Should I expect my supervisor to help me think?

I am toying with the idea of whether or not I should be looking for a new primary supervisor. My supervisor is lovely. She is organised, knows who I am, replies to my emails, and forwards onto me emails about seminars and new books that she thinks I might be interested in. However, I feel like we are on two different planes when it comes to what counts as analysis.


My supervisor and I do not meet very often. This is mostly because I do not bother setting up meetings because I do not find them particularly useful. However, I send my supervisor semi-regular emails so she knows what I am up to and what directions I am choosing to head in. I find the act of putting together an email (even when I do not end up sending it off) very useful.


Yesterday I sent off an email about an argument I am developing about the relationship between processes and outcomes when it comes to community groups. There are some interesting patterns coming out of the interplay between popular representations, what people say is important, and what I observe.


As is often the case with my very thoughtful supervisor, I did not have to wait long for a reply. However, the reply suggested to me she had not even read the start of my email, and instead tried to dismiss my account of what people are saying they are doing with her own stereotype of community groups. She suggested I go back to the questions I put together for my ethics application. On reading this I suddenly saw the evaporation of any remaining hopes I held for her to be somebody I can work through analytical and theoretical issues with as I get to work drafting my thesis.


Changing supervisors is probably a bit too radical, especially as it probably means having to change universities. After all, I am sure ignoring your supervisor’s suggestions and using your supervisor as the site for transference so you do not have to own your own failings are pretty common strategies employed by students. Furthermore, your supervisor is not the only person you talk to during a PhD. However, there really is nobody else in my department I can ask for help with these issues.


A second supervisor was assigned to me by the department, in the role as a ‘nominal’ appointment. Again, this lady is lovely. She seems like she would be willing to provide encouraging reminders to keep writing and I am sure she would read chapter outlines and drafts. However, she is being appointed to make the paper work look better and has not had much to do with the types of methodologies I am using, the topics I am covering and the theory I am trying to grapple with.


There are lots of things I need that I can probably get from this current set up. I need some externally imposed deadlines for producing coherent drafts and reminders to write in language that makes sense to people other than me. I also need to know I can get forms signed when I have to and it is great to get a second (not too critical) opinion quickly when I am not sure how a situation sits when it comes to my ethics approval.


It is up to me to be able to express my ideas, it is not my supervisor’s job to read deeply into my email to find the nuanced elements of my argument. However, I just really wish I had somebody who could give me help with unpacking my analysis.


Perhaps I am totally missing the point? After all, I found abandoning so much of what I thought I wanted to do to meet my supervisor’s requirements for ‘plain language’ ended up being quite helpful. Maybe I am trying to develop a thesis which makes an interesting argument about people in the context of Victoria today, instead of getting to work answering those plain language questions I said I would? I seem to think that there is something more profound that I am discovering through answering those questions, and I am enjoying trying to find out what that is. There is a point at which I need to stop having fun, but I really want to be end up with some articles that I can publish in the sort of journals I like to read.


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