How To Deal with Constructive Criticism From Your PhD Supervisor

Receiving criticism of your hard-worked thesis is an intrinsic part of the PhD experience. Unlike undergraduate essay-writing, the evaluation of your thesis is much tougher and more detailed. You are expected to respond to criticism positively and pay attention to every key concern raised by your PhD supervisor.

Criticism from your PhD supervisor can create feelings of disappointment, shock, sadness, disagreement, or even anger. All those emotions can distract you from critical feedback and stop you from engaging with useful insights shared by your supervisor.

To help you cope with this, we will explain how to be deal with constructive thesis criticism from your PhD supervisor.

Why Is Constructive Thesis Criticism Necessary?

The purpose of a PhD is to transform you into a professional academic. Professional researchers must go through a process of peer-review once they submit a paper to a journal. Other academics evaluate the work and discuss whether it’s worthy of publication or not. They outline changes required before publication.

It’s not uncommon for journal editors to outright reject manuscripts without even being peer-reviewed. Every academic goes through this experience once; some face it several times over their career. It can be demoralizing to have your efforts rejected before being reviewed.

Even if you manage to pass through journal editors, it can still be rejected by peer review experts (or referees). They are responsible for identifying gaps in research and finding weaknesses in arguments and analysis.

It doesn’t matter if you have asked others to review your work before you submit it for publication. Experts unfamiliar with your work might still point out things you never considered. They may raise concerns regarding your approach and highlight points that needed further explanation.

As an academic, you must better explain your work or defend why you have made certain assumptions. If those concerns are valid, it’s vital to address them.

Therefore, when PhD supervisors share concerns about research, they are essentially preparing you for what you will face in a professional environment.

How to Effectively Cope with Constructive Thesis Criticism

The following techniques can address supervisor criticism effectively.

Invite Criticism Early and Frequently

Most PhD candidates are afraid of criticism, so they never ask their peers and supervisors for feedback. Avoiding feedback actually hurts your research. Students end up being shocked and surprised when their supervisor criticizes their work.

Therefore, it’s prudent to seek feedback from peers and supervisors before submitting your work. Before writing anything, brainstorm preliminary ideas, results, and analysis with your supervisor and request his or her


Receiving criticism early is beneficial since it gives you ample time to fill gaps in your thinking and approach the topic from a different perspective.

When someone challenges your theories, ideas, or approaches, it motivates you to strengthen your argument and address concerns you otherwise would have ignored. Ultimately, it trains you to criticize your own work and test theories from different viewpoints.

Therefore, when you begin writing formally, you’ll have a refined theory at your disposal, making it harder for the supervisor to point out obvious weaknesses.

Don’t Get Emotionally Attached

You can face criticism for your research even after refining your theory. Therefore, it’s important not to get emotionally attached to it. When you spend countless hours working for something, it’s easy to get attached to it.

So, when you hear your supervisor criticizing your work, it can affect you negatively. Therefore, when you submit your thesis or dissertation, keep your emotions out of the equation.

If you feel put down by negative feedback, consider taking a small break. Divert yourself from the subject for a while and take a walk in the park. Doing so can help you alleviate undue panic and stress.

Engage With Criticism by Prioritizing Feedback

Once you have relaxed, sit on your desk and start outlining your supervisor’s comments. As an aspiring academic, you must take criticism with enthusiasm and energy.

Analyze each highlighted concern and try to understand it from your supervisor’s perspective. If it is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask your supervisor to elaborate and clarify. While you evaluate comments individually, don’t forget to assess the importance of each point. Some of the comments are likely to be more crucial than others.

For instance, if your supervisor questions one of your fundamental assumptions, it’s critical to address that concern immediately. That is when you must evaluate whether you agree or not, which takes us to our next point.

Address Concerns Selectively

Remember, you don’t necessarily have to comply with whatever your supervisors demand of you. Listening to what they say will help you, but it’s not necessary to respond to each point of your supervisor’s criticism. Focus on the supervisor’s written feedback and see if you have an alternative approach or perspective. This standing your ground, so to speak, may earn your supervisor’s respect. Communicate. Engage in a tactful and textured conversation. You have an opportunity to establish yourself as a researcher and thinker in your own rank. Such disagreements could be a turning point in your relationship. If you acquit yourself well and are able to defend your positions, your supervisor may see you in a new light—not as a subordinate student but as an emerging and promising scholar.

Students should never be overwhelmed by criticism from supervisors. Earning your PhD is a learning process, so it isn’t wise to get stuck on criticism. Even if you do fall short initially, you will eventually get it right.

Your supervisor’s criticism will help you improve your approach. However, it doesn’t mean you have to wait for your supervisor to take digs at you to refine your research. Edit911 offers comprehensive dissertation editing services.

Our experts are veteran academics who specialize in honing dissertations and theses through their wealth of experience and expertise. Visit our website to learn what else we can do for you.

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