Supervision nightmares: the problems with being unprepared

We can’t always be the academic superheroes we hope to be in our supervisions, writes Anna Feest

Anna Feest

"This is Cambridge and work doesn’t stop"GoodFreePhotos

We have all had a few memorable supervisions. My supervisor once said to me (and I’m really not joking about this) that she ran out of red pen while marking my work. A friend told me about how, after submitting the first essay to a new supervisor, she was asked if she had any regard for legible English. Her excuse was that she was somewhat hungover – although she might not have told her supervisor this – while writing it. I, unfortunately, didn’t have the same excuse, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, the supervision went downhill from this already low point, with my red-stained work sitting on the table ominously.

Some supervisions are, dare I say, enjoyable. We’re all here because we want to learn, and sometimes you leave in a state of mind-boggling wonder at the ground-breaking concepts you’ve just spent the last hour learning and discussing. Some might say that actually doing the secondary reading might help with this, but I’d argue that ruins the fun. Other supervisions, however, you turn up dreading. Maybe this dread is of the no-holds-barred supervisor, who while well meaning, still somehow manages to destroy your last shreds of confidence (see: red pen). Maybe it’s because, yet again, you’re turning up empty handed, example sheets and essays undone, just knowing that you’ve already disappointed and no amount of friendly banter with said supervisor is going to help. Maybe you dread the supervisions not because of the work, but because the pint of coffee you’ve just downed is still not enough to combat the hangover or sleep deprivation and you’re relying on pure adrenaline to get you through.

“A half-hour break turns into a stress walk round the block and a bar of chocolate”

After this adrenaline fuelled hour of your life, you leave as an empty, broken soul in need of a nap – and you’re going to need it, because this is Cambridge and work doesn’t stop. Has anyone ever ticked everything off their to-do list? I definitely haven’t and it’s got to a point where I write things down that I’ve already done, just to get the satisfaction of crossing them out again. Next on the list is the next supervision work, so cue the next round of books from the library, the next pint of coffee, and the next round of procrastination. The Sainsbury’s shop is done, emails are answered, and your room is tidy (tick all three off the list), which means that now you have to concentrate.


Mountain View

Are we all studying for a degree in knowing absolutely nothing?

As the supervision looms, it becomes increasingly obvious that this deadline might not be met. Deadlines are just a social construct, right? “Just got to finish it by Cindies,” you mutter to yourself and earn death stares in the library as your typing gets frantically loud. A half-hour break turns into a stress walk round the block and a bar of chocolate. You try moving libraries and the lo-fi beats are cranked up. Finally, and thankfully, the last words are written and that essay can be sent off. It’s only slightly late, quite badly written, and altogether just very wrong, but you can accept the consequences in the supervision later. We wouldn’t want the red-pen industry to die out now, would we?