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How to Find the Right Supervisor for Your Research Project

By Cristiana , in General , at May 11, 2022

Irrespectively of the discipline you work with, your choice of supervisor will most likely be the most important decision you make in the course of work on a research project. It can make or break your project. With the right supervisor, you can write a top-notch paper even when dealing with unfamiliar topics. And vice versa, a poor supervisor can ruin even the best topic for you. So how do you choose the right one? Read on and find out!

1. Look for a Supervisor

Start with looking for potential candidates. Some colleges give you an option to do an automatic search for specialists in specific fields to check if any relevant experts are currently available. Otherwise, you will have to contact your college’s graduate research office and make your inquiries there. Anyway, even if you do find a seemingly suitable candidate, it does not mean that he/she is currently available or even willing to supervise your particular project. What you find out at this stage is nothing but preliminary information.

2. Build upon Your Research Interest

Base your search for a supervisor on your research interest. In the beginning, you probably have a rather vague idea of what you want from your future supervisor. To narrow down your search, focus on your primary research interest. Look for professors who are known to be experts in your chosen area or use research methods that meet your requirements.

3. Find out More about Your Potential Supervisor

Before you reach out to a potential supervisor, it is a good idea to do your homework and find out more about him/her. What does this particular professor specialize in? What is his/her approach to the field in question? Is he/she interested in the topic you are about to propose? For example, if you intend to carry out a project in religious studies, you should find out what religion research topics the professor usually works with, what is his/her usual take on the subject matter, and so on.

4. Check the Supervisor’s Previous Students

If you want to be completely confident in the supervision style, look into the students who previously worked under this professor. Find out what their results were and reach out to them to ask about their personal experience of working with this supervisor. These individual impressions may turn out to be more useful and reliable than any statistical information.

5. Reach out to the Potential Supervisor

Send the potential supervisor a short email introducing yourself. As faculty members receive a great many emails every day, you will have a better chance of being noticed if you provide as much information about yourself in as few words as possible. Try to write a message that is no longer than 250 words. Write who you are, which papers of this professor you have read, what is the topic of your proposed research project, and why you believe this person is likely to be a good supervisor for it.

If possible, meet him/her in person and talk about the topic you intend to cover in your project. This is the best way to get some idea of whether you two are suited to work together. Do you have similar work culture? Do your interests coincide? Does he/she prefer qualitative or quantitative analysis in his/her studies? Find it all out before you officially request somebody to be your supervisor.

6. Clarify Your Positions

Before you commit to working with a particular person, make sure you both understand what it entails. If he/she becomes your supervisor, how will your work be organized? How often will you be expected to meet? What will these meetings cover? Will the supervisor be actively involved in determining your objectives or apply a more hands-off approach? Find out all this beforehand, lest it turns out later on that your supervisor has a completely different idea of what his/her role is.

7. Demonstrate Your Positive Qualities

While it is the supervisor’s role to provide support and guidance, certain positive qualities are expected of you, as well. If you want to establish a good working relationship with your supervisor from the get-go, you have to show good communication skills, a solid work ethic, and a certain degree of proactivity. Keep the supervisor informed about the progress of your project, treat your project as a full-time job, always meet the deadlines or at least inform the supervisor about unexpected delays. Do not expect the supervisor to tell you what to do – it is your project, and you should be ready to take full responsibility for it and its progress.

The choice of research supervisor plays a crucial role in the success of your research project. Its influence often goes far beyond this – many people claim that their research supervisor in college influenced their entire academic career afterward. In other words, it certainly pays to put some effort into finding the right person to work with.


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