The Potentially Dysfunctional Supervisor-Grad Student Relationship

A proportion of BJSM readers are graduate students or faculty. This article raises the issue that the supervisor-graduate student relationship has the potential to be very one-sided. Trainees can feel that their future hinges on supervisor approval and just as not all people are psychologically intact, there are university faculty who are psychopaths. (See Robert Hare’s book ‘Snakes in Suits‘.)

Unfortunately for graduate students, psychopathic supervisors do not put out a shingle advertising this fact. The previous students who are aware of the problem are usually long-gone and, importantly, reluctant to mention problems as the University often sides with the faculty member.

Solutions? For now, it is a case of graduate students doing their homework — Caveat Emptor. Ask to meet with current and graduated students. Check the productivity and job placements of former students.

In the future, Universities might consider addressing this issue – at the moment, most are happy to have this issue remain under the carpet; this is a great shame and may need a concerted push from advocates to change. But it won’t be easy.

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