Searching For The Leadership Style Of A PhD Supervisor

According to the paper published by Levecque et al. in 2017, one in two doctoral students is in a state of distress, whereas one in three is at risk of some type of mental disorder such as depression [1].

In their work, they evaluated the relationship between a supervisor’s leadership style and mental health. The leadership styles considered were the inspirational, authoritarian and laisser-faire styles. They observed better mental health in those students under an inspirational leadership style. And they found an opposed pattern when considering the laisser-faire style.

I would like to highlight that there is no ideal leadership, only an ideal fit (or almost). Each doctoral student will do better or worse depending on the leadership style that best fits her. I would say that is important to be aware of these different types of leadership. An even more important is to practice self-awareness. Only then we can find our match.

And how can we find this math? If we have the opportunity to do doctoral studies in the same group where, for example, we have done the master’s thesis, this makes things much easier for us because we will know what kind of leadership we going to experience and if it fits us… or not. It can also be the case that one can start with a supervisor, and for some reason, there can be a change once the doctoral thesis has already begun. Here we can do little, but thinking about it as if that change is a new opportunity.

In my case, I knew the research group before I started my PhD. And I also underwent a (forced) change in my thesis supervision once it had started it. The former and final supervisors had different styles. The final supervisor’s style was more in concordance with my personality. So the change favored me.

I must say that I was not aware of these aspects at the time! It is only after some time (sometimes years) that you realize them. And I did. I understood what worked for me. So when I went to Lausanne for my job interview for a postdoctoral position, I did not hesitate to tell the group leader what kind of leadership I liked. Or did I tell him the one I did not like (negative approach)? Anyway. He gladly conveyed to me what kind of leader he considered himself. And at that precise moment, my PhD supervisor came to mind and I thought: I’ll be fine here too. Luckily for me, that group leader thought I would fit in too and I got the position.

To wrap up, it is important to stress again that there is not an ideal path. Most important of all is to make everyone comfortable. So am I enacting an attitude of personal change or an attitude of searching for a fit? The latter would mean that everyone remains as they are. But realizing how we can better integrate into a team may be part of a personal development process.


Credits

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

References

1. Katia Levecque, Frederik Anseel, Alain De Beuckelaer, Johan Van der Heyden, Lydia Gisle, Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students, Research Policy, Volume 46, Issue 4, 2017, Pages 868-879, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2017.02.008

Relevant books on this topic

1. On Becoming a Leader by Warren G. Bennis

2. Start with why. How great leaders inspire everyone to take action by Simon Sinek

3. 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick M. Lencioni

As an Amazon Associate, naturally my content may contain affiliate links for books I use and love. Thus, I may earn from qualifying purchases. If you take action after clicking one of these links, I’ll earn some coffee money which I promise to drink while creating more helpful content like this.


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I Landed Among The Stars

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The following is a short story describing one of the nicest experiences from my PhD. Hope you enjoy the reading!

When I was doing my PhD in Europe, there was an established American researcher in my field. Because she was a reference, I had read a lot of her papers. One day, I was in a conference and I saw one researcher staring at my poster. I approached him and we started talking.

At some point, he said his name and I realized he was a co-author of a paper with the outstanding researcher I mentioned before. I said: “Oh! You know her!”. After discussing my poster and their joint work, he offered to put the researcher in touch with me. And he did. Quickly!

In a couple of days, he sent an e-mail to the two of us. And the established and prolific researcher also replied very quickly! At that point, I thought, what is the worst that can happen if I ask her to visit us?

So I talked to my PhD supervisor and he gave me all the support to send her an e-mail (and not him as a senior researcher/PI!). So I invited her to come to visit us. And wow! She said she was going to visit Europe for a conference and that she could stop by Barcelona!

She came with her husband, gave a talk to an audience of researchers from our institution, we had dinner together with my PhD supervisor… It was the beginning of something!

Sometime later, another PhD from my group did her international PhD stay of 3 months in her group. And when I was doing my postdoc, we submitted a research proposal that got funded. And after all, I always have this quote in mind:


Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Norman Vincent Peale

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Academic dilemma #2 – Let your lovely child fly

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In my previous post I showed my first academic dilemma, or how I abandoned my academic path right after my PhD to engage with an entrepreneurial process. In this new post, I will share how I quitted my start-up to go back to academia.

I co-founded a university-derived spin-off company while I was finishing my PhD. That was a very intensive period. We went through a technology transfer process to create the start-up. Briefly, the activities of technology transfer take place between the university and the industry, acting as an intermediary between these two worlds. In the end technology transfer acts a bit like a compiler, where academic results have to be translated into commercial products, or where the academic language has to be translated into industrial language.

