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I have a lot of respect for my supervisor; I get very good feedback from them, they are very knowledgeable in their field and I feel that they want me to do well in my reseach. When I submit written work, my supervisor adds comments and then returns, which I think is fairly standard procedure.

Short Version: Is it appropriate after receiving comments on written work to respond with: "I've addressed 90 of these comments but would like to discuss the remaining 10, which I was unable to resolve."

Long Version: I find that comments on written work usually fall into the following four categories:

  • The comment is justified and I can resolve and close it. (~90%)
  • The comment asks for clarification of the text. (~4%)
  • The comment is not justified due to them misunderstanding my text, due to my text not having been written in a clear and/or unambiguous enough manner.(~3%)
  • The comment is not justified and the text is clear. (~3%)

For the first two types, I can usually just update my work and move on. It's the last two that I'm not too sure how to deal with. Do I ignore or flag for discussion (as well as clarifying where relevant)? I have been flagging these but feel that I annoy my supervisor by doing so (likely since they are very busy with other work). The alternative is to ignore but then I worry that my supervisor will notice later that I haven't applied the change. Another option for the second (and third) bullet is that I clarify my text and move on and I do do this sometimes but on other occasions I feel it requires further discussion in order to convey the correct meaning.

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    If your own advisor didn't properly understand the text, you should improve the text. For the last one, ask, because you think that is not justified, but if the advisor believes it is justified, there must be a reason that you are not aware of. Advisors have that title for a reason. – Fábio Dias Jun 17 '17 at 18:35
  • Yes, that's more-or-less want I wanted to know. Whether to ask or not. I suppose there must be a reason why they think it is justified or else they would not have left it. – JibbityJobby Jun 17 '17 at 18:40
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    I am glad to hear that 90% of the comments are resolvable right off the bat. It sounds like it's going great. // Is it your consideration and sensitivity to your advisor's needs that leads you think that it might annoy your advisor to set up a time to meet to discuss the ten unresolved comments? Or has your advisor done something to give you this idea, such as declining to meet with you, or looking frequently at the clock during a meeting? Typically, there are regular face to face meetings where these things can be hashed out. That's collaboration. // Usually, if in doubt about the... – aparente001 Jun 17 '17 at 23:33
  • mechanics of the advising process, an advisee would ask the advisor a question such as yours. Are you a bit on the shy side, or is there a touch of awkwardness in your relationship, that makes it difficult to ask about this? – aparente001 Jun 17 '17 at 23:34
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    Good advice for when you disagree with comments: academia.stackexchange.com/a/86854/31917 – henning Jun 18 '17 at 9:53
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It is an important acquired skill to know when to gently push back against your supervisor or referees in your field of study.

You should not implement suggestions you are not comfortable with without asking for clarifications. You need to know when to hold ground and defend your position in a courteous but firm way, and this might as well be in discussions with an open-minded and competent thesis director: you may have to yield in the end but in many cases gentle arguments are synonymous to constructive discussions.

  • This is an good answer imo. It's not that my supervisor gives bad advice, just in those minority cases when I feel it's not entirely justified but this is a good approach. In hindsight there is perhaps no hard and fast etiquette here since is quite dependent on the people concerned. But this gives good advice as how to at least try and handle the situation. – JibbityJobby Jun 18 '17 at 13:49
  • I agree with this, mostly because it is YOUR work, your dissertation, you should be 100% behind it, it's your name on it – Fábio Dias Jun 19 '17 at 13:29
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A more polite response might be "I've addressed 90 of these comments. I would like to meet with you to get further advice about the remaining ten."

If your supervisors comments are 90% useful and 10% junk, your supervisor is doing a great job. As Fabio Dias said, if your supervisor's comment indicates they did not understand the text, it could be that the text is poorly written. Or it could be that your supervisor was distracted for a moment, and made a mistake. The only way to find out is to ask for more information.

  • That is good advice. I know she's doing a great job but was just wondering the etiquette for the inevitable cases where disagreement occurs. – JibbityJobby Jun 18 '17 at 9:45
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I suppose that not all comments of the third and fourth type are equally important - normally, some of them will be minor misunderstandings, whereas others will have broader implications for the work.

If so, I would ignore minor comments where you're sure that it's a mistake on their part, and focus on resolving the major ones by discussing them in a face-to-face meeting with the advisor.

  • Thank you. Yes, I'm trying to be polite and am aware (and was indicated in my own question) that the mistakes are on the most part due to my bad text. But both this and Anonymous Physicists comment give good advice that when I am sure the comment is wrong to just ignore. I have not been doing this but I will start to do so. – JibbityJobby Jun 18 '17 at 9:43

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