One of the last things you think about as a fresher is the role that your supervisor plays. While in education, academic accountability is a constant concern, but the longer you spend at University the more you realise that the only person who is going to moan at you for getting that substandard grade is you. The University of York extols itself for its high level of pastoral care – those twice-termly emails that compel you to sit in your supervisor’s office whilst you talk vaguely about whether you enjoyed your seminars, or whether you actually bothered to turn up.
But I know few people who manage to achieve a teacher-like relationship with their supervisors, where a student feels comfortable enough to tell them that, no, they haven’t done enough work because they have been sat in a student newspaper office or rehearsing in Central Hall for most of term. Or have been spending time at home because they don’t get along with their housemates and feel isolated. But honesty with a supervisor should be crucial.
This realisation only dawns when you reach the academic abyss of third-year, when you begin to recognise that those extra-important extra-curricular activities are actually probably not going to get you a job or a degree.
But the role that your supervisor plays and their opinion of you as an individual becomes an imperative part of the application rigmarole. And somehow the news that academic departments are doing little to help ease the stress and unnecessary bureaucracy of graduate job and Masters applications is unsurprising. The disregard academic departments have for providing transcripts is not only impeding a student population facing limited employment prospects in the current economic climate, but shows an ignorance and apathy for the care and attention students expect from their department.
A third-year friend of mine recently became upset because throughout his time here his supervisor has never once asked what he does in his free time or what he wants to do as a career. Wanting to be a journalist, he went to his supervisor armed with a portfolio and CV, only to find that as soon as a ‘Journalism Masters’ was mentioned, the supervisor became disinterested and told him to write it all down on a ‘personal development’ form to be handed in at the departmental office. Surely the entire purpose of a supervisor is the personal one-to-one interaction and correspondence, the knowledge that in the emotional whirl-wind of University life there is someone there who you can talk to – who maybe doesn’t understand, but is there regardless?
You would presume that supervisors strive to ensure that their students become the best that they can be. Student happiness and success is surely the truest reflection of their role as an academic member of the department? Assistance in the final stages of our time here, when providing something as important as an academic transcript, should be expected and standardised parts of academic supervisor practice.
For humanities students, the measly four hours of contact time we are blessed with a week shows no correspondence with the fees we pay, so the least we can ask for is organised and marginally passionate supervision.
The situation is even worse for Joint Honours students – the burden of contacting both supervisors is stressful and time-consuming. Students need assurance at a time of mounting pressure, which will help the departments in achieving academically flourishing individuals, rather than bitter and frustrated supervisees.