You have a new supervisor—now what!?! 5 tips on how to get this important relationship off to a great start.

As soon as you begin your graduate experience—you will likely be paired with a supervisor-and in many instances, more than one supervisor.  Some students have amazing supervisory experiences and never think twice about it, but, unfortunately…many do not.  Chances are—not all of your supervisors are going to be “Great!”—although I hope that they are.  I know I view supervision as my ultimate “give back” to a field that has given so much to me.  I love working with students and continuously learning. Yes—that’s right—I learn all the time from students and it is this reciprocal relationship that keeps me coming back, year after year, for more.  I have been supervising at the graduate level for almost 20 years and I have learned a lot.  I also noticed that as my students got younger and younger (or I got older and older—it is all about perspective!) there seemed to rise some communication challenges.  As the generation gap widens—supervisors and students are typically coming from different perspectives (there is that word again!) and even just softening our hearts and considering these differences is honestly a great start. Listed below are some pointers I have found really help.

1.  If it hasn’t been said, ask.

Your new supervisor will most likely go over a time line of when expected paperwork is due (SOAP notes, lesson plans, etc).  Do not wait until you are late—make sure you are super clear on what the expectations are.


2.  Take Initiative.

Graduate school can be intense and you will not have all the answers—no one expects you to! Most supervisors want to see that you have put some time into your paperwork first—before you ask for help.  Before you throw your arms up in despair—take a moment a do a little research first.  If you are confused about your client in the clinic—reach out to the student who saw him the previous semester—she may be able to shed some insight into the case for you.  If you are unsure of a therapeutic technique—look it up first so you have a basic understanding of it.  If you are working with a pediatric client and are concerned about rapport and attention—reach out to a family member/caregiver and ask what that client likes—this will be so helpful for that first session.   This initiative goes a long way.  It shows you are not only committed to your own learning but to your client’s learning as well.  Many times, I have been so impressed with what my students’ have come up with—that I walk away from the meeting learning something myself.  This leads me to my next point…


3.  If you don’t understand something, ask for help.

Somewhere along the line, many graduate students have learned that it is not OK to ask questions—maybe this is because you do not want to appear as if you do not know something?  Maybe in the classroom or group environment—you are scared?  Whatever the case is, unlearn this quickly.  You are in school to LEARN.  Your supervisor/professor/advisor and any other “ends in or” person in your life is not only there to teach you but also to help you learn.  Remember, there is a distinction between the two.  Sometimes graduate school is a big wakeup call for the student who is used to getting straight A’s—the rigor of the program and the stress of seeing new clients—can and usually is, initially overwhelming.  I have never turned away a student who came to me with a question (or 4 questions) or, for that matter, questioned her intelligence because she came to me with questions.  But, I have graded tests where a smart student failed because they did not seek the help they needed.  In the end…ASK FOR HELP!!!


4.  Email consideration is necessary.

 I always tell my students the following:

Please only email me once—I will get back to you as quickly as possible (yes, I have had students email me two hours after their original email—questioning if I have indeed received it).

Please respond to my emails—even if it is only with an “OK” or “Got it!”—this way I can be assured that you have received my message.

Please remember that I am your supervisor/teacher and keep the tenor of your emails as “professional”—even though I am relatively easy-going—many of your supervisors will be offended if you are too casual.  What do I mean as “casual”? You use slang, i.e., you address an email “Hey Professor” or you attach emojis and inappropriate language, “I am totally bummed I bombed that test”.


5.  Lastly...Explain before you complain.

Remember, most likely, your supervisor is supervising because she cares.  I know I do.  I am vested into my supervisees learning and experience and I genuinely am concerned with how they are doing and I am confident my colleagues are as well.  If something has caused you to become angry—before you complain to other students (you will most likely do this anyway!) or the clinic director or program director or even…chair—go directly to your supervisor first.  Explain to her what is going on—she may have had no idea that you felt this way and she will be glad that you brought it up.