What To Do If You Don’t Have Time To Review Your Student’s Paper

Reviewing a paper takes time, and sometimes you just have so many other things to do that you don’t get around to reviewing your student’s paper for weeks or even months. Even when you realize that you have had the paper on your to-do list for a while, you still may not have much time right now to read it and give your student feedback about it.

What can you do when this happens?

The first thing is to talk with your student about it. Let them know why it’s taking a while. The reason why you need to do that is because your student may feel like you don’t care about their project or that their paper isn’t important. Both of those things are highly demoralizing.

While talking with them, give them an accurate timeline for when you will get feedback to them. The key is to make it accurate – don’t say one week if there’s a decent chance that you won’t be able to get it back to them in one week because when that week does roll around and your student hasn’t gotten your feedback, the trust they have in you will greatly diminish.

So, even if the timeline you have is longer, like one month, it’s better to give them an accurate date because in the long-run, your student will have much more trust in you – they may not like that it will take that long, but at least they know that you’re being realistic and what you say can be trusted – now and in the future.

Trust is paramount in the supervisor-PhD student relationship because your PhD student depends on you for so much. If they don’t feel like they can trust you, then that makes your PhD student feel unsupported, which leads to much more stress for them, and a resulting reduction in efficiency and output, possibly even a breakdown.

The second thing you should do is to organize someone else on your student’s supervising committee to give feedback. There are other supervisors on it who can help with the workload. By getting one of them to give feedback to your PhD student, you’re helping them progress.

Sure, it may not be feedback from you, but at least they have another experienced researcher helping them. That does a lot to help keep them motivated – it’s very motivating to see yourself progress toward your goal. It is very demotivating to see yourself stagnating.

If your student isn’t getting any feedback and the paper is being held up, they can see that as stagnation, which demoralizes them. Alternatively, if they see that they’re getting feedback and that their paper is progressing, then that is very motivating because things are moving forward.

If you have another supervisor giving feedback, you can always just stay in the loop and when you have time, you can either provide your feedback on the paper or wait for the next draft – whichever is more efficient.

By not letting your student know why you haven’t managed to give feedback on their paper, not giving them an accurate timeline, nor arranging for another supervisor to give feedback, they feel like their paper isn’t worth much. That is a major blow to an inexperienced research. Their confidence can be easily shattered because they don’t have an array of past projects and experience to get confidence from.

If you don’t have time to review your student’s paper make sure to let them know why, when you can get feedback to them, and arrange for another supervisor to review the paper in the meantime.

And if you want to help them improve their writing, get them this book, “How To Write An Academic Paper 101”. It covers the entire process, from writing a good literature review and using it to develop a good research question, to planning the paper, to writing all the sections (abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, conclusion, and references), to how to handle reviewers’ comments.

You can find it here: https://phdvoice.org/product/writing-an-academic-paper-101/

If you want to improve other aspects of your supervision, check out this course we developed: https://phdvoice.org/product/supervisor-training/

And this book we wrote: https://phdvoice.org/product/supervising-phd-students/

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