A handy guide to blagging your way through a one-on-one supervision

Oh, the art of bullshitting


You toss and turn in bed, sweating. The thought of waking up in the morning fills you with dread. You have a 9am supo with a supervisor who “actually hates me” and you are utterly unprepared. You’ve scribbled down an essay that your dog could have written and you know will be ripped to shreds. You know you will be asked questions on a book you haven’t read. Your mouth will open and close like a guppie as you try and dredge up some knowledge from lectures you haven’t actually been to.

Sound familiar? Have no fear. Below is a handy guide to convincingly bullshitting your way through that dreaded supo.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Cambridge professors love style and pomp, and will likely ignore the fact that what you are saying is pure waffle if you express yourself eloquently. Speak with confidence and be sure to consult your inner thesaurus. Hopefully your supervisor will turn a blind eye to the bullshit.

For example, instead of, “I have no idea because everyone seems to have a different opinion on the issue and I only read one book review", try: “The evidence is inconclusive, which has led commentators to harbour different views. Thus, I need to carry out further research in order to come to a well-reasoned judgement.”

(On reflection, ‘thus’ might be a little bit too keen)

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Some very constructive feedback

Namedrop and refer to books

Memorise the titles of some of the books on your reading list so you can casually drop them into the conversation if need be. Essentially, you can make something up and attribute it to a book or a writer/thinker/historian to validate what you’re saying.

And instead of just agreeing with your supervisor when they make a point, bring in a big name.

For example: “Oh yes, I came across a similar argument in _______ (insert book here) and found it to be very convincing.”

Hopefully, you won’t be too far off the mark, and hope even harder your supervisor doesn't know them.

Refer to carrying out "further research"

For some reason, it’s far more acceptable to get something horrendously wrong in a supervision if you assert your intention to "investigate it further" (a personal favourite).

Make a big point out of noting down all the books or articles your supervisor mentions with accompanying vigour, shaking your head and sadly admitting you "didn’t get round to reading" for this essay. Nod enthusiastically and say: "I’ll definitely take a look at that this week."

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Okay maybe not all supervisors will be so easily fooled

All criticism is constructive

When your supervisor absolutely slates your essay, don’t worry. Just smile and say “that’s really helpful” or “I’ll be sure to bear that in mind when I write my next essay."

At the end, tell your supervisor, "I think it’s been a really fruitful supervision.” (my personal favourite)

If you’re lucky, they might be inclined to agree.

And finally, be sure to butter up the supervisor

Has your supervisor written a book? If so, be sure to check out a summary and be ready to say something like, "yes I read something along those lines in your book and I found it fascinating."

Agree with everything they say. Nod intelligently at all the right moments and say things like "that makes a lot of sense" or "that’s such an interesting argument."

Have no shame. Be the smarmiest of teacher’s pets. Everyone loves an ego stroke.