PhD supervisors

People pursuing their PhD in the traditional way usually have a PhD supervisor, traditionally called a “Doktormutter” or “Doktorvater”, who essentially supervises the PhD student on their own. The supervisor is there every step of the way in the thesis-writing process and, together with the second reader, is also one of the people who evaluate the work at the end.

Dr Marc Torka from the Berlin Social Science Center (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung) has looked very closely at the PhD supervision relationship. “The academic system is based on competition between highly specialised research approaches, which are usually developed in very small research communities,” he says. As a result, he believes that the set-up in which the supervisor and the PhD candidate work in a shared field should be the key. Another reason for this is because it is important for PhD students to have a single point of contact who can provide authoritative information about the thesis.

The quality of the supervision depends on the quality of the relationship between two people, although one person holds almost all the power, namely the supervisor. If professional or interpersonal conflicts arise, the whole PhD project can hang in the balance.