Upon completion of my Honours studies, my supervisor invited me to co-supervise to a new Honours student with him, as I had gained some level of knowledge within the project that the new student was to work on. Although this was an interesting pursuit, I was a bit anxious as I did not have any experience with supervising students, and I had not received any prior training on how to be an effective supervisor. I questioned myself on: what a ‘good’ supervisor really is… what traits should they have? Is there ever one? To answer these questions, I looked towards my own supervisors and fellow colleagues who supervise students. From observing these individuals, I came up with 3 traits that I consider vital in a good supervisor.
There is nothing more frustrating than sending emails and not getting a response for along time, especially when you need urgent response. Conversely, it is satisfying to get an quick response and solution to the query you are emailing about. This holds true within the academic space, where a student might need urgent assistance, in line with the expected time frames for response to emails for the specific university that the student is registered in. Additionally, students value an available supervisor who can avail themselves for regular meetings, is contactable over various communication platforms, and can put in extra hours assisting students when needed.
Students value a supervisor who is knowledgeable in the project that they are working on. As a student, having a supervisor with a considerable level of expertise in your field builds confidence in the work that you are doing. The supervisor does not specifically have to be an expert in all the specific technicalities of your project, but their knowledge in the general field of research really does go a long way.
A student’s life goes beyond just academia, there are various facets that make up a student’s life that should be taken into consideration. These include family relationships, financial matters, mental health issues amongst others. A supervisor who can understand these aspects of a student can easily fit themselves into the shoes of the students and figure a way to relate with them and optimally assist them.
Having learnt these traits. I tried my best to apply them to students that I co-supervised. I immediately learnt that efficient supervision is not dependent on only the supervisor, but the commitment, communication and dedication of the supervised students also plays a role. A committed student who communicates well and can work independently is easy to supervise, and the opposite is true. Since then I have co-supervised, and acted as a main supervisor for many other students and it has, honestly, been a very interesting journey. I currently supervise both honors and masters students, each with their own unique attributes .
The list of traits in a good supervisor is probably longer than I have stated here. There are various studies that investigate the qualities that make a good supervisor, for a example a 2011 study identified the attributes of supervisors and examined elements of effective supervision from the graduate research students‟ perspective. However, form experience and observation, I have learnt that the three above-stated traits play a vital role in optimal supervision of students. Personally, I am privileged to have supervisors with these traits, and I try my best to adopt them in the supervision of my own students.