Postgraduate partnerships

16th October 1998 at 01:00
Choosing the right superviser for your MA or PhD is crucial - you will be married in the intellectual venture for a long time. If it's a bad marriage, you might rue the day that the supervisor's success in his or her field and their admiration for your creativity wooed you both into the partnership. It happened to me.

I should have noticed the signs. At our first meeting, having rushed across the grass to be on time, I trod mud into his carpet. He commented on this in a sharp tone and then talked to me throughout the hour-long session while looking at the mud on the carpet. This fastidiousness and power play was reflected in the whole of our relationship.

Don't get me wrong. I don't blame him for the demise of our mutual admiration. Nor do I blame myself. I can understand the fact that I had different priorities that would leave him frustrated. My linguistic slobbery must have had all the power of a partner leaving off the top of the toothpaste. I like to vacuum up grammar and spelling errors at the end - it allows me to focus on ideas. He vacuumed as he went along, whether it needed it or not.

His habit of inviting me for a supervision session 100 miles from my home and then leaving me in a corridor for three hours, only to be told, "Sorry, I'm too busy", left me frustrated and angry. It was the equivalent of always being stood up.

In the end we both said, "You just don't understand me". I had ideas that fired in all directions; he thought in a logical continuum. I had family commitments; he had to think only of his career. I felt he talked at me and didn't listen to where I was coming from.

The result was an early divorce. Communication and compromise could have helped, but some partnerships are just not meant to be. Ask yourself these questions when you choose a supervisor, and it might save you a lot of angst:

* Do you work in a similar way?

* Do you communicate well?

* Is he or she pushing you into a topic that you are not comfortable with because he or she knows about it?

* Are they already heavily committed?

Amanda Kavanagh lives in Essex

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