Identification of the Challenges and Remedies in the Supervisor- Graduate Student Relationship


Nowadays, young scholars are influenced by experienced professionals in terms of scientific advisory and mentoring. In higher education institutions, graduate students need guidance from their supervisors to take correct steps toward achieving excellence in scientific areas. In the relationship between the supervisor and the student, both sides ought to be familiar with the purpose of this relationship and be prepared to take steps toward that. However, the different perceptions of the issues by the supervisor and the student may lead to a conflict [1].

The extent of complications is dependent upon the dimension of the relationship. The simplest relationship is the one that has the least financial or commercial interest [2]. In this case, the expectations of the supervisor are restricted to the student’s thesis. On the other hand, any additional research or teaching assistantship requires more consideration by both supervisor and the student as it adds to the complexity of the relationship through mingling the employment and supervision. The role of supervisors is bolder since a student has to trust the supervisor, is less experienced in their relationship, and has less power [2].

The outcome of this relationship is important not only in the way it affects the professional life of a student but also in the way it influences the future of academia. A student at higher levels of education can become a faculty member in the future. In this case, this person unavoidably takes the behavior of his/her advisor as one of the role models. Now, what happens if the supervisor is passing some inappropriate characteristics? Therefore, it is crucial to have well-educated faculty members not only in their scientific side but also in their supervisory role.

The tensions in the student-supervisor relationship usually comprehended differently by the two parties; Students refer to reasons like bad advising while supervisors attribute the unsuccessful experience to the character of the student [3]. Faculty members usually look for skillful, motivated, and self-driven students, and those who lack these characteristics are more prone to have trouble with their advisers.

In what follows, we overview some of the major issues associated with the supervisor-student relationship. Moreover, we take a look at the mitigating actions that could be done by the student, faculty member, and university administration.


Factors affecting the student-supervisor relationship from the student standpoint:

  • Injustice:

In a research group, members may (mostly unintentionally) compare themselves to one another. If one feels that the privileges are distributed unevenly, the roots of dissatisfaction begins to grow for the student. Some of these privileges can be the frequency and quality of feedback, stipend, recommendations [2]. In my experience, students usually do not express their complaints about injustice in a research group unless it becomes considerably influential in their research path. If they do so, the response of the supervisor is crucial. Supervisors with a sense of leadership would act to prevent the growth of any misunderstanding (which might have mistakenly reflected as an unjust advisory) or try to reduce any bias that they might have. If the student’s complaint is accompanied by a harsh objection from the supervisor, the relationship is less likely to have a happy ending.


  • Lack of Scientific Support:

To guide the students in the right direction and help them to improve their research work, they need feedback from their supervisors [4]. Especially, depending upon the student’s personality and background, some may need to frequently visit their supervisor to start moving the wheels of their research. However, professors have many obligations and sometimes, other responsibilities of the faculty member in the teaching or the research side (such as a grant deadline) may lead to days of late responses [4]. If this becomes a frequent habit, the supervision of the students becomes less effective and the students’ progress slows down.

The supervision does not have a global norm; in other words, faculty members usually have their own way of advising their students. Some advisors believe in spending more time for the student in the early stage and less as the research finds its path. Some others take help from their postdoctoral students to find more time for other aspects of their professional careers [1]. In all these cases that students are deprived of consistent supervision, they may suffer from poor support that results in slow progress or even a complete halt.


  • Misbehavior:

Motivating students to keep working hard is very effective to help them persist in their research direction. While it is an accepted fact in academic society, the supervisors take different approaches toward it. In one of the academic laboratories I have worked with, a globally-renowned professor was famous for his nasty comments about students’ performance. Statements like “you are stupid” was not much of a surprise in the research group meetings. He believed that toughness is a key feature to success and a student who flourishes under severe pressure is the one who can conquer the tall summits. This old-fashioned habit, however, can also destroy so many talents by generating hatred in their minds about not only their research but also science and academia. Psychologists have shown us that positive feedbacks and praise at the right time and the right place can be more efficient and drive the students to move forward [2].

Another type of misbehavior is the abnormally high pressure imposed on graduate students by giving additional tasks [1]. Many graduate students are lucky enough to have financial support throughout their studies by various types of assistantships. While graduate students should majorly focus on their thesis, a heavy burden of such tasks hinders them to move toward the main academic goals.


