Table 1

How to manage the relationship with your supervisor: common problems and solutions

Common problemsPotential solutions
Unsupportive supervisor, doesn’t have enough time for you or doesn’t offer enough helpAll supervisors are very busy. Establish a meeting to express your concerns. If they’re not sticking to that, call them on it. If unresponsive, think about speaking to the head of group or department (PhD students should speak to the postgraduate research/course director) or an independent advisor.
Supervisor does not share credit for the workAgain, discuss this. Keep an accurate record of your work and contribution and outline why you deserve a spot on the publication/abstract (even as first or senior author).
Supervisor is asking you to do work outside your project/PhD which is taking up too much timeRefer to the planning you agreed. For PhD students, you can speak to your course director as you are expected to finish a PhD and not solely work on a side project that’s taking up all your time. For postdocs, the situation can be difficult as the supervisor who is likely funding you can change the research focus/project. Discuss the changing focus/work and make it clear why it isn’t manageable.
Supervisor’s research views/values/opinion differs from yoursPreferably you want to know this in advance. People have different opinions in science; this is what makes it interesting. Always share your views politely but if you really don’t believe in the research you are doing then you’re probably not in the right lab.
Supervisor is bullying, harassing or discriminating against youKeep a record of events and, if you feel comfortable, discuss it with your supervisor to make it clear that this is unacceptable. Otherwise, or if that doesn’t help, look up what procedure is in place at your university or institute and contact the appropriate people.