One day I told my PhD supervisor that I wanted to create a start-up to bring our technology to market and we immediately had a meeting with the people who had contributed to that research to see how we could proceed. I brought to that meeting a single post-it-like slide because at that time we really had a very vague idea about how we should proceed.

But it turned out that our vague plan materialized and we ended up doing and achieving things we would have never imagined before: raising funds, creating a team, implementing a quality system, receiving prizes…

And the most important part is that we had a product to sell, which in this case the product is a clinical report that today can be obtained through collaborating hospitals if a medical doctor asks for it.

But after one year and a half, I started to realize that while the first stage of the company was really great and satisfying, the business side of the start-up process was not fitting well with my personality and my interests.

So here it came my dilemma number 2:

Let your lovely child fly

It was really difficult to decide to leave something you created from scratch, but afterwards you understand that in every start-up there exists a phase known as “Transition of the founder CEO”, a topic described in the book “The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup” I mentioned in my previous post.

The point is that the founder CEO, who is the right CEO to lunch the company from scratch, may not be the ideal CEO for scaling/growing it up. And, fortunately, my co-founder was a perfect fit to take the lead.

So when I read this theory, and because the company was in good hands, I felt some kind of relief, and because I was really missing the academic atmosphere I decided to go back to research and look for a postdoctoral position somewhere in Europe.

And you know what? Although we the entrepreneurs had been told in training courses that by choosing industry we could never go back to research, I found a professor at the University of Lausanne who saw my start-up experience as an asset, and he offered me a postdoctoral position in his group.

Just a month after deciding I was going to do a postdoc abroad, my wife and I knew that she was pregnant. We upheld the decision of going abroad together. But I will share in my next post how things went finally.


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As an Amazon Associate, naturally my content may contain affiliate links for books I use and love. Thus, I may earn from qualifying purchases. If you take action after clicking one of these links, I’ll earn some coffee money which I promise to drink while creating more helpful content like this.

Academic dilemma #1 – Academia or industry?

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This is the first of a series of very personal posts where I will share how I have had to face some career-related dilemmas throughout my professional journey. These dilemmas had challenged my initial professional plans, the ones I had when I finished my degree. And they are dilemmas that you may need to face at some point or another as they are quite universal, although you may not be aware of them yet. Here I go.


I graduated in Computer Engineering in 2008, and there is one main idea behind this series of posts:

When I finished my degree, I really wanted to become a university lecturer and researcher. So I had envisioned pursuing a PhD, becoming a postdoctoral researcher and well, the classical path for academia.

It turned out that as I was advancing in my professional career, I had to face some dilemmas. And these dilemmas challenged my plans and me, because the decisions I was making in every career shift were apparently deviating my envisioned career plan. But these decisions were only deviating my career path apparently… as I have ended up being a lecturer and researcher at an academic institution.

So how my career looks like now? I have been alternating between research and technology transfer activities. I completed my PhD aimed at developing an analytical and computational method able to measure blood biomarkers for cardiovascular risk assessment. The results were very positive: we published, we even wrote a patent… And the idea of being involved in the translation of these results into something useful for the society was gaining significance. And finally my first dilemma showed up:

Academia or industry?

In entrepreneurship trainings, we were told that we had to choose between academia and industry. The two were incompatible. Thus, the important idea here is that when I decided to co-found the start-up to further develop this technology, I was also deciding giving up my academic career. That was a vital decision for me. And as you can deduce, I went back to academia… But let’s talk about that in another post.

Another interesting thing is that before my PhD I had no idea what a patent, a spin-off company, or technology transfer were. But my PhD supervisor had been vice-rector for innovation and technology transfer and taught me innovation in my first year as a PhD student. Also, we the research team were really involved in the patenting process. So, in the end, my PhD was a learning experience that went much beyond the technical stuff, and allowed me to develop transferable skills besides the hard ones.

Well, I understood one cannot create a company from his or her PhD every day, and being able to translate the results of your PhD into something useful for the society can be really impactful. So I really aimed for it…

In my next post I will share the dilemma I faced after two years leading a university-derived spin-off company. And the answer is in the book “The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup” written by Noam Wasserman.


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As an Amazon Associate, naturally my content may contain affiliate links for books I use and love. Thus, I may earn from qualifying purchases. If you take action after clicking one of these links, I’ll earn some coffee money which I promise to drink while creating more helpful content like this.