk about how to manage disagreement with supervisors.
Often it is tricky responding to supervisor feedback on writing for candidates who don’t really agree with it. Learning how to negotiate diplomatically is a very useful skill that is not gained lightly. The power differential between student and supervisor can make it quite hard for students to hold on to their own choices. Those who come from a culture where it is inappropriate to contradict a teacher could be advised about Western expectations that there are intellectual benefits to arguing. It’s tricky, though, for many candidates, to disagree. Continue reading