Do you have problems communicating or meeting with your supervisor?

You might have sometimes difficulty to communicate with your supervisor. He or she is often away in meetings, never there at the right moment and leaning over your shoulder just when you are busy. This might be a bit exaggerated but let’s have a look into how you can supercharge your communication.

It basically depends on what you need to discuss with your supervisor. It also follows the same ideas as in project management with the following diagram.

  • Short questions you need a quick answer to (Q1 and Q3 above):

In this case, a messaging service is the most appropriate. In my team, we are using Slack and I advise my researchers to register to it: Alternatively, an e-mail with an object such as “Short and Urgent reply requested” might work too. As indicated in the diagram above, urgent and not important requests are perceived as “interruptions”. It would therefore be good practice not to abuse of your access to your supervisor for such requests.

  • Complicated and urgent questions (only Q1):

A messaging service might not be appropriate for this. Take the time to write your problem by e-mail with enough details. Reread it to make sure that nothing can be misunderstood and offer to discuss the matter on the phone (add your phone number) if it simplifies the process. Indicate the deadline in your e-mail to confirm that your supervisor gets the urgency. Finally, call your supervisor in case you need a reply within 2 hours.

  • Short and not urgent questions (Q2 and Q4):

To avoid cluttering the inbox of your supervisor, it would be best to save these questions and bundle them for the next meeting you have with him/her. Keep an active list of ongoing questions somewhere (I advise using Evernote) and pull them out when you see him/her.

  • Complicated but not urgent questions (only Q2):

Similarly to the solution to Q1 above, an e-mail is here most appropriate. Don’t forget to indicate the deadline for your request and verify that you indicate clearly your question(s) and the solution(s) that you think might work. Don’t forget to follow-up on your request as it might slip through the cracks.