  • Harassment:

According to [5], 30-40% of female students undergo some sort of sexual harassment during their college or university studies. Needless to mention that this does not limit to the female students, there is no doubt that so many cases are buried in the students’ memories. In fact, some suggest that unless it is a very serious situation, students should refrain from taking action against the supervisor, especially if their research is going in the correct direction. This is due to the negative consequences that it might have for the student and the fear from the fact that the university administration may not intervene to the benefit of the student [2]. Personally, I believe this is not a valid decision to make. We are fortunate that, in today’s world, the dignity of people is more cherished more than in the past centuries. This gives us the courage to raise our sound and speak up if we are being annoyed by someone’s misbehavior. Therefore, we should no longer let such sort of harassment find any place in academia.


Factors affecting the student-supervisor relationship from the supervisor standpoint:

  • Disloyalty and Mistrust:

Historically, the student-supervisor relationship was almost like a dictatorship [x]. In this relationship, the students were committed to following the supervisors’ commands obediently. However, this is not the case today. Part of it is due to the borderless access to knowledge (which has shrunk the professors’ charisma in the students’ minds); the other part is because the students are more concerned about their rights and the world also pushes it forward. Some faculty members are annoyed by the fact that students do not look at them as a supervisor anymore. They believe these transformations have reduced the degree of trust the students had in their supervisors. It also makes them more inclined toward changing the environment (such as supervisor or university) rather than changing and improving themselves.


  • Inefficient Interaction:

While many students find supervisors’ feedbacks necessary for their scientific growth, some others are upset by what they call “micromanagement”. This group of students believe in their own way of doing research and prefer not to be distracted by the supervisors’ comments. However, it is rarely accepted by the supervisors that a student evades from giving reports of the progress he/she makes. This becomes even more important if the student is also employed by the faculty member or there is a commercial benefit in the outcome of the project. The relationship, in this case, only survives if a student adheres to the guidelines of the supervisor.


  • Lack of Self-evaluation:

A supervisor’s role is to give some clues to the student and provide directions. To this end, in the early stages of the relationship, students may expect a high level of interaction with their supervisors. But an advisor cannot be there for the student at all times, and the students must start to become their own supervisors based on what they have been taught. This idea is promoted by many faculty members and they expect students to become more independent as they move toward the end of the program.


  • Lack of Professionalism:

While the supervisor should provide a medium for the students’ progress, it is also expected that the students prepare themselves for the next chapter of their career with professionalism. The supervisors desire to see the growing professionalism in their students’ actions [6]. Faculty members believe that their expectations elevate as the experience of their students enhances. Therefore, if students cannot keep up with this growth rate, they cannot be prepared for their upcoming role in academia, industry, or wherever they intend to work.




  • Educating supervisors:

Although supervisors are knowledgeable in their fields of expertise, this does not reflect their mastery in guiding students toward their academic goals. Therefore, they must be educated to avoid any bias in teaching, advising, and mentoring. It is also noteworthy to mention that faculty members usually do not practice “supervision” before joining an institution and they are hired mostly because of their academic achievements. Therefore, there is a gap here that must be addressed by the schools through programs that prepare students as future professors.


  • University Guidelines

University supervision guidelines can be a very good source for enforcing the proper practices and shine a light on the responsibilities of both sides [2]. Supervisors should be assured about the workload they should expect students. The problem is that, at least in the current era, the power imbalance makes it so that only supervisors can enforce the students’ duties and the opposite does not hold. Therefore, the administration policymakers should not only devise rules to protect the rights of the graduate students but also should advertise and inform the faculty members of these rules and their importance.


  • Meeting with Supervisor:

In almost every student-supervisor relationship, a situation of dissatisfaction may happen for each side; if we can resolve the issue in the early stages, we may prevent it to turn into a bigger issue and ultimately, endanger the entire relationship. Speaking to a trusted friend or an experienced consultant can be insightful before meeting with the supervisor [3].


  • Formal Complaint:

If the problem is not resolved in a one-on-one meeting, the intervention of the university may provide an opportunity for reconciliation. The graduate program director can be the first one to start with as he/she knows the procedure and policies [4]. If the discussion with the program director does not come helpful, the department head can be the next choice. Ultimately, the dean of graduate school and president of the university can be the student’s options. The process of seeking help can be very stressful for the students and strong documentation is essential for this purpose [4].


  • Changing Supervisor:

Changing a supervisor should be the last choice [4]. The least cost is slowed progress and delayed graduation due to the time needed to find and calibrate with the new supervisor. This process can also hurt the faculty members, especially, if they have financially supported the student and expected a satisfying outcome. Moreover, finding another supervisor with a common research interest is not a trivial task; in [7], the research shows that many students prefer to change their university rather than the supervisor since they fail to find supervisors that fit their research area.





