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I am getting closer to the end of Ph.D. studies and in some months I expect to stop the research to seriously work on the thesis. My supervisor has two other students working on slightly different fields than mine. He is involved in many projects and loves to help other people.

I think he trust me deeply, sometimes he tells me about his issues with his other students/people he is following and when I have chance to attend their seminars I understand that they require much more supervision than I do.

We keep talking, off course, but in the last months he welcomed every my initiative without critics. I prepared three conference papers and he basically only corrected few typos, while other people gave me more constructive comments (together with compliments) that boosted the quality of the papers. Getting closer to my defense I would expect a bit "stronger" supervision, maybe some suggestions on how to polish my work. Overall, I am still a student, not an independent researcher. I am worried that at a certain point he may examine my work with more attention, spotting some bad holes and that this may happen too late to properly fill them.

This doubt is stressing me quite much and I think that is also starting to have some negative impact on my productivity. Should I somehow address this issue to him?

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    So many people ask variations of this same question. You have doubts and would like the engage your adviser for more/closer attention. You seem to indicate a good working relationship with this adviser. Yet you hesitate. Set up a time and talk to her. You've enough stress as it is. Don't let 'should I or not' add to it. She is there in order to advise you. Let her fulfill her de facto purpose. – CGCampbell Apr 24 '15 at 13:05
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    You seem to have a very good relationship with your supervisor. Have you tried bringing this up with him? – Keine Apr 24 '15 at 13:26
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    The fact that you are running your draft papers past people capable of making constructive comments, and that you are using those comments to boost the quality of the papers, tends to support your supervisor's trust in your ability and judgement. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 24 '15 at 14:58
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Some advisors have a style of viewing supervision the same way ER doctors look at treatment. The key word is triage. Where there's a need to make things okay, he/she will be there. My advisor had the same viewpoint as he was very busy with other work and saw our meetings more as a checking-in as a friend than supervision. I thought that when all the other students graduated, he'd give me the same amount of time as they got, but that was untrue. He continued with the same amount.

I asked him about this at the end, and he just said there weren't many crises (there was exactly one, in which he met me within 8 hours to make a game plan with me). Rest assured that your advisor probably is allowing you to create your own research programme and become independent earlier than usually scheduled. This will help your letter from him. From having more of a mentoring friend instead of being strongly supervised, I had an easy transition to postdoc, which is basically how your advisor is treating you now. In my fourth year, I felt almost abandoned. A year into my postdoc, I see that my advisor was the best advisor I could have asked for.

Seems like you're doing great as an independent researcher and your advisor will give you his input if needed but is curious what you'll come up with on your own. A loose leash is a good thing if you're self-motivated.

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You most definitely still need strong supervision, it is just that the type of supervision that you need is shifting. From what you have written, it sounds like you are following a very typical trajectory for a strong graduate student.

Early on, you needed help at a technical level, in order to building basic research skills. Now, however, you need coaching on how to make the transition from student to independent researcher. Learning self-assessment as a researcher and having a reasonable degree of confidence in your self-assessment (not too high or too low) are important skills to develop in the range from late graduate school through postdoc and early PI years.

You speak about worrying that your advisor will spot bad holes in your work. Where do you think they might be? If you reflect carefully, I am certain that you will find that your feelings are not uniform across your work, but that there are some parts that you are more confident or less confident about. This judgement is something that is important for you to build skill and confidence in, and will also help you to ask for help in a more focused and effective manner (e.g., "Can you check my narrative in Section 3" or "I'm a little worried about this part of this proof").

This is something that is totally reasonable for you to ask for help with from your advisor. To do this, I would recommend that you shift from asking for a general "review all of this work" to instead asking for a second opinion on your judgement of which things are reasonable to worry about and which are under control. It's also entirely reasonable to get feedback from other mentors and peers, not just now but throughout your career: more perspectives are often better, especially as you are preparing to leave the nest and fly on your own.

  • Excellent answer. I have found this in my own development as a researcher. In the beginning, my supervisors were telling me what I needed help with, but now I know what I need help with, so I ask them to focus on specific areas. Also, even if you know you're doing OK in a particular area, you can still ask for help. For example, my writing skills are solid, and I've learned the basics of academic writing. But writing is especially important to me; I'm always trying to improve. My supervisors know this, and spend more time reviewing my papers than they otherwise would feel the need to do. – mhwombat Apr 25 '15 at 13:53

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