Choosing a supervisor

This is an extract from a talk given to fourth year students in the Arts Faculty, by Jenny Reeder, MPA Executive Officer

Undertaking a research degree can be a very exciting and extremely productive time. It requires a great deal of commitment, hard work and stamina but at the end of it all, I've often had postgraduates comment that it was the most rewarding experience of their lives.

One aspect I would encourage you to think about now, if you are contemplating continuing on in research, is that of choosing a supervisor. I can't emphasise enough how important the supervisor/student relationship is, in terms of ensuring that you get the most out of your PhD or Masters.

How did you go about choosing a supervisor for your honours project? How much did you know about that person when you started?

Think about how much time you will be spending working with your supervisor, and over how long a period, 3 or 4 or even 5 years. It is worth putting some effort into getting the relationship working well, and that starts now, by thinking about potential supervisors.

Shop around.

You may have been approached by someone offering to supervise you, or the department/school may have recommended someone in your area. And
the reality is, if you are working in a highly specialised area, there may not be much choice when it comes to supervisors.

But be a little proactive and make sure you are as well-informed as possible about your options. Some ways in which you can do this, is to think about the following questions in relationship to your potential supervisor.

Who is working in your area? Who is working in related research areas:

1. in your school?
2. in your faculty?
3. in other faculties?

Would a combination of two or three supervisors from different areas be appropriate? How good is his/her research record?

1. How many publications and where?
2. How recent are the publications?
3. How many grants?

Have you spoken with current and past students?

1. Ask about the supervisor's style
2. Ability to give constructive criticism
3. Frequency of meetings
4. Timely return of submitted work

I'm not suggesting you corner potential supervisors and interrogate them, but a lot of this information is in the public domain, and you can make a few discreet inquiries of postgraduates in the school.

I would highly recommend reading at least the first few chapters of How to get a PhD by Phillips and Pugh, for some very sensible advice on starting a research degree.

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MPA's Supervisor of the Year Award recognises excellence in supervision