The next generation of professors, world-leaders, entrepreneurs, and all other occupations are most likely to be brought up in higher education institutions. Therefore, the current faculty members have an undeniable impact on not only the scientific career of the students but also their characters. In this study, we targeted the supervisor-student relationship from both perspectives. It was discussed that the injustice in a research group can lead to the dissatisfaction of students. Scientific support is another important factor in the relationship; students expect feedback on their work to make sure about their progress. Also, the misbehavior and harassment conducted by the supervisors endanger the health of the relationship.

From the supervisors’ perspective, lack of trust and loyalty is a major reason behind the troubles in the supervisor-student relationship. Besides, inefficient communication, self-assessment, and professionalism are other key features in a successful relationship.

Any of the issues above can ignite the conflict’s flame and lead to more severe issues. What the university administration can do to prevent such conflicts is to make things clear and set up rules for the standard relationship. Also, the administration must assure both sides that they would be treated equally against these rules. If troubles in a relationship exceed a threshold, the first remedy might be a talk between the supervisor and the student with both having the will to resolve the issue. The next step is a formal complaint to the administration level at the department level or higher. The final choice should be the change of supervisor as it is costly for both sides, especially, the student who may have slowed progress and should overcome the problem of finding another supervisor.



[1] E. Löfström and K. Pyhältö, “Ethics in the supervisory relationship: supervisors’ and doctoral students’ dilemmas in the natural and behavioural sciences,”  Studies in Higher Education, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 232–247, Feb. 2017, doi: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1045475.

[2] C. MacDonald and B. Williams-Jones, “Supervisor-student relations: examining the spectrum of conflicts of interest in bioscience laboratories,” Account Res, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 106–126, 2009, doi: 10.1080/08989620902855033.

[3] S. K. Gardner, “Student and faculty attributions of attrition in high and low-completing doctoral programs in the United States,” Higher Education, vol. 58, no. 1, pp. 97–112, Jul. 2009, doi: 10.1007/s10734-008-9184-7.

[4] L. Blair, “Dealing with Student-Supervisor Problems,” in Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation, L. Blair, Ed. Rotterdam: SensePublishers, 2016, pp. 121–126.

[5]  J.-C. Smeby, “Same-gender relationships in graduate supervision,” Higher Education, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 53–67, Jul. 2000, doi: 10.1023/A:1004040911469.

[6] A. Yousefi, L. Bazrafkan, and N. Yamani, “A qualitative inquiry into the challenges and complexities of research supervision: viewpoints of postgraduate students and faculty members,” Journal of Advances in Medical Education & Professionalism, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 91–98, Jul. 2015.

[7] C. M. Golde, “The Role of the Department and Discipline in Doctoral Student Attrition: Lessons from Four Departments,” The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 76, no. 6, pp. 669–700.



Long-term plan of higher education

There is no doubt about the role of funding agencies on the direction that Higher Ed institutions take. But does that direction lead to a bright future for humanity?


There is no easy answer to this question; but In today’s world, we are more and more seeing the power of money in higher education institutions; we have seen cases that the faculty members who are accused of misbehaving of any sort are supported by the university administration, and the reason, many believe, lies in their ability to bring money. Although we have so many moral, yet diligent scholars who conduct valuable research in its pure form, the inclination toward cherishing the value of money more than the value of dignity and morality can endanger the bright future that we picture. The education system looks like an efficient machine that works hard to satisfy the world’s needs; however, some of the needs may not be demanded by today’s world but are crucial for long-term redemption. Here is the role of government to value those pure scientific efforts which work for the future of humanity. Are the most powerful men in the world capable of making proper decisions for that?

How important is the teaching role to the tenure-track professors?

I have been in higher education since 2013 and my shallow experience may not be enough to comprehensively judge the education system, but what has been engaging my mind is that the boundary of teaching with research is not optimally handled in higher education, especially in the U.S. schools. I have had many experiences with professors in the U.S. who were not devoting enough to their teaching responsibility. In the engineering fields (which I have been involved with), the importance of seizing funding opportunities has adversely affected the faculty member’s passion for teaching and preparing the next generation of young scholars.

I think the current education system – especially in engineering school – directs the tenure-track faculty members to assign more weight to the publications and bringing funds to the school to secure their tenured position. This does not mean that the teaching part has no significance. However, my initial feeling was that young professors try to be as nice as possible to their students and try not to make the homework and assessments too challenging to keep the class participants satisfied. This can sometimes hinder the students to gain the most out of a class.

