The Magic of an #SAGrad’s First Few Weeks: Starting a Supervisor Relationship Out Right

Supervisor relationships can be tricky for new graduate students as they adjust from their role as a full-time student to quasi-professional. But regardless of institution type or job title, promptness and honesty are everything. Establishing clear expectations right away with your supervisor is so important to feeling at ease in your new position. Here are some tips for starting that relationship out right:

Clarify expectations

Be sure to carve out some time early to talk about the expectations of your position. Ask to make sure the job description you were given when you interviewed is still up to date, and talk through any areas you’re unclear on. Are you expected to maintain consistent office hours, or are those flexible? How does your supervisor prefer to communicate? How many hours should you realistically expect to work? These are all great questions to discuss early in your experience so you have an accurate idea about what is expected of you.

Don’t be afraid to share your needs

Most supervisors will also seek feedback about what your needs are as a student seeking to learn more about the field. It’s just as important to share your needs and expectations as it is for your supervisor to. For instance, I shared with my supervisor last week my interest in learning more about residential learning and asked that she forward me any articles that she feels relate to my position. I also talked about the desire to be pushed, even if I am meeting or even exceeding expectations in my position. This helps your supervisor personalize your experience and really set you on a path toward success.

Be proactive with anticipating challenges

An initiative in Housing at my institution this year was for all staff to take Strengths Quest and use it as a tool for establishing positive working relationships. Using tools like Strengths Quest, Myers-Briggs or True Colors can help you map the differing styles between you and your supervisor and anticipate where challenges may occur. But even if you don’t use a formal personality inventory in your office, you will pick up a lot in the first few weeks.

Make note of where your communication or administrative style may differ with your supervisor and talk through how to bridge that gap. Your first one-on-one should never be ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ when it comes to expectations. A supervisor relationship should be an ongoing dialogue with check-ins occurring throughout the year. 

Dillon Kimmel

Student Affairs - the First Years

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