Tag Archives: supervision

Choosing a supervisor

Leather bound books, 1887. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Leather bound books, 1887. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

‘How do I choose who to supervise me?’ This is a question which most research students face very early in the course of their degrees. For honours students, the supervisor might need to be decided within a few weeks of commencing the honours year; for PhD students, universities occasionally allow a grace period of up to a year during which time one can consider the matter of one’s supervisor. But how to decide?

The following is an incomplete list, in no particular order, of some of the factors which, in my view, should weigh into your decision. For simplicity, call the potential supervisor S.

Personal relationships

  • Do you know S? Have you spoken to them, or only heard them lecture?
  • Do you like S?
  • Does S appear to like you?
  • Do you have any knowledge, from other students supervised by S, of how well they got on together?

Academic standing

  • How well regarded is S by other staff in the department?
  • Have you looked at any of S’s publications? Are they in good journals?
  • If you go to another university, either to work or to do further research, will the fact of having been supervised by S be something to highlight?

Research supervision

  • How many students has S previously supervised?
  • Did all of S’s previous students pass, and if so, what kind of grades did they get?
  • Grit. When the going gets tough, what does S do? Does S approach problems and impediments as a fact of research life, and and try to discover ways of overcoming them, or is S disheartened and defeated by problems that surface during their research?
  • Courage. If you get a bad examination report, will S support you when it comes to presenting your case to the university body that has responsibility for deciding whether or not you will get your degree? Or is S more likely to cast you adrift because they themselves do not like conflict?

Research area

  • Does S have a history of research in the area in which you are interested?
  • Is S a specialist or a generalist, and do you know which kind you need?

The list above is by no means complete but it nonetheless provides a good starting point for thinking about what to look for in a supervisor. Many of the topics mentioned are worthy of more attention. I propose to cover some of them in more detail in future posts.

Contributors: Mark R. Diamond