Tuesday, 23 July 2013

And we're all wonderful

Posted by Jean Adams

I like supervising student projects. But I think I like supervising MSc projects the most. The students are a bit more motivated, enthusiastic and capable than undergraduates. The timescales are short enough that I don’t get bored. The projects are straightforward enough that I rarely have to ask (out loud or in my head) “sorry, what is it we’re trying to do again?”

Most years I supervise two or three MSc projects. Often they’re projects that I suggested, but increasingly they’re either a great idea that the student came up with, or something that we somehow worked out together. I’m lucky to have had a run of great students. One of this year’s group said to me “everyone wants you as their supervisor because they say that you get all of your students a distinction”. Unfortunately, this isn’t true – either that all my students get a distinction, or that I get it for them. Good students get themselves a distinction; and there are definitely students who have been erased from my CV (I’m not scared of massaging the appearance of the denominator).

As the weather hots up and supervisors start to long achingly for the time in August when they might get to a) go on holiday; or b) stay home and catch up with all the jobs they haven’t managed to do since last August, MSc students also start to go into overdrive. In the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by how different this year’s students are. Not just from each other, but also from me.

I’ve done Myers-Briggs enough times to know that everyone is different (and obviously this never occurred to me before someone paid to have my personality profiled and asked me to fill in an annoyingly ambiguous questionnaire). Perhaps being placed in the role of supervisor means that I am generally able to impose my ways of working on my students. After all, if they don’t fit in with me, they are likely to annoy me and not get much in the way of support or feedback. Maybe most students work this out implicitly or explicitly fairly early on in the process and just work with it.

This year I have been most bothered by the self-confessed last minute student. They’ve finished their data collection. The protocol that they submitted in January will make a perfectly good methods section. I’ve seen a first draft of their analysis. The work is not finished, but it could easily be in a week or two. Whereas I would want to get it licked so I could relax, go on holiday, maybe get the paper written up before the next academic year rolls round and flattens me, last minute student is totally calm about leaving it. It’ll take a week or two, they can start mid-August and still have plenty of time.

My logical side knows this to be true. My reflexes scream that this will lead to panic and trouble. Come mid-August I’m going to be on holiday, so it’s not like I’ll be the one who has to deal with any panic. Last minute student knows they will be on their own for the last two weeks. They just trust that things will turn out fine.

How I want them to finish their work now. How I wish I could join them in their state of ‘it’s too early to get the least bothered about this’ tranquillity.


  1. Just checking out the Fuse blogs for inspiration and found this gem, wondering if I'm said student or not. Eep!

  2. Did have to have a wee think about it...but I can now categorically confirm it was not you! Promise.

  3. Superb. The word 'tranquility' was a hint that it might not be.