5

I'm a first year PhD student in mathematics. One day I was having some conversation with my supervisor and we got to a point where he casually mentioned about his other students and said that one of his student is quite "weak" and one of his other student is "strong". Since then I've been wondering what does he think about me.

An obvious way is to just ask him directly, but the problem is that this country is Canada and here people are very polite (most of them). So, if I ask him directly, I think he will just say nice things about me and so, it wouldn't really answer my question. I would really like to have an honest answer, even if it's bitter, because then I would know what skills to work on and try to improve.

Can you guys suggest some better way to get honest feedback/constructive criticism from my supervisor?

Another vague question I have is: How can I know what he thinks about me? Does he think I'm a weak, mediocre or good student?

Little background: I have been working with my current supervisor since my Masters and I decided to have him as my supervisor for my PhD as well. We meet weekly to discuss about my progress/ideas and other administrative stuff (if there's any).

4
  • Is your supervisor Canadian?
    – astronat
    Jul 23 '21 at 9:37
  • @astronat yes, he is.
    – FreePawn
    Jul 23 '21 at 15:41
  • 3
    Wow, that's incredibly unprofessional. To say nothing of a violation of academic privacy of those other students. Jul 23 '21 at 17:58
  • @ElizabethHenning my supervisor didn't mention any of their names. Also, I don't know any of his other students
    – FreePawn
    Jul 23 '21 at 19:05
5

Since your supervisor talks to you this way, he most probably thinks that you are doing OK. Note that you are a first year PhD, so you are not expected to do something outstanding. The fact that you already have a supervisor is good enough.

8
  • Actually I have been working with him since my Masters and I decided to have him as my supervisor for my PhD as well.
    – FreePawn
    Jul 23 '21 at 2:05
  • 2
    OK. The fact that he knows you and has agreed to be your supervisor answers your question. Doesn't it?
    – markvs
    Jul 23 '21 at 2:07
  • 2
    He clearly think high of you. I think it is obvious. Of course you have a few years to prove that he is right.
    – markvs
    Jul 23 '21 at 2:14
  • 1
    "The fact that you already have a supervisor is good enough." In many places, that a prerequisite for enrolling in the PhD program at all.
    – N.I.
    Jul 23 '21 at 13:53
  • 1
    @N.I.: The OP is in Canada.
    – markvs
    Jul 23 '21 at 15:43
3

I suggest that you ask them directly. Being polite doesn't imply not being honest. It certainly shouldn't imply misleading you to believe you are doing well when you aren't.

But the way you ask can influence the reply. Asking whether there are things they would suggest to help you improve is quite different from asking "How am I doing?". There might be other, more effective, formulations, of course.

2

First, ask yourself why you want to know. Comparing oneself to others (or to an external scale of weak or strong) can be incredibly demotivating, and as a rule you should only do it if you need the information for some useful purpose. For example, if you're considering dropping out and changing careers, it may make sense to solicit blunt feedback about how you measure up to the average student. But if it's just morbid curiosity, I'd encourage you to try not to think about it. Put your head down and channel that anxiety into doing good work.

3
  • 1
    It doesn't need to be a comparison with others. And it probably shouldn't be.
    – Buffy
    Jul 23 '21 at 16:55
  • @anon I agree with your advise, but it's not about comparison. It's just that I wanna know what skills I need to work on and try to improve.
    – FreePawn
    Jul 23 '21 at 17:36
  • 1
    Also, ask yourself what you want to know. Feedback shouldn't be about "me", it should be about actions, problems, outputs, ways to improve etc.
    – henning
    Jul 23 '21 at 18:15
2

In pedagogy it was found (sorry I can't find the reference to the study) that when a feedback in the form of a mark or a comment like "Good" etc does not lead to improvements. Rather, what would be a better line, and one that would be ok with cultural sensitivites, would be to ask what should I be working on? What do you think has went well so far? Of course, you could do a lot worse to ask yourself this question too. Try to be SMART about how well you have done (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time limited) e.g. to say I produced a 20 page literature review after 6 months would be better than I wrote about some papers I read.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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