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I have noticed i made a mistake in my work. I need to follow some steps (wich weren't real clear for me at the beginning of my PhD and my supervsior never said anything about them), and i just saw i made a mistake. I have defined those steps in the wrong order. Let's say i did step 4 before step 3. Which obviously changed the results I was getting (now that the order is correct, the results are really bad).

It is my supervisor role to check if i am doing the correct steps in my work? Check if my methodology is the correct one?

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    Your supervisor's role is to guide you on your work, but not to proofread and verify every single step of your research. They should have checked, at least in your first year, but ultimately it is your work. Therefore, if you are looking for an excuse for a failed outcome, your supervisor's negligence is not it. You are the person that should demonstrate that have gained the ability to work independently as a researcher and can become an expert in an area of study. A bad outcome means you are both at fault.
    – rhermans
    Jun 13 at 13:20
  • Can anybody explain the reason for the downvotes?
    – rhermans
    Jun 13 at 13:29
  • @rhermans Why are you assuming i'm looking for an excuse for a failed outcome? I have by myself corrected the wrong steps. If i was trying to make excuses, i wouldn't do that in the first place.
    – Murilo
    Jun 13 at 13:45
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    Because when you ask if it is correct to assign somebody else responsibility for your work, it suggests you are dividing the load of the error, and therefore explaining why you should not bear all the blame. Implicitly, it suggests an excuse. I think it would be insufficient to answer your question and explain all ways your advisor has failed without addressing the fact that this does not constitute an excuse for you.
    – rhermans
    Jun 13 at 13:49
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    "now that the order is correct, the results are really bad" - No. Now that the order is correct the results are correct. When the results were incorrect, that is when they were bad.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 13 at 14:04

3 Answers 3

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My own opinion (and practice) is that, yes, it is the supervisor's job to assure such things. Perhaps not personally, as it can be delegated to others, but it should be done.

But there are a wide range of opinions and of practice. Some supervisors are completely hands-off in such things and some are, at the other extreme, overly (looking for the right word here) intrusive.

But the student also has responsibility to understand the consequences of what they are doing and proposing. So, the student doesn't get a free pass if the supervisor fails to act appropriately. Normally students study other research in their field so as to understand appropriate methodology or, perhaps, take a course in methodology appropriate to the field.

Everyone, student and supervisor, need to review the work as it proceeds to look for any red flags so that the research can be redirected early enough to be effective.

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tl;dr: Do not expect your supervisor to micromanage your work; learn to do it yourself.

PhD is a research degree. Although there are some rules (ethical, procedural) about how research should be done, an art of doing research is more than just a simple process of following some pre-determined steps. Research by definition is aimed at creating new knowledge and often new methods of acquiring the knowledge.

As a PhD student, aspiring to become an independent researcher, you should be learning how to review your own work, how to verify the accuracy of results at intermediate steps, and how to check whether the obtained results are sensible as early as possible.

A PhD supervisor has a duty of helping you to navigate your area and structure your work. However, they should not micromanage each step their student does. It is student's responsibility to understand the details of operating procedures, do the background reading, fill in the missing details sometimes (checking their own suggestions) and ask for advice when necessary.

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  • And i have done all that. Thats why i just saw the initial steps were wrong and corrected them by myself. It's not micromanage each step, it's all about the broad methodology of the work itself (or as you say, navigate the area).
    – Murilo
    Jun 13 at 13:39
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    That is a good outcome: you probably learned more from this experience than if your advisor just told you (you are never ever ever ever going to make that mistake again...) It is admittedly a hard way of teaching, and there are very legitimate arguments against it, but it also has very legitimate advantages. Now you know what the teaching style of your advisor is, and you know you need to check and recheck everything yourself. Jun 13 at 14:11
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    A way for the student (and advisor) to prevent methodological errors from lasting too long is for students to present frequently and in detail the steps they are taking in their research, preferably among a larger group than just their advisor. This helps to surface any inconsistencies in what the supervisor thinks is being done, and what actually is happening.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 13 at 15:16
  • I find this suggestion bit odd. From my experience reviewers also do not check details just give 'most likely plausible' guarantee. So if your adviser also do not check the details then why bother? This partially drove me out of academia, I felt no one gives a damn. You got a paper, great! Don't bother me with details.
    – tom
    Jun 13 at 17:52
  • @tom OP says "my work". What makes you think they talk about a peer-reviewed paper? Why do you think reviewers do not check details? I am not sure we have the same set of assumptions. Jun 13 at 18:09
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You discovered a mistake in your protocol. You discovered the mistake on your own. You ask whether you can fault your PhD advisor for not telling you (soon enough) beforehand how to avoid the mistake.

Based on your statements, you may run into an issue when you raise such blame. The protocol clearly existed independent of your advisor (because you found the mistake without input from your advisor). A reasonable retort is that you were informed where to find the protocol, and you were instructed/expected to master the protocol on your own. Alternatively said, the implicit if not explicitly stated understanding your advisor had when you started the experiments was that you would not be given a step-by-step, side-by-side (hand-holding) session to teach you how carry out the protocol(s) in detail.

In summary, even as you consider to blame your advisor after the fact, consider equally how well you understood his/her expectations about how you were to master the required protocols before you even started them. Also consider how much this incident reflects on a potential lack in your ability to thoroughly deconstruct an experimental protocol to mastery before you even start it.

Maybe the bigger lesson in this incident is to appreciate why you should ask in advance for a review to find possible faults in your thinking rather than waiting until the end to reap the consequences of those faults.

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