Q: How to handle critical feedback from research supervisors?

Detailed Question -

What is the advice for students to handle critical feedback from supervisors? As one delves into the field of research, it is axiomatic that one is still a novice. On this path, it is beyond doubt that critical feedback hits, and at times, it hits hard. How should one handle this?

1 Answer to this question

As you have rightly noted, feedback can hit hard, especially when you are relatively new to the field. However, there are a few things you can do so that it does not affect you hard.

  • Understand that the feedback is directed at your work, not at you. Being senior and more experienced, your supervisor means the best for your research and your career, although their tone and behaviour might seem harsh at times. So, do not take it personally; instead, look at the points they are making.
  • Do not react, but respond. React rationally rather than emotionally. Try and understand the points they are making. Also, try and focus on the positives rather than the negatives. Finally, do not react immediately. Later, when you are more relaxed, much of the feedback that seems negative now might make more sense.
  • Be patient. With time, the quality of your research and writing will improve, and you will also be able to handle feedback much better. Also, as you improve, your supervisor’s comments are likely to reduce too.
  • Discuss with others. You can also discuss with others – peers and seniors – how they handle feedback, whether from the same supervisor or others. This will provide you additional perspectives on dealing with feedback as well as on what supervisors look for in a paper.
  • Share your paper. You could also share your reviewed paper with others to understand if your supervisor’s comments are valid. Another thing you could do is to share your initial thoughts and draft of your paper with your supervisor, rather than a completed paper, so that they can guide you from the beginning and provide inputs on a WIP manuscript rather than only feedback for a completed paper.

Related reading:

How to deal with harsh or negative comments by the third reviewer?