Besides gaining your PhD or postdoctoral, it is important to develop your soft skills, such as mentoring, communication and project management. Taking time to co-supervise MSc students in their research projects provides a perfect platform to learn these skills. It also prepares you for your future career, helping you become a better independent researcher and a good project leader, capable of supervising junior researchers.
I personally had an interesting and rewarding experience co-supervising a few of my supervisors’ MSc students. However, it was challenging as well. Among the challenges was helping the students finish their research projects on time. Here are some tips that I learned during the supervision process that allowed me to ensure my students completed their projects within the timeline.
1. Ensure your students choose a relatable topic
If your students are going to work on topics outside your field, you are likely to have a hard time supervising. Moreover, this can easily mess up the timeline. That is why it is necessary to ensure that they choose a topic that doesn’t fall far away from what you are working on or what you are teaching. For starters, you want a topic you are interested in for increased engagement. Secondly, a bit of experience in that area can really make things easier for you.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that students choose a relatable topic is to present a few options for them and let them decide with the help of the supervising group. You can find inspiration from your own work. For instance, a student I supervised worked on an experimental technique I was using in my thesis to see if it could be applied in studying a different sample.
2. Develop a realistic research project plan
Careful planning is critical for any project. Creating a realistic project plan is paramount to ensure that the project runs smoothly and your students produce their best work. The last thing you want is a task taking much more time than planned.
Think of the whole project in detail; outline the breakdown of all tasks that have to be achieved, including the start and completion dates. Remember to anticipate challenges when deciding the timelines. You can work with your student in developing the plan so that you can achieve a plan they can manage. If you are responsible for finding the students to supervise, you can include the qualifications required to undertake the research and use the plan to advertise the position. This way, you can be sure that the project is in the hands of someone who can deliver within the timeline.
3. Adapt to your student’s supervision needs
I supervised many students while undertaking my PhD, and I realized that each student required a different way of supervision. Some students needed little check-ins; about 30 minutes weekly was enough. However, another group required more time, in-depth explanations, more probing questions to test the level of understanding and the like. I learned that the best way to handle the students is to tailor supervision according to individual needs.
For the latter, I found it helpful to encourage my students to send an email or text whenever they needed extra help outside our scheduled meetings. We used online tools such as Google Docs to record and define tasks in depth. Massive, an online file transfer platform, was particularly helpful in sending large files between the students and me as it has a simple interface, fast upload and download speed, and no file size limit.
4. Encourage them to seek help
Everyone encounters difficulties in the process. However, the ability to ask others for help is crucial to overcoming obstacles. Remind your students to ask for help whenever they feel stuck. They can reach out to you, their peers, or other people who have done a research project before. The most important part is to remind them to keep moving. Otherwise, the timeline can be negatively affected if they remain stuck in one place for a long time.
5. Evaluate & adjust the plan if needed
The research project doesn’t always work out as planned, even when you and your students have done your best. However, no project plan is cast in stone. You can continually evaluate and find other ways to do it. Don’t wait until it’s almost time to submit for you to re-evaluate the plan. Do it in good time so that you have enough time to accommodate the changes. Look at the project plan and decide which tasks can be removed; you can also come up with simpler research questions. If you need to obtain an extension, evaluating the plan early enough can reveal that.
Supervising a research project as a PhD student can be a learning process for you. I got new ideas from my students that helped me in my thesis. That is why it is essential to take up the challenge whenever it represents itself. However, remember that besides helping your students deliver their best work, you need to assist them in completing their research projects on time. Use the above tips to ensure exactly that.