Academia Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for academics and those enrolled in higher education. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

As a graduate student, I have recently supervised an undergraduate with their thesis work in co-operation with my own supervisor. I took care of the daily in-detail supervision, and my supervisor had the "grand overview" of the project and where it should lead to. This went on for almost 7 months.

Today, in roughly 3 hours, is the defense of the undergraduate. However, my supervisor hasn't asked me for my opinion on the thesis that was handed in. Actually, since it was handed in 2 weeks ago, I haven't been asked about it at all. The thesis will be evaluated by an external referee and the supervisor at a public defense today -- if it wasn't for the undergraduate student telling me, I wouldn't even know that the defense was today!

I find this weird, and to some extent unprofessional. As the main leader and supervisor, they should, in my opinion, discuss the thesis with me to hear my opinion and include me in this process. After all, I did help with the "brute work".

Part of me wants to let my supervisor know that I feel a little left out. On the other hand, I don't want to be difficult. What do you think I should do?

share|improve this question
I can't answer because I don't know, but this sounds a lot like my Masters supervisor and the PhD student who was with us every day. I met with the supervisor perhaps 5 times during the entire project. He wasn't even there for my defense. But I don't know if the PhD student talked to him about the students, or not. I thought it was a little weird at the time, but maybe this is normal. – la femme cosmique Jan 28 at 18:42
Thanks for your input. Could also be that I am "touchy".. – BillyJean Jan 28 at 18:43
Seems normal to me. He might have ignored you because he had nothing to tell you, aka everything is fine. He should have thanked you, yeah, but don't overestimate the amount of stuff going on in a professor's head. Job's done, that all :) – Fábio Dias Jan 28 at 19:14
While you most likely deserved more aknowledgement, you are also complaining that your supervisor didn't waste more of your time with this process. If everything looked right, he most likely thought that you can spend your time on much more meaningful tasks. To be honest, often in similar situations I wish it was a way for me to be left out of the process, as I can barely find time to read articles/theses.... – Nick S Jan 28 at 19:50
Maybe he is not allowed to have you giving input on the PhD report. Being involved in the process is one thing, but once things go formal, some barriers may have to be erected. For instance, imagine a prof having friendly chats/lunches with other groups' PhD students, once they happen to be made their internal examiners, this is made to stop or drastically toned down. – Captain Emacs Jan 28 at 20:42

In general, supervisors should "acknowledge" their students more. We often forget to tell people when they are doing well and only point out mistakes.

Your supervisor should have most definitely acknowledged your help with the student. He should have thanked you for helping out with the student and ideally given you feedback about your supervision.

As for comments on the thesis, depending on your official role and the rules of the university/department, he may not be able to talk to you about the grades of other students. That said, he could acknowledge you to let you know that. If he is allowed to discuss the grades, it can be a learning opportunity to talk about the process. That said, grading is generally not a fun part of the job, and he may simply be "protecting" you from an aspect of work. It is not out of place to talk to him about the thesis (either the final product or grade). He will let you know if the conversation goes someplace it should not.

The one place that he should most definitely try and acknowledge you is to the external referee. Something as little as "a lot of this project was managed by my PhD student Billy Jean" can help your networking.

share|improve this answer
Just that it is more than a bit weird to have a student supervise another, and not taking any input on the result (even be forbidden to by local rules). – vonbrand Jan 29 at 0:36
The prof may not be allowed to tell the OP the student's grade, but I can't imagine a law/policy that would forbid the prof from asking the OP for his opinion. – Dan Romik Jan 29 at 9:17
Perhaps it's not necessarily forbidden, just frowned upon? I should think this is the case at our institution. No PhD student at our institution would, even if involved in the supervision, begrudge the markers if they do not ask for opinion, the responsibility is considered to lie on the markers to make sure the marking is taking all information into account that is relevant for the final outcome. I am, to make clear, not talking at all about acknowledgement or co-authorship, which is an entirely different issue and this is handled very scrupulously here. – Captain Emacs Jan 29 at 10:00
I wrote and asked the student, she got the highest mark (still no response/reaction from my supervisor regarding this...). I'm just happy for her and that the defense went well and will write it in my CV -- and in the future I will not have any expectations from my supervisor regarding these things at all – BillyJean Jan 30 at 9:19

I can think of three possibilities, in addition to StrongBad's "oversight" possibility, which are not necessarily exclusive of each other.

  • He doesn't want your opinion because he needs and wants to form his own, independent opinion of the work in order to execute his function at the defense. The (lead) supervisor bears the brunt of the responsibility and blame if poor, or outright bad, work is brought to a defense. Some people may simply be cautious that the opinions of others may confuse their own in such a situation, and so avoid them until they can process them more objectively.
  • University and/or department rules may specifically prohibit you from "being a part of this process." In my oral qualifying exams as a graduate student, it was specifically prohibited for anyone other than my committee from being in the room. No students, no friends, no other professors, no one at all. My Ph.D. defense was an open defense that anyone could attend, which is standard across universities and countries. You may wish to consult the policies of your university concerning the defense of an undergraduate thesis.
  • Either you were there for nothing more than to make sure the lab doesn't blow up—in which case there is no expectation that you have a substantive opinion on the work, and so no reason to ask you—, or you were there to monitor the quality of the work done (as well)—in which case it was part of your job to report significant issues, as well as just reporting on progress in general, bad or otherwise. As the saying goes: "No news is good news." If you said nothing bad about the work, or barely said anything at all, then he already has your opinion. If you'd been reporting good and bad things (if any) regularly, then your supervisor again already had your opinion.

In any case, asking your supervisor about the matter in a calm, reasonable way should get you an answer.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.