This blog  is written by Prof. Roberto Weinberg from the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University who, amongst other accomplishments, was recently awarded the Science Faculty Dean's Award for Post Graduate Supervision 
 Symbiosis. The relationship between research students and supervisors is based on symbiosis: a collaborative effort directed at research. Candidates learn to do science and their efforts are an essential ingredient of our research output. Research students are at the core of our research efforts.
The best days in my supervisor life are those where, with one of my students, we sit in front of a new data set and start building a map of possibilities, paths, experiments all leading to new insights. These are days of great excitement, creativity and exchange, which I hope fire up the student’s curiosity and drive. Like many symbiosis, there is some tension in the relationship: large amounts of reading, steep learning curves, strict scientific thinking, demand for high-level questioning, quality documentation and writing, and numerous questions left unanswered, new questions raised, certainties dissolved. 
Some symbiotic relaitionships may turn parasitic.  Supervisors sapping the energy and directing the scientific production of students for their own gain, while providing minimum input and arguing that “a no input policy” is good for student independence. Conversely, students failing to reach maturity and draining supervisor’s energies and knowledge without adding to the shared knowledge of the team.
 Now we are faced with increased downward pressure in what constitutes a PhD  and with that there will be further pressure in this symbiosis. The issue is reducing our completion times. Soon after I arrived at Monash, over 10 years ago, a senior admin academic was making the case to a large cohort of academics that we needed to improve completion rates no matter what. “Err, no matter what?” someone interjected “will this not lead to an erosion of the quality of our PhD thesis? ” and the as expected the reply was the hypocritical “absolutely not”. Well, ten years on we are faced with even stronger requirements to reduce completion times. We are now faced with the conundrum of how to adapt our expectations to this imposed reality. Can we adapt the research questions to simpler, less risky ones? How far down can we take the content of a PhD thesis and still maintain an internationally acceptable level?  How can we shorten the maturation period that candidates need to start producing outcomes? How is this symbiosis going to flourish in the future?  
Considering that students carry out the bulk of our research, the way we adapt to this new imperative will impact on our collective research outcomes. This also means that now more than ever, we need to make our best efforts to attract the absolute best PhD candidates.  Outstanding Schools and individual researchers are often happy to wait and catch what falls in their net. We need a sharp change in attitude.  If our aims is to develop truly outstanding research, we need to actively seek the best students and then provide them with the best possible research environment. In this regard, high pressure for short completion times may not always be helpful.