The PhD student – supervisor relationship is a strange one; it is rare that in a workplace you would have a single boss for three to four years or have the flexibility to come into work at 11am and have the freedom to take three hours for lunch if you so wish. Then again, a PhD isn’t a normal job; it is understandable that your PhD supervisor doesn’t have to behave like a normal boss. When I started my PhD, I expected that I would have to manage my own time and experiments. That said, the frequency with which I feel like it is me and Google rather than me and my supervisor working towards a solution is still unexpected (despite the fact my undergraduate degree thankfully prepared me for this).

We’re often warned of the dangers of a boss that is too hands on, but have you ever considered a boss that is so absent that he’s often considered a visitor in his own lab. I often feel like I see more days without the mention of Brexit than days with the mention of a lab meeting. And don’t even get me started on the things that I seem to be expected to do outside of my PhD which often get communicated via a three lined email with no signature. Undergraduate students materialise with vague project titles which resemble something to do with something I worked on a while ago and spend an unnerving amount of time asking when they’ll meet the person in charge (what, you don’t trust me?!).

On the flip side, we’re talking about a nice person here. A man who, though thought to be an illusion, is kind and interested in my work. When present, he is friendly, approachable and willing to share knowledge. A person who takes an interest in my personal life and wellbeing. It is just unfortunate that without the postdoctoral staff leading the way, mistakes could end up being detrimental.

There are many people who have it worse than I do, and I appreciate that. It could be worse, and this independence is teaching me so many skills I probably would not learn otherwise. What I dislike is that a PhD experience is often completely dictated by the “luck of the draw” that comes with supervisors. We need a system at Imperial that somehow smooths over this variability and addresses the often-unpredictable behaviour that PhD students have come to expect.