The five Spice Girl supervisor types: which one are you?


The literature around supervision offers countless models and styles of supervision. Based on the multiple narratives I encountered while doing my own PhD, I simplify this here into the five iconic adviser types for all genders.

  1. Busy Advice

This is the one who is always overseas at conferences and sends students emails casually mentioning that thesis draft feedback is now five weeks beyond the agreed date because they have been “busy with important matters”. Accessories include carry on wheelie suitcase.

  1. Scary Advice

This is the one who can decimate a conceptual framework with the raise of an eyebrow, then really get stuck in. Students take frantic notes and then can’t understand them afterwards but are too scared to ask for clarification. Accessories include anything by Deleuze and/or Guattari, if in the arts or social sciences.

  1. Matey Advice

This is the one who tells students all about how difficult it is having old plumbing replaced, and a big book deal happening, and a cat with plaque and then, oh, look, what a shame, the hour is up. Accessories include mobile phone that is always on.

  1. Creepy Advice (this one highlighted in the spirit of #FEAS)

This is the one who wants to have a drink after a late supervisory meeting. Hmmmm. Accessories include a copy of Kate Millett’s The prostitution papers (1975), with certain sections pertaining to graduate students highlighted. Surely the worst eg. ever.

  1. Keeper Advice

This is the one who is clever and kind and supportive and collegial… and then gets a fabulous job on the other side of the world. Accessories include downloaded and dog-eared papers on best practice for research supervision.

How many supervisors actually talk with prospective students about their supervisory style, their planned absences, the limitations of their theoretical preoccupations, their careful observance of work/life boundaries, their university’s sexual harassment policies, and their immanent career trajectory? Which one of the above will I be, or will I be all of them at once (surely not the creepy one)? Have I made any glaring omissions?

Millett, K. (1975). The prostitution papers. New York: HarperCollins.


Author: becomingaphdsupervisor

Dr Lucinda McKnight is a lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Deakin University.

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