In this blog I am pleased to welcome William Stevenson as a guest writer.
One thing a research leader needs to establish early on is how closely to supervise the members of his group, in particular how often to get updates on work in progress. I knew one group leader who got daily updates. The first thing in the morning, his group of about six would meet in his office and describe the previous day’s work. The process took about fifteen minutes, two to three minutes per person, about an hour of his time every week. Other group leaders have weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings. Many professors and some group leaders elsewhere have no set schedule for updates, adopting the “management by walking around” method of strolling through the lab and chatting with students or staff whenever they sense the need for input.
Which method works the best?
In reality, there is no one best method for supervision. The best method is the one that works best for you. Some professors and some students like a structured schedule for updates; the professor doesn’t have to worry about losing track of his student’s work and the student has a regular deadline that helps him organize his work. Other professors have sort of mind that doesn’t lose track of such matters; no matter how busy they are with teaching or administration their subconscious alerts them when it’s time for an update and then they will call the student to their office or walk through the lab to check on progress. Similarly, some students like the independence of working on their own but will freely update their professor whenever they have significant progress or encounter problems.
Some research leaders are famous for having a hands-off attitude. One professor in my graduate school was reputed to have little contact with his students. He was well regarded in his field and his students held him in awe. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” remarked a friend of mine. “They only see him when they give him their quarterly reports. That’s why his students worship him.” I suspect this analysis was an outsider’s superficial impression. The professor was pleasant and personable, the sort of boss no underling would hesitate to approach with a problem. He was there if he was needed—a mentor as much as a manager. That was his style and it worked for him. The same management style might work for you. Or it might not.
This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.