Document Type: Letter to Editor


Faculdade de Ciências da Saúde, Universidade da Beira Interior, 6200-506 Covilhã, Portugal; Family Health Unit Beira Ria, 3830-596 Gafanha da Nazaré, Portugal


Dear Editor, The relationship between the PhD supervisorand the PhD student is a complex one. Whenthis relationship is neither effective nor efficient,it may yield negative consequences, such asacademic failure (1).The intricacy of the supervisor-studentrelationship may be in part comparable to the onebetween the physician and his/her patient [see,for example (2)]. Both interactions develop overseveral years and the players involved in eachrelationship – PhD supervisor-student on the oneside and physician-patient on the other side – mayat some point of the journey develop differentexpectations of one another [see, for example (3,4)] and experience emotional distress (5).In both relationships, the perceived satisfactionwith the interaction will contribute to the successor failure of the treatment in one case, and inthe other, the writing of a thesis. To improve thementioned satisfaction, not only there is a needto invest time (6), as does the physician to his/her patients, but also both the supervisor andthe PhD student must be willing to negotiate aresearch path to follow that would be practicaland achievable. The communication between thephysician and patient is of paramount importancefor the provision of health care (7), and so is thecommunication between the supervisor and PhDstudent which encourages the progression of boththe research and the doctoral study (8).As to a smooth transition to the postgraduatelife, supervisors should start thinking aboutproviding the same kind of positive reinforcementthat every student is used to experience in theundergraduate course. The recognition for a jobwell done will mean a lot for a PhD student, asit does for a patient. One good example is theincrease in medication compliance by patientswith high blood pressure who receive positivereinforcement from their physicians (9).Supervisors can organize regular meetingsfor (and with) PhD students in order to not onlydiscuss their projects but also improve theircoping skills, including critical thinking andproblem-solving methods (5). The act of sharingknowledge and experiences can motivate the PhDstudents to persevere in their studies (10).When needed, supervisors should use theirpower of influence to increase the time that thestudent has available to devote to research whilemaintaining a part of their employment activities(health care‑related or not), since many PhDstudents are also full-time workers.Last but not least, supervisors and facultymembers must encourage PhD students topursue the available funding opportunities.Socioeconomic problems are known to be an issuefor PhD students (5). Without the supervisor’ssupport – by dealing with PhD student’s emotionsand personality –, research time, funding, and thestudent’s proactiviness, the doctoral journey may not attain success.