Student Speak

How to find a supervisor for graduate school

Posted by Carisa Collins on November 30, 2016 at 9:02 AM

"Grad school application why you no write yourself?"

You’ve thought about the future, listed the pros and cons, and made the decision to apply to grad school.

One of the biggest decisions to make is which supervisor(s) you would like to work with. Working with the right person can be crucial to your graduate experience. Having been through the process three times myself, I would like to share some tips that I’ve picked up on over the years.

#1: Do interesting work

Find someone researching a topic or conducting work that excites you. Often potential graduate students seek supervisors based on their prestige, adhering to the misconception that you need to work with the best supervisor. But what is the best? You can make your grad experience whatever you want it to be, and if you aren’t happy with the work you’re doing, your grad experience may not be the ‘best’.

#2: Reach out

Reach out to potential supervisors early. You want to set yourself apart from other candidates, and by connecting with potential supervisors, you give them a chance to get to know your name so that when your application comes across their desk they have a memory of you.

#3: Connect

Make sure your supervisor is someone you think you can get along with on a personal level. This is someone with whom you will spend a lot of time and work very closely with. If you cannot see eye to eye on mundane topics, it could make your grad experience less than stellar.

Consulting the experts

Who am I to be giving you advice? I’ve never supervised anyone, so maybe I’m bluffing and these things don’t work. Let’s consult the experts: the supervisors! I contacted multiple supervisors from all faculties and asked them what advice they had for potential grad students.

Many of the supervisors reflected my tips. Several said to reach out to them early so that you aren’t just a name on a page. Many also said to ensure your own research aligns with theirs. They extended this a little and explained that it’s important that you have some ideas that you can add to their research or work, and have curiosity and a desire to conduct new research. They also highlighted the need for your personality to mesh with theirs. Grad school can be long and difficult, and you want to get along with the person you’ll spend the most time with.

While I enjoy the fact that many of their answers reflected my own experience, there were some things they told me that I hadn’t thought of myself.

Expert tip #1: Writing

Many of the supervisors said to ensure you are a good writer. This was expressed as both academic writing and in the way you communicate with them. Writing is a skill that needs practice and many supervisors look for it when considering their decision of whom to accept. This means ensuring you can write clearly and concisely, can communicate effectively and professionally, and can take critiques and learn from them.

Expert tip #2: Independence

Grad school is a choice and is the beginning of your career, so many of the supervisors stated independence as something important they look for in graduate students. This means everything from taking initiative, to developing your own research ideas and to being self-directed in your studies. Supervisors don’t want to be hounding you for work or having to baby you through grad school, so ensure you can take responsibility for yourself and get your work done.

"I'm not telling you it's going to be easy I'm telling you it's going to be worth it"Expert tip #3: Grades

While this may seem pretty self-explanatory, many of the supervisors I contacted were adamant about potential students having good scholastic abilities. They indicated that for many students it is the only thing they have to judge, and past academic abilities typically predict future academic abilities. In addition, while it isn’t always the only thing they use to judge your application, most do weight grades pretty heavily; indicating they give at least 50 per cent credit to grades alone.

With all those things in mind, put your nose to the books, do your research and start some conversations! Grad school is a wonderful experience, and I wish you all the luck in succeeding at this next step in your career!

Have you gone through the process of finding a supervisor? What are some of your tips? Let us know in the comments!

Topics: Academic, Graduate Studies