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I'm a Ph.D. student in Germany, I got my M.Sc. degree in Finland, I have friends in different countries doing their Ph.D.s, especially in the US, and there are also my fellow students in our group. So I have had the chance to learn about people's experience with their Ph.D. And there's one thing I see frequently which is annoying and frustrating: Ph.D. supervisors (people on tenure track/group leaders/senior researchers/...) are apparently not trained for this job and the job happens to be a very difficult one.

It seems that it's quite common to hear terms like arrogance, micro-management, exploitation of students' capacity, lack of respect, etc. attributed to a supervisor. I'm personally living with it, but I would like to be able to formulate all these thoughts in a meaningful and mature way. I need to have a clear understanding of what I'm going through.

Now I have one specific question (but I'd also appreciate knowing other ways of approaching it): is there a worked and published text on the supervisor-student relationship? like a code of ethics? I don't really know what to name it.

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    "Ph.D. supervisors (people on tenure track/group leaders/senior researchers/...) are apparently not trained for this job and the job happens to be a very difficult one." Yes! "It seems that it's quite common to hear terms like arrogance, micro-management, exploitation of students' capacity, lack of respect, etc. attributed to a supervisor. " On the face of it, most of these things are human shortcomings of the sort that training would not necessarily eliminate. " Is there a worked and published text on the supervisor-student relationship? Like a code of ethics?" None known to me. – Pete L. Clark Sep 13 '15 at 2:44
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    Yes, fun facts: professors are frequently trained to do none of the following things critical and necessary to their jobs: teach, supervise, work on committees. Many won't even be trained in writing grant proposals, another standard facet of their employment. Some will have a modicum of teaching experience in their graduate years, but this is not guaranteed, and may not be as the lecturer, and remains as sink-or-swim, figure-it-out-as-you-go-because-no-training-for-you either way. – zibadawa timmy Sep 13 '15 at 3:43
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    No, we professors are not trained and rarely even mentored; we all just make everything up as we go along. Yes, it's a hard job, and not all of us do it very well. Yes, some of us (as we are, after all, human beings) are incompetent jerks. If there's a written code of ethics, nobody has every shown it to me; we make that up as we go, just like everything else. – JeffE Sep 13 '15 at 3:46
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There is nothing commonly accepted. And you are right that nobody receives formal training in how to supervise a Ph.D. Academia is really still very much in a medieval mode here, where you learn from your master (your own supervisor), potentially work under other masters (changing labs) and then are deemed worthy to have apprentices of your own, who you will treat roughly as your master treated you.

However, if you Google for "Betreuungsvertrag Promotion" or "Doktoranden-Betreuungsvertrag", you will find quite a few templates for formal agreements the supervisor needs to sign in some German universities. The key word being "needs to" - this is compulsory for the supervisors.

Unfortunately, these agreements only cover things like regular meetings between the candidate and the supervisor, and that the supervisor will give good advice and in general ensure that the Ph.D. can be attained within n years. This is all very nice, and any decent human being should already be doing all that is in there, but it's all rather vague. In addition, I seriously doubt that anything like this would be taken seriously in a potential lawsuit.

Bottom line: the good supervisors already do everything that's in these agreements, and the bad ones won't start once they have signed this.

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In agreement with the other posts there is no set code of ethics between universities for a PhD supervisor. Although my university does have a code of practise that I am unfortunately not privy too, although reading university's is. What I do know is that new researchers are required to take in-house training to help improve their teaching abilities. This is starting to become common practise at Uk based universities, due to pressure from the teaching union. And clearly has been beneficial to some members of staff and students. However this only applies to new members of staff with no previous experience.

At my own university they track the number of supervisory meetings, and the content of those meetings. Along with reviews of the the student, conducted by lecturers who are not associated with our lab group, once a year to make sure they are getting appropriate support, and making acceptable progress. Failing these expectations creates problems for the supervisors and their contract renewals, and may even lead to disciplinary action.

Just one personal point, ignore if you like. Personally I believe the issue of poor supervision is down to the personalities of academics and their students. Expectations play a significant role in this. In my own experience my supervisor has been excellent, but the same things that make him excellent me are things one of his other PhD researchers does not like. I'm not sure how much training would help this.

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    How does your university have a code of practice that you know about but don't know the contents of? That seems very strange. – jakebeal Sep 13 '15 at 13:02
  • "they track the number of supervisory meetings, and the content of those meetings" - because more meetings = better supervision; the closer the content to the original plan = the better the progress; etc.? It can work, though I'm skeptical of this kind of approach, given that the requirement to provide reports on some progress can easily lead to doing the actual research and supervision on the one hand, and a "parallel world" of of semi-fictitious reports that match the requirements on the other hand. Reports to funding agencies based on research grants are a good example of this ... – O. R. Mapper Sep 13 '15 at 15:14
  • ... phenomenon, which I think is based on the fact that research is by definition supposed to bring up new contents, so any kind of reporting will either be non-standardized (at which point it becomes equally prone the issues mentioned by the OP about current supervision), or abstracted to a degree at which it is not useful any more ("Have N full papers and M short papers been written?"; "Are there at least two concrete ideas for future research based on the current progress?"; "How many core aspects of the grant were discussed in the last status presentation?"). – O. R. Mapper Sep 13 '15 at 15:16
  • @Jakebeal I know a code or rather recommended practice exists, my supervisor has a copy. I just can't find it on the university website, probably because they store staff documents on the staff side of the university intranet. – Comte Sep 13 '15 at 16:22
  • @O.R.Mapper I agree, I find tracking and reporting my meetings to be annoying and I often forget to do it until I absolutely have to. It is likely that I have not been accurate given how late some of these reports were. I don't think it helps research either, meetings do but not reporting them, although it does help to highlight poor supervision or the lack of it. – Comte Sep 13 '15 at 16:29
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I found something in the U.S.: the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) has a code of ethics. I couldn't find the most recent version, but here is the original text from 1966: http://www.aaup.org/report/statement-professional-ethics

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