Feedback and self-assessment

Foster a safe and comfortable space for feedback discussions

Be sure to dedicate enough time so that the discussion about feedback is not rushed and everyone can express their ideas. Be aware of body language that may indicate understanding, acceptance, confusion, or resistance towards the feedback, and practise active listening. 

 

a supervisor and student sit together at a desk to discuss a map on a computer monitor

Getting feedback from your supervisor

Getting regular and constructive feedback from supervisors has been shown to be a major factor in students’ satisfaction with the supervisory relationship (Zhao, Golde, & McCormick, 2007).
 

When discussing expectations with your supervisor, discuss feedback expectations

  • What type of feedback would help?
  • How will you ask for and receive feedback (e.g., individual meetings, group meetings, email)?
  • How long will your supervisor need to give you feedback after you’ve asked for it, and how long do they expect you to take to implement it (e.g., by revising a draft)?
  • Keep in mind that research has shown that learning is most effective if revisions are made immediately after feedback is received (Brookhart, 2012).
     

Tips for efficient and productive feedback meetings 

  • Agree on the motivation for the feedback meeting, including what problems are relevant and worthwhile (e.g., is the meeting focused on big-picture concepts or technical specifics?).
  • Prepare an agenda for the meeting, which includes issues that both parties want to discuss.
  • Express your level of understanding of your supervisor’s comments. If something is not clear, ask for more information or clarification. 
  • Be mindful of resistance strategies to feedback.
    • Especially when much time and effort has been put into the work, it may be tempting to sway the discussion to tweaking what has been done rather than considering other alternatives. This may be observed as dismissing undesired discussion topics, bringing up preferred topics, or defensiveness.
    • Remember that the goal of the feedback discussion is to help you learn and produce your best work. The path leading to this goal may not always be the easiest, shortest or most desirable, but will be worth the effort when the goal is achieved.

Learn more about the supervisor’s perspective on giving feedback.
 

Self-assessment: Giving yourself feedback

Receiving feedback from others is a crucial aspect of graduate research, but regularly practicing self-assessment and giving yourself feedback can also contribute positively to your learning process. Self-assessment through reflection helps you identify strengths and weaknesses by examining your own practice. It generally consists of a systematic cycle (Kolb 1993):

The graphic represents a cyclical process that starts with the word "Experience" at the top, with an arrow pointing to the words "Observations and reflections", with an arrow pointing then to the words "Rethinking and formulating new ideas", with an arrow pointing then to the words "Testing new ideas". The arrow from the words "Testing new ideas" points back to Experience, the start of the cycle.

Getting feedback from peers and the larger community

Below are some opportunities to get feedback outside of the supervisory relationship.

  • Discussions with peers, either through informal conversations or structured writing groups such as the fellowship writing groups offered by Graphos at the McGill Writing Centre
  • The Would You Fund It? workshop offered by SKILLSETS, where students’ funding applications can be reviewed by former Tri-council or Quebec committee reviewers
  • Presentations at meetings and conferences, where you can discuss your research with students and professors from local and international institutions
  • Communication with a mentor or a member of your supervisory committee

How can you respond to critical feedback?

Receiving critical feedback is not always easy. Try to see it as a way to improve, rather than as a discouragement. When you get feedback from your supervisor or others, remember that their goal is for you to learn and continue to develop your skills, and for you to produce your best quality work.

 

A critical comment about your work is not a criticism of your general abilities 

Due to the power differential between supervisor and supervisee, some feedback may be misinterpreted. For example, a comment intended as a suggestion may be interpreted as a demand, or a critical comment intended to improve the work may be interpreted as a criticism on the student’s abilities in general.

The image shows a supervisor speaking on the left and a supervisee listening on the right. There is a bar between the two labelled "Power Differential". The supervisor's speech is labelled suggestion on the supervisor's side of the power differential, but is labelled "demand" in red on the supervisee's side. The graphic elements together relate that when supervisors speak they may think they are simply making suggestions, but supervisees may hear suggestions as demands because of the power differential.

 

Questions to reflect on as you interpret feedback

  1. How can you determine whether a comment is a suggestion or a requirement?

    • Are you comfortable asking your supervisor to explicitly distinguish between them when giving feedback, such as by using a different font on a written comment?

    • What will you do if it is not clear whether a comment is a suggestion or requirement, but you agree with the comment? What if you disagree with the comment

  2. How do you react when you receive a written critical comment? A verbal critical comment?

    • Is it possible that misinterpretation due to the power differential, or interpreting the comment as a personal criticism rather than aimed at improving the work, are factors in your reaction?

    • How can you reframe your thoughts about critical feedback to reduce the effects of these factors?

  3. What will you do if you receive conflicting feedback from co-supervisors or your supervisory committee? Are you comfortable bringing this up in discussions? How much of a role would your opinion on the issue play, relative to the opinions of those who gave the feedback?

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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