Choosing a Supervisor

Choosing a supervisor is the student’s responsibility, and is an extremely important decision that can determine success in graduate school.

There’s a lot you can learn about potential supervisors by looking into their publications. Look for their profile on their graduate program's web site; their CV may be there already. Otherwise, ask a program staff person for their list of publications. Here’s what to look for:

  • What topics does this person publish papers on? This will give you a sense of the type of research you would be doing.
  • How active are they in publishing research?
  • Where is their name in the list of authors? If the supervisor’s name is usually first then they may be more involved in writing manuscripts and may not want graduate students to be involved in this process. If graduate students’ names are usually first then you can count on having first authorships as well.
  • How successful are this supervisor’s former students? This may give you some indication of the capability of the supervisor.

Talk to some current graduate students who are working under this supervisor:

  • What has been their experience working with this supervisor?
  • What is expected of them as graduate students working under this supervisor?
  • What did they expect of this supervisor coming into the program?
  • Has he/she met those expectations? Why or why not?
  • What do they feel this supervisor’s strengths are in terms of graduate supervision?
  • What do they feel are his/her weaknesses in terms of graduate supervision?

Student Comments: Choosing a Supervisor

  • "Find out how a supervisor works by doing an assistantship or volunteering with him or her."
  • "Pick a supervisor who works the same way you do or approaches work the same way you do."
  • "Don’t pick a supervisor who has too many students already."
  • "Take a course or courses taught by the supervisor before beginning your research, so you can find out their methodological biases."
  • "Choose someone you feel comfortable with. It’s important to maintain an open and honest relationship as you work through your thesis research.Don’t hook up with someone who is known to be difficult; it’s not worth the effort. Understanding what your prospective supervisor expects of you as graduate student can be essential."