The bedrock of any good relationship – whether academic or otherwise – is clear communication and aligning expectations. When clear communication is not established, it can lead to isolation, stalemates, and even conflict, but in all instances, it negatively impacts productivity.  When relationships appear strained or are just beginning, we must go back to the basics, which, while not easy, will set up a solid foundation.

Clear Communication

Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.  Stop, stop avoiding the tough conversations because you think you’re being polite or kind to people – that’s not kind.”  Brené Brown, PhD

This quote helped me to frame all my work in the arena of Navigating Academic Relationships.  Think of all the times you ran into trouble from assuming intent from vague language or misled someone else because you were afraid to be direct, specific, clear in your language – or assumed somehow someone could mindread precisely what you want.  How much time would be saved if we were able to state professionally and clearly what we mean?

Aligning Expectations

It is essential to set clear expectations anytime we begin a new working relationship. Whether these relationships are between supervisor and supervisee, faculty and student/staff/postdoc, or collaborators, these expectations must be mutually set and revisited throughout the working relationship. For graduate students and faculty who work with them, there are new expectations every year as they progress and develop more skills and independence. The academic progression makes it essential to update expectations throughout.  Expectations do not just go one way – from mentor to mentee; supervisor to supervisee – the student or supervisee should be sharing their own expectations and the support they need to meet the expectations others have of them.  The CIMER group has produced an excellent “Aligning Expectations” exercise for faculty and graduate students working together to complete it – I highly recommend it as a template for these discussions.

Resources that can be helpful in these areas:

Stacey Satchell, Senior Academic Life Coach & RC Stabile, Academic Life Coach
The Graduate School @ Vanderbilt University

More Resources

Tools for Making Progress in Academic Life

Overheard at Ground Level: Fresh Brewed Mentoring

Staying Mentally Well in Academia is a Balancing Act

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