My PhD Experience: Initiating and Ensuring Sustainable Relationship with Supervisors

Choosing a supervisor is critical to a successful PhD journey. In some universities in Nigeria, you have to get someone to supervise you first before you even go to get the admission form. If not, you end up doing give away to the university. So, selecting a supervisor is an important decision. When I read what happens abroad where you have the latitude to select and change supervisors, the luxury is not there in Nigeria. It is the supervisors’ market. Willing students are much more than available supervisors. It is not anyone’s fault. Many of our institutions in Nigeria are understaffed. It is the same set of people that take undergraduate courses, teach Master’s classes, supervise both undergraduate and Masters’ dissertation and still supervise PhD thesis! They are human afterall. With husbands, wives and children to attend to, the work-life balance suffers and you (the PhD candidate) suffer with it. Therefore, if your choice is wrong in the first place, you may be stuck with that for the 4-5 year period of your study. And that could be hell!

This is emphasizing that the relationship you have with your PhD supervisor can make or break your PhD experience. So, you have to be careful in making this choice. You may ask what exactly are the factors you need to consider before settling for a supervisor. Locally, much is not available on that. But, a search on google can reveal a lot. There is a snag in that too. You will end up applying what is applicable abroad in your local context, that may be a serious mistake. Difference in context and cultural dimensions may not make a number of suggestions work in the local context. So, be careful. From my own experience, I believe that an intending PhD candidate needs to understand the research interests of their supervisors. It is important to make sure you are researching what interests your potential supervisor. Interestingly, it may be difficult to know that for students in the Social Sciences and Humanities. However, a check on academic database such as Google Scholar, Academia and Researchgate could be of assistance. These sources will only reveal the academic interest of your supervisor. You need to understand their human traits as well. You need to know their emotional intelligence, coping strategies under pressure and mindset on students’ advancement, growth and progress. It is advised that a potential PhD student meet both current and past students of their proposed supervisor to have an understanding of their mindset.    

Whatever it is, you should understand that the relationship between you and your supervisor  will eventually become a life-long one. It has the capacity to enhance your career after the PhD study. I have seen some post doctoral requirements that stipulate that the applicant’s supervisor must write a reference/recommendation letter for the applicant. Most importantly, the PhD journey impacts on the candidate’s mental health in no small measure. The choice of a wrong supervisor may damage your mental health beyond repairs. It may as well ruin your self-confidence. I have heard of someone who, at Master’s level, found it difficult to knock his supervisor’s door. He would be chanting prayers and be hoping that he met the man in a good mood. Or else, he would leave on the verge of shedding tears! If someone is unlucky to fall into the hand of a sadist of a supervisor (with some level of incompetence), it would always be a festival of “recast”, “review”, “print in colour” for your submissions.  A supervisor is supposed to be a mentor, a guide and sometimes a support pillar for the student’s journey towards a PhD. Choose carefully!

However, supervision is not a one-sided affair. It takes two to tango. As you are looking forward to an ideal supervisor, you yourself must be a willing, mature and hardworking student. You must be imbued with a lot of emotional intelligence, understanding and local wisdom. You need to as well display emotional strength. Know that whether in Nigeria or elsewhere, a large number of people drop out of the PhD programme. You must understand the context and manage your expectations. You need to be aware that the PhD journey requires some smartness on your part. So, be ready to be the ideal candidate too.

In my own case, I had the luck of having a supervisor well known to me. She (God bless Dr. Yinka Egbokhare) neither supervised my project at undergraduate nor at Master’s level. But, I have always admired her from a far as a student in her class for the first 4 years as an undergraduate. Popularly known as Aunty Yinka, I appreciate her style of teaching. She combined theory with practicals. And I have followed her style since then. She introduced the advertising competition among 300 Level students of Communication and Language Arts then. I copied that when I became coordinator of my department in 2017. She was one of the panel of judges for the Creativity Challenge that has become a tradition in FUOMass Communication today. I remembered I brought her to Osogbo for a public review/reading of her book – the Dazzling Mirage. That was way back after my first degree. Then, a Master’s degree or PhD was not even in the plan. Then we had a joint programme with the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN, University of Ibadan Chapter) and the Ate Ogbon Literary Club. She was a strong pillar of the association then. We were together at the Zoological Garden, Ibadan with select secondary school students from Osogbo and Ibadan.  

I went this deep to show that a smooth relationship with one’s supervisor on a PhD journey is essential. For me, it was a blessing to have been supervised by someone who relates with me very well. It smoothened the journey and lessened the burden. I am glad that the relationship is still intact!   

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