Do you have problems communicating or meeting with your supervisor?

You might have sometimes difficulty to communicate with your supervisor. He or she is often away in meetings, never there at the right moment and leaning over your shoulder when you are busy? This might be a bit exaggerated but let’s have a look at how you can supercharge your communication.

It basically depends on what you need to discuss with your supervisor. It also follows the same ideas as in project management with the following diagram.


  • Short questions you need a quick answer to (Q1 and Q3 above):

In this case, a messaging service is the most appropriate. In my team, we are using Slack and I advise my researchers to register to it: Alternatively, an e-mail with as object “Short and Urgent reply requested” might work too. As indicated in the diagram above, urgent and not important requested are perceived as “interruptions”. It would therefore be good practice not to abuse of your access to your supervisor for such requests.

  • Complicated and urgent questions (only Q1):

A messaging service might not be appropriate for this. Take the time to write your problem by e-mail with enough details. Make also sure you reread it to make sure there aren’t any misunderstanding  and offer to discuss the matter on the phone (add your phone number) if it simplifies the process. Indicate the deadline in your e-mail to make sure your supervisor gets the urgency. Finally, call your supervisor in case you need a reply within 2 hours.

  • Short and not urgent questions (Q2 and Q4):

To avoid cluttering the inbox of your supervisor, it would be best to keep these questions and bundle them for the next meeting you have with your supervisor. Keep an active list of ongoing questions somewhere (I advise using Evernote) and pull them out when you see him/her.

  • Complicated but not urgent questions (only Q2):

Similarly to the solution to Q1 above, an e-mail is here most appropriate. Don’t forget to indicate the deadline for your request and make sure you indicate clearly your question(s) and the solution(s) you think might work. Don’t forget to follow-up on your request as it might slip through the cracks.


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