Methods for resolving conflicts with your thesis supervisor

Before joining the industry, graduate school is a great place to learn how to manage conflict with your thesis supervisor effectively. Mastering this skill is a great way to improve interpersonal and communication abilities. In addition, by developing this ability, a person constructs a foundation for handling future conflicts that may arise.

Master’s graduates make every effort to avoid conflicts with their thesis supervisors. However, with time, they learn that conflicts are unavoidable with their supervisor. A conflict between a thesis supervisor and Master’s graduates may start when the supervisor demands more rounds of data collection and research work instead of supporting the efforts done by graduates. These conflicts cause stress for students because they want to complete their degrees quickly to pursue new opportunities.

After all, a graduate student’s career success depends on a good relationship with their supervisor. Here are some suggestions for Master’s graduates on resolving 90% of conflicts with their supervisors.

How Can You Avoid Conflicts with your Thesis Supervisor?



The worst communication mistake caused by graduates is avoiding their thesis supervisor because they are embarrassed by how slowly they are doing their work. This can lead to conflicts with their thesis supervisor. Students must ensure that they are on the same page with their supervisor about deadlines and graduation criteria. Even though the conversation is uncomfortable, it is preferable to understand the perspective of supervisors by communication than to be surprised if their expectations differ from what graduates had expected. If Master’s graduates have two supervisors or are attempting to convince everyone on their thesis committee to agree on their graduation requirements, it is even more important that they should be proactive about maintaining open communication.


Effective communication is founded on assertive action. Students can effectively express their viewpoints and negotiate with others to reach mutually beneficial objectives through assertive communication. Hence, this way, many conflicts especially with their thesis supervisor can be avoided. For example, Imagine that your thesis advisor has appointed you with a task that you find difficult. How would you react?

  1. If you are a passive person, you may remain silent and do the task while feeling upset. 
  2. Alternatively, if you are aggressive, you can go into your thesis supervisor’s office and angrily declare that working on this project would be a waste of time. 

None of these options are ideal. To communicate disagreement without offending your supervisor, you must be assertive in your communication. Thus, as an assertive person, you can firmly communicate your thoughts while being sensitive to the needs of others. At your next appointment, remind your advisor that they requested you to do this assignment, and ask if they have time to discuss it. To conclude, make a mutual decision about how to proceed.


Selecting a thesis supervisor is a significant step in avoiding conflicts with your supervisor. Choose the thesis supervisor whose research area is the same as yours. Because in this manner, your thesis supervisor will take an interest in your work, and conflict will be avoided. For instance, mechanical engineering has different fields, including manufacturing and thermodynamics. If a mechanical engineering master’s graduate wishes to do a thesis in the subject of design and manufacturing and they choose a thesis supervisor with an interest in thermodynamics, a conflict may arise as time passes due to different interests.


You might think that agreeing with your supervisor all the time is an effective way to avoid conflict with your thesis supervisor. However, this can affect your thesis. Therefore, it’s important to realize that a supervisor may not always be right. Master’s students know more about their thesis topic than their supervisors. Thesis supervisors can assist students till a certain point beyond which they do not know more about the student’s research topic. Sometimes, supervisors can seem like managers who ask graduates to do more experiments than appreciating the students’ efforts. Here, students must respond wisely. 

  • Firstly, never directly deny the supervisor’s request. Analyze their perspective attentively and note what they want to say.
  • Then, from the perspective of previous research, convince them logically that this is necessary or unnecessary for this research. 

For instance, a medical student is researching a subject that requires solely experimental results, but their supervisor instructs them to also conduct simulations using some software. To prevent conflict, instead of saying no directly, the student can read past research articles on the issue and can collect information to relay that a simulation might not be necessary for their thesis. Thus, this allows the student to convince their supervisor by presenting data from previous research.


Professors are busy entities. Most of them teach, serve on committees, write grants, travel to conferences, and mentor multiple graduate students in their spare time. While problems with your research are central to you, these are only one of the hundred items on your professor’s task list to attend to. If you walk into your professor’s office without a clearly defined agenda, there is a good chance the meeting will get derailed as you or your professor go off on tangents. Consequently, make it easy for your professor to support you by creating a clear agenda for every meeting and thinking about possible solutions to your problems to avoid conflict. Moreover, If you send written materials in advance, your supervisor can read about your current progress beforehand, point out what you’re lacking, and even provide criticism on your writing.


If you disagree with your supervisor or have a strong opinion about anything, you should always bring it up in person. This is an effective way to avoid conflict with your thesis supervisor. In-person communication reduces the chances of misunderstanding, though it might be challenging to locate a supervisor for a meeting. As a result of seeing their supervisors in person, students can develop appropriate responses accordingly. 


Students can create a meeting template at the beginning of their Master’s program. The template can be utilized for meetings they have with their supervisors in the future. While creating a meeting template, here are a few pointers to keep in mind while creating a meeting template: 

  1. Ensure that it includes a concise agenda
  2. A list of contents you want to discuss
  3. A space for taking meeting notes
  4. A space for noting tasks for the next meeting. 

Thus, this way students can avoid conflicts with their thesis supervisors.  


Although the conflict between students and supervisors is inevitable, the above-mentioned methods can be beneficial for students to resolve 90% of their conflicts with their supervisors. To summarize, this includes: avoiding a lack of communication, being assertive in their communications, choosing a project-interested supervisor, holding well-planned meetings, and keeping a record of each meeting.