Top tips for choosing a PhD Supervisor
Özge Özden lays out the pros and cons you need to consider when choosing a supervisor, as well as five key
Selecting a PhD supervisor is one of the most crucial – and difficult – decisions a young researcher will have to make. And while there is no failsafe method of choosing one, your decision will undoubtedly be influenced by the subject in which you intend to work, the sort of research you wish to do and your checklist of goals for your PhD.
It is unwise to dismiss the importance of any personality traits that you think may make a relationship with a supervisor difficult. Remember that, when doing research, there will be extreme highs and extreme lows throughout the duration of your PhD studies, so you should try to choose a supervisor with whom you can collaborate effectively during challenging circumstances. There are many supervisors out there, and it is almost always feasible to find someone with whom you can work well and produce a good research project.
A good PhD supervisor has experience overseeing PhD students through to completion, has a strong publication record, is active in their research field, has enough time to provide adequate supervision, is genuinely interested in your project, can provide mentorship and has a supportive personality.
Numerous PhD students criticise their adviser/s and, due to unstable supervisor-student interactions, end up dropping out. Ineffective and uncooperative supervisors may cause a lot of research students to feel quite uncomfortable. This is doubly important given that 32 per cent of PhD candidates are at risk of developing or already suffer from depression.
The ideas and opinions of your adviser are very important when you choose your doctoral research topic. If a doctoral student works on a subject that always arouses their curiosity and excites them then their discoveries will also often be interesting and they will be more likely to succeed. Of course, if the doctoral supervisor is interested in the subject chosen by their student, then that supervisor will be able to guide their student better.
In my opinion, the key difficulty with completing a PhD is not so much found academically, rather the process is incredibly difficult psychologically and emotionally. And there is added emotional weight if you are pursuing a PhD in a foreign nation far from your home, family and friends. As a result, selecting a good, friendly PhD supervisor is critical for engendering a healthy, long-term educational programme in which you are supported psychologically and emotionally.
What are the qualities of a good supervisor?
1. Effective communicator
Let’s assume you have a supervisor, but it’s still early days and you still have time to leave his or her domain. If you don’t receive a response to your emails from them within a fair amount of time, you need to discuss this. Always talk first, but if it continues you might seriously think about switching supervisors, because if you end up with one who ignores your emails and/or social media communications, such inactivity will always end up causing you issues, either directly or indirectly. An ideal supervisor should reply to your emails and messages promptly, even those sent via WhatsApp or other messaging apps, and offer helpful criticism.
An excellent supervisor is passionate about the work of their pupils. They should be someone who is inspiring and uplifting, who helps their students reach new heights. Someone is not a good supervisor if they lack enthusiasm and interest in their role as your mentor and do not offer verbal encouragement.
Your supervisor ought to be informed and skilled in your area of study and have top-notch study methods and data analysis skills. If they do not, there is a higher probability you will experience difficulties with your academic studies.
4. Supportive of your career
You should try to choose a supervisor who has a demonstrable history of assisting students in launching their careers. Typically, a good supervisor would introduce pupils to his or her co-workers and let PhD students know about any seminars or conferences that are pertinent to their field of study and future plans. Additionally, a competent supervisor should encourage future partnerships once their student’s PhD studies are finished and make the publishing of their research products easier.
In order to support their academic careers, some faculty members who are not actively engaged in research take on PhD or masters students. How can you determine if they are active or not is the question. For a start, try looking up the potential supervisor’s research articles on Google Scholar, ResearchGate or other academic websites.
One of the most important aspects to consider when it comes to supervisors is their previous track record. Feel free to enquire how many research fellows or PhD students they have previously educated and what those fellows went on to achieve. How many went on to become successful academics? Finally, remember that it is usually helpful to spend some time working with your potential supervisor voluntarily before making your final decision.
Above all, remember that this is a significant choice; you should not make it without careful consideration.