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Active Listening: Navigating the Supervisor-Graduate Student Journey Together

Two women talking - one is the supervisor and the other is the graduate student.
Photo obtained from

Academic excellence is a journey that both the supervisor and student take together, each having a fundamental part in creating the experience. After almost 27 years in academia, I've learned that active listening is an important part of the journey. This skill can help to guide you, improve your learning, and push you toward success.

Active listening is a two-way process, a dynamic dialogue that establishes the backbone of the relationship between a supervisor and a graduate student. Academic grounding is undoubtedly provided by supervisors with their wealth of knowledge and experience. Yet, what truly characterizes effective supervision is not just the transmission of wisdom but the willingness to listen to graduate students. This form of listening transcends the auditory reception of words; it involves recognizing and responding to the emotions, intentions, and queries that underpin the words.

The beauty of active listening is that it engenders a sense of trust and openness. A graduate student who feels genuinely heard is more likely to express their ideas, venture beyond their comfort zones, and delve deeper into their studies. This openness, born of feeling valued and acknowledged, can serve as a catalyst for motivation and growth. However, active listening isn't solely the supervisor's responsibility. Graduate students should be attentive to the advice of their supervisors, comprehend their feedback, mull over their guidance, and incorporate it into their studies.

To ensure that the supervisor-graduate student relationship is enriching and effective, here are some tips that both supervisors and graduate students can use to enhance active listening:

  1. Give full attention: Whether it's a face-to-face conversation, video call, or even an email exchange, make sure to give your full attention. This signals respect and fosters open communication.

  2. Ask clarifying questions: If you don't fully understand what the other person is saying, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. This not only shows that you're actively listening but also ensures you're on the same page.

  3. Provide feedback: Constructive feedback is an integral part of the academic journey. Giving and receiving feedback graciously and respectfully demonstrates active listening.

  4. Practice empathy: Understand that everyone has unique experiences and perspectives. Trying to see things from the other person's viewpoint promotes a more effective and compassionate communication process.

  5. Avoid interrupting: Let the other person complete their thoughts before responding. This not only shows respect but also allows you to fully understand their point of view.

  6. Paraphrase and summarize: This shows that you understand what has been said and provides an opportunity to clarify if there are any misunderstandings.

  7. Reflect: Take some time to reflect on the words that were shared after the conversation. This can help consolidate learning and stimulate further questions or ideas.

Incorporating these tips can help make the connection between supervisors and graduate students more effective, rewarding, and enriching. Remember, the road to academic success is not a solitary trek, but a collaborative journey, enriched by the guiding star of active listening.

Hi! I'm Dr. Marina Silva-Opps. If you're hungry for more insights on time management, productivity, and personal development, visit my LinkedIn profile and website, where you can explore a wealth of additional content. And remember, I'm here to help!


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