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A Letter to My PhD Supervisor

Siung Ghai is studying a PhD in Space Physics at the University of Sheffield. He explains how much his supervisor has done for him, and why they’re so important during your PhD studies…

Ever since I was young I have always wanted to be an astronaut. However, whenever I have told people about this, they have laughed at me. But now that I’m studying towards a PhD in Space Physics, and through this have had the opportunity to work with scientists, NASA and the European Space Agency, they’re not laughing anymore!

One person who never laughed at me was my brilliant supervisor Simon. When I told him my dream was to go to outer space he listened to me with 110% concentration. Our first meeting was a moment that I'll never forget. There was no laughter, just unwavering support for my passion and dream, something which I’ve come to greatly appreciate in my time at university as a postgrad.

The best supervisors are those that stimulate and foster your talents and ability with unconditional support. I passed my degree with flying colours and excelled in my current PhD work but could not have done any of this without the support and guidance of my supervisor.

When you’re a PhD student it’s often easy to feel lonely as the reality of independent study sets in. It’s important that your supervisor is as available as possible to you – and I was lucky to find someone who was always ready to listen to any of my concerns.

Throughout my studies Simon was proactive about putting networking opportunities in front of me, not just with others within the UK with an interest in my discipline, but also on the overseas stage. I was invited to give academic presentations at three international space assemblies in Turkey, the USA and Japan, largely thanks to his support.

Space may be the final frontier, but many countries have an interest in the field. It’s impossible to work in isolation so a supervisor who can support you with international collaboration opportunities will be a huge asset to you. I was lucky to benefit from his connections and was paired up with scientists from NASA for my current research – something which I could only have dreamed of, when starting out as an undergrad all those years before.

But as much as support is valuable, it’s about inspiration too. A supervisor who can motivate you to go the extra mile, to do that little bit more, will pay dividends in terms of the quality and standing of your eventual research output. Simon inspired me not only to dream big, but dare to achieve bigger than anything I thought possible. It’s easy to feel intimidated by someone who is a leading expert in their field, but when this person can make you feel as though you are on the same level it is easy to be inspired to do more.

I’m not for a second pretending that a wonderful supervisor will make your PhD a walk in a park…there will be challenges, it will still be hard work. But if you can find a PhD supervisor just a little bit like Simon, you will be very lucky indeed. I can’t be more grateful to have had him as part of my research journey.



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