Should you bond with your supervisor?

Posted: May 12, 2014 in Blatantly Patronizing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bonding

I know you like controversial topics, you little rascals, so here is one just for you. How familiar should you be with your supervisor (or with your student if you are a supervisor)? Very good question, I’m glad I asked.

A PhD Thesis is a heavy commitment with (at least) another person during a very significant proportion of your life. It is a journey into enthusiasm, elation, revelations, pride and joy but also into doubt, disappointments, discouragement, stress and exhaustion. It is a journey made of choices and it is built on trust. And it is a journey with a working partner. Neither the students nor the supervisors want to enter lightly into such a journey, with a working partner on whom one cannot depend fully, but also one you don’t like. However, you can like your supervisor/student without befriending him/her. So, should you keep strict neutral, professional relationships, or can you share beers and personal conversation about your brother or your favourite TV shows?

Opinions are not unanimous on this. Many colleagues keep their distances with their students. Many other treat them like a mix between good pals and offspring. I did not bond with my supervisor. Which does not mean that I didn’t like her or respect her. She was nice and she did good, but we seldom ate together or for that matter shared any social event. Same with my two postdoc supervisors. But I tend to bond with my students and postdocs.

I don’t think bonding with any of them has been a problem for either them or me, but it is true that it can be sometimes problematic when the time comes to say “no” or “work harder” or “this is crap”. And I’m sure my students find it hard sometimes for their own reasons. Of course, I can recognise students that would be uncomfortable with this, and I adapt. It takes two to bond. But otherwise, I always found that bonding had made it easier to overcome the unavoidable stressing times, to avoid or forget the resentment, and to enjoy more fully the happy times. In the long run, I think that to bond is globally better for me. And I’d be happy to hear your personal experience on this.

bondsAnyway, whether of not to bond with your student/supervisor is not really a choice, and this post is not about what you should choose to do, because it’s difficult to change the way people interact naturally. So this post is more about whether or not you should fight a natural tendency to bond at work, if you have one. If that’s the way you function better, and the other one seems to be that way too, just don’t feel guilty not to be entirely “professional”. Academia is a special world when it comes to hierarchical interactions. Just do what’s best for the working relationship. But hey, I only said bonding, easy tiger!

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