Finding a Supervisor
- Determine what you want and your personal circumstances
- Finding a supervisor
- Initial contact- email
- First meeting
- Developing your research project and further meetings
- Enrolling and beginning a research project
If you prefer, you can download our Quick Help Guide on Recommendations for Finding a Supervisor by clicking the button below.
Step 1: Determine what you want and your personal circumstances
What sort of career do I want?
Am I personally motivated or interested in a specific research area?
Does my family need me to start earning money soon?
Do I see myself potentially moving around the world for work?
Step 2: Finding a Supervisor
Contrarily, if you never did get the chance to talk to a potential supervisor after class, you’re in a similar situation as international students. That is, you are faced with navigating the University website, finding potential supervisors and research topics. In this case, we would recommend thinking of the following things:
What are your research interests?
Do you know anyone in these relevant fields?
Is there a specific department/Faculty/University you would like to work in?
Find as many names as you can within your research area or desired department.
|Name||Weblinks (Profiles, Google Scholar, Scopus)||Department||Research Area / Keywords||Related people (e.g. key collaborators / postgrad students)|
Step 3: Initial Contact – Email
- Have a short and informative subject line. E.g. Masters Student Research Opportunities in your Lab?
- Keep it formal: address them by their full title + honours + last name. Dear Professor / Dr ___,
- Introduce yourself: name, University, year, major, and interests. I am John Smith, currently a 3rd year BSc student at the University of ___ majoring in ___ and am interested in pursuing Masters studies in the research area of ____.
- Be concise about what you want. I am currently trying to find a potential supervisor in the research area of ___ and I came across your profile. I was particularly interested in the techniques you used in [this paper], but also want to learn more about [this research field].
- Suggest action. Is it possible to meet to discuss potential research opportunities in your lab? My current available times include: [Include at least 3-4 dates/times].
- Attach further information. I also attach my CV / academic transcript to this email for your consideration.
- Be appreciative. Thank you for your time – I look forward to hearing back from you.
- Respectful sign-off.Yours Faithfully, Name [AUID] [Current Degree / Position] [University]
Also, it is perfectly fine to email multiple supervisors simultaneously. Do not feel obliged to email supervisors one at a time. Supervisors should understand that you are looking for multiple people at the same time and if they take it personally, that’s probably a sign of unprofessionalism. Just be transparent that you are looking at multiple labs simultaneously and respectful about it. Until you sign on the dotted line accepting a research project (e.g. accepting an offer for a Masters topic), you are not contractually bound and you don’t owe anyone anything. Similarly, supervisors do not owe you anything either. That said, it’s probably respectful to communicate your intent with your potential supervisor – e.g. “I am leaning towards doing a project with [you] / [another person].”.
Step 4: First Meeting
Now you’ve scheduled a date, time, and location for your first meeting! Great! Now you have to prepare for this meeting. Some questions worth asking are included below:
- Do you have a position available for a [Honours / Masters / PhD] project?
- What would the project topic be on?
- How many students do you supervise, and how often do you see them?
- Is there funding for the project?
- Ask what their expectations are regarding working-from-home and/or flexible hours.
- How would you describe the work culture of the lab?
- How is a new student integrated into the lab environment?
- What support do you provide students for finding their next position (academia, industry, government, non‐traditional)?
- Ask if you could also speak to their current students
If you do get a chance to talk to existing students, below are some questions you might consider asking.
Questions to ask their current students:
- What advice would you give to an incoming student into this lab?
- What are your career goals? How prepared do you feel for these positions?
- What is the quality of your supervision? Do they understand your research? Do they offer you useful feedback/advice?
- Does your supervisor hold you to reasonable expectations?
- How is the group managed? Are you assigned tasks/responsibilities in terms of equipment maintenance, training, and ordering?
- How does your supervisor handle conflict?
- What kind of culture exists in your lab? Do students spend time together outside the lab?
- What is your day‐to‐day schedule like? Are you expected to be in the lab at certain times? How flexible is your schedule?
- Are you able to teach as an undergraduate lab demonstrator? How supportive is your supervisor regarding this teaching?
- Does your supervisor support your career progression? (e.g. advertising/celebrating published papers, recommending conferences, asking if you want to assist with Honours / Masters student supervision)
Now after your meeting with your potential supervisor, and presumably, you’d also have met with a few other potential supervisors. It’s now your turn to make a decision who you would like to go with and develop your research project. Write a respectful email to your preferred supervisor and explain you’d like to go with them and now you’d need to move onto developing your research proposal. This means that you’ll have to do some reading, research, and literature review to come up with your research proposal. You should absolutely expect your to-be supervisor to provide you with some “seed articles” (e.g. journal articles to get started with your reading), guidance, and even potentially template research proposals for you to model yours on.
If the other supervisors (which you do not wish to pursue further studies with) also requested you to let them know about your decision, don’t forget to email them respectfully and tell them that you have decided to go with another supervisor. They will understand.
Step 5: Developing your Research Project and Further Meetings
After you’ve decided which supervisor to go with, you will need to co-develop a research proposal with your potential supervisor. This will involve you needing to start reading the literature and coming up with research questions. It is reasonable to expect support from your to-be supervisor. You could organise further meetings to develop your research proposal. Around this time, you could also ask further follow-up questions about research in their lab. Examples questions include:
- Can we schedule a time to meet weekly / every two weeks to discuss progress (e.g. writing, data collection / analysis, ordering lab supplies etc.)
- Is there funding available for conferences, and publications?
- Which conferences should you expect to go to in your [Masters / PhD] year(s)? (It’s more common for Masters and Doctoral students to go to at least one conference in one calendar year. Honours students might also do this; but honours students have only ~8 months to complete their degree so it isn’t always possible to fit in a conference into an Honours year).
- How do you define a successful [Honours / Masters / PhD] year for your student?
- How long do students typically take to complete their [doctoral] degree in this lab?
- Are there possibilities for extensions / funding beyond the duration of the programme?
- After completing their degree, what types of jobs and careers do your students have?
- How much support is there within / around the lab (e.g. other students working on a related project or postdocs with experience in the lab techniques you’ll be using)
- Is there opportunity for further financial support? (e.g. Teaching Assistant contracts, Research Assistant contracts, etc.)
Step 6: Enrolling and Beginning a Research Project
Enrolling is quite a process and you will need your supervisor’s help in this. Consider reading through some University resources about enrolling (e.g. https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/study/applications-and-admissions/how-to-apply/postgraduate-admission/doctoral-applications.html) – but your key source of information should be your supervisor as they will know University processes best. If you are getting stuck, do feel free to get in touch with the FMHS-PGSA at email@example.com if you have any questions.
Once you’ve started your formal enrolment in your research degree, you should expect to meet with your supervisor regularly – particularly at the beginning of your degree. This is because you are expected to receive a lot of guidance to get you started and once you’ve gained a lot of skills, you should expect increasing amounts of autonomy in your project.
During your studies, you should expect a professional, collegial, and positive relationship with those around you (particularly your supervisor and any other colleague). It is important to continually reflect if these are positive relationships and if you are working towards your personal goals.
In another QuickGuide, we will discuss when things go wrong.