How do I finish the dissertation on time?

Actively shape the relationship with the supervisorsOr: How you can get the supervision you need for your doctoral thesis

Successful dissertation

Good and competent support from supervisors has a decisive effect on doctoral candidates successfully completing their research work. It also significantly increases the chance that the doctoral thesis will be of good quality.

How do you achieve the necessary attention, professional help and further feedback from your supervisors? The good news: it's in your own hands. Become active, take responsibility for your dissertation and for yourself. Obtain clarity about your wishes for the supervisor and state them clearly.

What you can expect from your doctoral parents

You write your dissertation primarily for yourself. It is your personal research project, which you have made a conscious and motivated decision and which you want to enjoy realizing.

You can demand professional, competent support and respect for your doctorate from the supervisors. The supervisors have the task of accompanying you on your way to the goal of successfully completing your dissertation. Part of their regular job is to look after you and work with you to find solutions if you get stuck with a problem. To do this, it is helpful that you specifically discuss how to deal with each other. Take the initiative here.

What will help you in organizing the care

Find out how your supervisors treat other doctoral students. Find out what preferences or rules you have: Do you ask for a chapter once a quarter, is a phone call every six months or do you only want to see your texts when you have a draft of the entire work? What agreements are made, are there any? What experiences do other doctoral candidates have?

Think about it and then write down how you can work best yourself and what kind of support you would like your supervisors to provide in your doctoral process. How often and in which phases of the writing process do you want to meet your supervisor? Are you more the type who discuss things verbally in a personal conversation and then implement them or do you prefer written answers to your questions by email? Would you prefer to discuss your dissertation chapter by chapter or according to research phases? Or do you prefer to clarify questions spontaneously and situationally? What kind of spatial environment is important to you? Do you need a quiet meeting room or can you also imagine addressing questions "on the side", for example by accompanying the supervisor on the way to a lecture? Define your criteria.

How you can constructively control the support process

Establish in a priority list what is particularly important to you in the care and what appears to be less relevant to you. If you are unsure about an aspect as to whether you want to express it to your supervisor, talk to your colleagues or friends about it in advance.

Then clarify how your wishes are compatible with the preferences of the supervisor and think about how you can communicate possible critical aspects in such a way that they reach them. Pay attention to where you are willing to compromise and how you can compensate for possible deficits (for example through a writing group / tandem.

In your own interest, you should always be well prepared for the meetings with your supervisor. In the case of issues that are difficult for you, it can be helpful to play through the conversation beforehand with someone you trust. Or write down what you want to say when you need to clarify problematic points where you are emotionally very involved and fear you will lose your calm. This gives you security, strengthens your self-confidence and helps you avoid embarrassing situations. Remember that the interview with your supervisor is an offer of support and do not confuse it with an exam situation.

Just as systematically as you prepare the contacts with your supervisor, you also process the results. Agree on obligations in mutual dealings and suggest the rules of the game:

  • Determine the regularity of the meetings.
  • Use a simple agenda for your conversations. Contents can be: status of your doctoral thesis, current questions, feedback, results of tasks that the supervisor has taken on, planned next steps until the next meeting, date. Send a reminder when the next meeting is due, e.g. E.g. an email with an agenda and explanatory bullet points or questions about the individual points. Submit this in good time so that the supervisor has enough time to prepare the individual topics and answer your questions.
  • Record the meetings with your supervisors and have them confirm the results. This gives structure and you avoid misunderstandings and "false memories".
  • Conclude a supervision agreement to make the relationship between you and the supervisor transparent in terms of content and time. You can find tips on this at the DFG, for example, under Form90.pdf

What else you should be aware of

The doctorate takes place in different phases in which you are in a changing relationship to your supervisors[1]. As time goes on, you will become more and more detached from them. In general, the following applies: Use their specialist authority and expert status, regardless of whether you are starting your dissertation, are "in the middle" or are about to submit your doctoral thesis. And look forward to it now: in the end, you will be the expert on your own topic.


[1] Knigge-Illner H (2002): The way to the doctorate, campus concret)

This article was written by Dr. Gudrun Thielking-Wagner composed.