Not many students consider co-supervision for their graduate experience. Indeed, 2x the supervisors seems like 2x the work. But that is not necessarily the case. Being a co-supervised student, I’ve come to appreciate co-supervision as it benefits both my supervisors and me. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve accumulated over the past year on how to split your time effectively between two labs and how to benefit the most from this unique experience:
Co-supervision often involves two professors from different disciplines. Although both of my supervisors are in the HIV research field, they focus on very different aspects of the virus. As such, my project is interdisciplinary, bridging both of my supervisor’s fortes together. This is a major advantage as you get to train across disciplines and can get a more diverse skill set which can set you apart from other grad students.
Hint, hint: having two supervisors also means two references and access to two different people’s professional networks for future endeavors. This is a majorly unappreciated advantage!
Co-supervision means two different labs, sometimes in different locations. Before agreeing to co-supervision, make sure you’ve figured out the locality logistics. My supervisors are located 3 floors apart from each other in the same building, which means lots of stair climbing, but at least I get my daily exercise in! If your supervisors are located in different buildings, it will make splitting your time a little more cumbersome. A detailed schedule of how you will spend your time in each location will help you and your supervisors get a clear idea of how to appropriately split your time.
Co-supervision means twice the lab meetings. A co-supervised student must have the ability to manage their time effectively since more often than not you will have to attend and prepare for more meetings than a regular grad student, which can take a good chunk of your time. On the other hand, when you get to present your research findings in a meeting you’ll get more feedback, often from different points of view. This is also a great way to accept and learn from criticism, a very important part of the graduate experience. There is always the option to combine lab meetings (if feasible) or meet with both of your professors at once.
Co-supervision means two times the mentors. This is probably one of the things I’ve come to appreciate the most about joint supervision. Two times the coworkers means twice as much help, either in wet lab queries or revising written documents. I’m very lucky to be part of two labs where people are always ready to help a fellow lab mate out!
Lastly, for a successful co-supervision experience, your supervisors must have similar expectations from you as a graduate student. Every leader has a unique set of interpersonal skills, style of mentorship, and what they deem a priority. This means that all three of you may sometimes be working outside of your respective comfort zones to make things work. Of course, this is dependent on the people and the nature of the project.
All in all, graduates students and professors alike should not shy away from co-supervision as interdisciplinary work can be really rewarding for everyone involved.
Kristin is a guest blogger for GradLife McGill. She is currently a M.Sc. candidate in Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University. Her research interests are the molecular interactions between HIV and the immune system. Originally from Ontario, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph and decided to switch provinces for her graduate studies. Outside of the lab, Kristin enjoys long-distance running, yoga and reading every book she can get her hands on.
Header photo by Kristin Davis