Today, Class, I’m Proud To Announce My Tenure is a drawing by Farley Katz

While I do not visualize a short-term change in the priorities of the tenure-track faculty members, technology can introduce workarounds to enhance the quality of teaching and lower its burden for the instructors. This can be done through a one-time design of the course material (especially presentation lectures) which can save much time for the instructor. By ensuring top quality of the course material, the trade-off between time consumption and course quality is handled such that the students benefit from a well-prepared lecture and the faculty member can efficiently manage the course load and other tasks.

Online Course Providers; the Missing Piece of the Education System or a Disruption to it?

Digital technology and widespread internet access have revolutionized the education system in the 21st century. As a product of these changes, the massive open online course (MOOC) providers such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity have emerged, each having over a million registered users.

The open access to a vast spectrum of courses has provided an opportunity for people across the globe to affordably seek what they are passionate about. The major concern, however, is that, are these platform able to offer a quality of education equivalent to the traditional institutions?

Dr. Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business Professor, cast the doubt on the suitability of these newcomers and predicted that such disruption to the conventional education system would cause the failure of thousands of universities across the U.S. So far, the prediction of Dr. Christensen does not seem close at all; however, while we are seeing rapid growth in the number of platforms for MOOCs, numerous universities have undergone a flat/declining student enrollment.

In my opinion, the impacts of MOOC providers on the in-person institutions are positive in the long run. The fulfillment of the needs of the education seekers is surely dependent upon the quality of service they receive. If my expectations from an online course are not met, I would likely consider the traditional in-person courses as my priority. The opposite case also holds; the traditional institutions have no choice but to accept the competition which I would believe results in a better education system. Ultimately, these paths of gaining knowledge are not in a boxing ring! They have the chance to modify each other, find their genuine standing, and lead to an equilibrium where the people have the highest chance to flourish their capabilities.


Student-advisor: Friendship or master-slave relationship? – Part 1

Since entering graduate school, I have found myself lucky to have a respectful and positive relationship with my advisor (and I hope it goes on like this…). Unlike many other students, the university ranking was not the basis of my decision-making process. I was very picky about the faculty member I was going to work with because I had to face a huge transition. Within a couple of weeks from my graduation as a bachelor student, I started my PhD degree. It is crystal clear that the type and degree of expectations are much more different in the PhD level than bachelor level. Therefore, I could have had a hard time if I were left alone with some research tasks on the first day in the graduate school. In what follows, I will discuss the reason that I felt I should be very careful about my future advisor.

I have been told by many of my friends who were studying at graduate level that their advisers have narrowed down their responsibility to funding and the rest is expectations. I know this is not the case for all faculty members, but in my case, for a student who have had no research experience, leaving the student alone with a burden of tasks could have been catastrophic. This has been a spark in my mind to picture myself as a future advisor. More specifically, how do I want my relationship to be with my students?

Firstly, we all know that we cannot treat everybody the same. In the case of advisors, they have to deal with students with many different backgrounds and personalities. But as a main theme, I prefer to be a type of advisor who keeps the students close and my expectations are not restricted to technical ones. Although it may sound a bit ideal (or impractical) at the first glance, I have reasons to justify my claim. My first reason is that I want my students not to feel scared about a problem they face. The problem can be either in their daily lives or in the path toward their degrees. In this article, I am going to address the role of a perfect advisor in addressing the problems in students’ daily lives.

First and foremost, if my student is suffering from an issue in his/her personal life, this indirectly affect my plans as a faculty member, too; this will turn into my problem if my students are not making progress in their researches. It is my problem, too, if my students are missing the deadlines and do not satisfy our sponsors. Thus, not only as a human being’s duty, but also because of my own interest, I should help them as a friend to overcome their concerns. If I am not a friend of my students, I will only see reflections of their challenges in our research’s unsuccessfulness. But, if my advisees see me as a person who cares about them and tries to help them, I will be more like a true advisor and not a commander…

(To be continued…)


IEEE Access Journal: A Brief Overview


The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is the largest association of electrical engineers headquartered in New York City, NY, USA.  On the website of IEEE, it is claimed that IEEE “the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity”.  IEEE constitutes of over 40 societies to address various areas of electrical engineering. Moreover, some societies of IEEE address the interdisciplinary fields of electrical engineering overlapping with other disciplines such as aerospace, geoscience, material science, etc. Each society has its own journal(s), holds several events and conferences and provide a forum to share the most recent technological developments.

