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Currently, I am in the process of finishing my PhD and starting a PostDoc position. Part of this position will be the supervision of Master theses.

I have little teaching experience, and no supervising experience except for "passive" experiences of being supervised myself when writing a Master's thesis myself. An added difficulty is that my workplace and the university where the students are studying are 150 km / 2 hour train ride apart, so I can't just have "open office doors" and meetings have to be pre-arranged.

What frequencies of meetings with students under supervision do you find helpful or too much? This will surely depend on the student, but how do I figure out what is right for a student I have never met before?

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    I have edited your question slightly to focus on what seemed to be the most salient concern, how frequently to meet with students. This should give you higher quality answers. If you want to ask about other aspects of supervision, you can ask more questions.
    – jakebeal
    Feb 16, 2016 at 12:08

2 Answers 2

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My supervision is (in Computer Science, although I think that this is likely not particularly field-dependent) in the beginning usually quite tight (meaning meetings once a week for about one hour each, although for other fields "tight supervision" may mean something different). At the beginning of the project, the student is usually not yet fully caught up on the literature in his field and does not yet fully understand her/his topic. Hence (s)he is still unsure about where the project is going, and often has a hard time deciding on tactical issues, such as what to try and work on next. In this phase I usually have a weekly jour fixe.

As the project progresses, I more and more retreat to the background and give the student the freedom to decide more individually how to conduct her/his research. This naturally also means that meetings become less frequent, and the jour fixe becomes more an on-demand meeting. I still try to catch up with the student approximately every three weeks (again, concrete frequency may vary for you), mostly to check that the student is progressing and that her/his research is not completely derailing into a track that I consider dangerous or wrong (I will let the student make smaller, tactical mistakes, such as wasting some time on an approach that I suspect may fail, but I will step in if the student embarks on a detour that I consider bad enough that it may seriously threaten the success of her/his thesis).

Towards the end, meetings tend to become more frequent again, mostly because I like to give students quick feedback on individual sections of their thesis while they are writing. No point in letting them make the same 15 standard mistakes through their entire document before I get to suggest improvements. In this phase, and especially if time is already running out, I sometimes have quick feedback meetings almost every other day.

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    Could some of the frequent thesis interaction be handled by e-mail or shared documents? With the advisor and student not co-located, that may be more efficient than office meetings. Feb 16, 2016 at 17:06
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    @PatriciaShanahan If it has to be yes. I have supervised students across the atlantic ocean, and it worked out OK. However, if at all possible, I try to do the supervision face to face. A lot of urgency is lost without direct interaction.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 16, 2016 at 20:59
  • Thanks for you great comment. Do you have any suggestions on how to figure out what is a good frequency of meeting for the student - as differnet students might have different requirements
    – user42643
    Feb 16, 2016 at 22:24
  • @user3825755 Well, I monitor the progress in and between those meetings. If I have the impression that the meetings are a waste of time, I reduce their frequency. If I have the impression that only the pressure of having to show me something in the next meeting motivates the student to work, I will make meetings more frequent. And, of course, talk to the student how (s)he would like to handle things.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 17, 2016 at 8:05
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The answer by xLeitix is quite detailed and on the mark. In any case, the frequency of of interaction, and how, will depend a lot on the student (some require handholding the whole time, others are able to work independently and just require the occasional hint or (re)direction). A phone call, or a wiki with daily progress report that you check from time to time, gathering the whole work group for in-general discussion of advance(s) are also useful.

In my case I had students who shared a git repository with their LaTeX source to the thesis-in-progress, where I had a branch with my suggestions of changes. I skimmed through this making my suggestions perhaps weekly, and we interacted by email most of the time. We met face to face somewhat like once a month.

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  • The shared git repository is a great idea. Should work for code as well
    – user42643
    Feb 16, 2016 at 22:24

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