While most of the journals published by these societies can be accessed through paid memberships, IEEE Access journal was established in 2013 as an open access journal.  IEEE Access is that it is a multidisciplinary journal covering all areas of electrical engineering and is not limited to a field or two. Therefore, the scope of this journal includes all the electrical engineering fields of interest, and emphasizes on the interdisciplinary applications. The  journal not only accepts technical articles, but also admits review papers and surveys.

IEEE Access has shown a significant growth since its establishment in 2013. As of 2019, the impact factor of this journal has risen from 0 to almost 5 which is higher than numerous journals with decades of publication history.  The figure below demonstrates the evolution of the journal’s impact factor over time.

IEEE Access 2-year Impact Factor Trend

In my opinion, part of the journal’s success is because of the open accessibility and the more visibility of the journal compared to traditional IEEE journals. However, as we all know, not all open access journals have made successful experiences. What characterizes IEEE Access from other open access journals is its rigorous review process. This ensures the technical novelty of the published articles which further adds to the journal’s credibility and reputation. All these reasons along with the fast review process (4-6 weeks) and the reasonable processing charge (US $1750) have made this journal a favorite choice for the authors.

The role of supervisors on research ethics

The case study I have chosen for the examination of research ethics is the research misconduct in a project supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). In this project, following wrongdoings were committed:

(1) fabricating the results of the T-maze behavioral experiment for control mice to make it appear as though he had conducted the experiments

(2) falsifying the laboratory data and the animal transfer logs in an effort to cover up his actions, and

(3) reporting the fabricated and falsified data to his laboratory supervisors and principal investigator

I chose this case as I felt empathy to some degree with the respondent. The reason is that when somebody’s work is tied with experimentation (including myself), it is quite common to undergo some critical moments when a bunch of small and big issues are keeping you away from the desired output.

When your threshold for fighting against these challenges is a bit low, you may break down at any of these key moments. The actions taken in this case is a reflection of the breakdown. In my opinion, there are many of us who get quickly overwhelmed when bottlenecks happen across our paths. It is a natural reaction of our mind, and a good supervisor is one who prepares you against these moments. A good supervisor knows that the student wants to prove himself/herself to the advisor as quickly as possible and strives to keep the supervisor satisfied all the time. Knowing this, the supervisor should ensure the student that he/she can also discuss the problems without any consequences. The student should be made sure that missing a deadline is not worst thing in the world, and achieving genuine results is worthy enough to be patient, face challenges, and overcome them.

All in all, in my opinion, most of the cases that a student commits such falsifications occur when the student is worried about the consequences of reporting a problem instead of the results; and every student should be convinced that this is a common step toward the goal…


A Mission Statement Comparison: University of Cambridge vs. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

In this article, we compare and analyze the mission statements of two quite different higher ed institutions in terms of their foundation date; one is the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (founded in 1991), one of the most successful institutions in the list of youngest universities. The other one is University of Cambridge in United Kingdom which is founded in 1209 and is among the oldest educational institutions across the globe, also being continuously enumerated as one of the most . Let us begin the comparison with an overview of the mission statements of these two institutions:

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST):


Mission Statement

To advance learning and knowledge through teaching and research, particularly:
– in science, technology, engineering, management and business studies; and
– at the postgraduate level;
To assist in the economic and social development of Hong Kong.

Core Values:

  • Excellence, Integrity, and Academic Freedom
  • Global Vision and Local Commitment
  • Can-do Spirit
  • Inclusiveness, Diversity, and Respect

University of Cambridge (UCamb):

Source: Guardian



Mission Statement

The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

Core values

  • freedom of thought and expression
  • freedom from discrimination

In the first glance, one can see that in HKUST mission statement, an emphasis is put on the nation’s economic and social development. On the other hand, UCamb targets the cutting-edge research and education at its highest standards. Moreover, HKUST emphasizes directly on some disciplines including engineering, management and business while UCamb apparently cherishes the science at its most general term (at least in the mission statement).

By looking into the core values, it can be comprehended that HKUST adds more weight to the importance of inclusion and diversity. Despite mentioning “freedom from discrimination” as one of the core values, UCamb does not refer to the inclusion as a goal/value.

All in all, the mission statement and core values of UCamb were well-organized in the sense that the mission statement’s attention revolved mostly around the ambition for excellence at global levels while the core values emphasize on the freedom of thoughts and from discrimination. But in HKUST’s, the mission statement and core values had overlapping interests (nation’s progress, excellence in academic research and education) with a broader attention toward inclusion, diversity and freedom of speech.