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Blog: 6 tips for choosing a supervisor

6 tips for choosing a supervisor
The relationships between graduate students and their supervisors tend to be complicated, and it is rather uncommon for students to come out of the supervision process totally unharmed. Not least because of the very high dependency of the graduate student on the supervisor's competence, priorities, human relations, and good will – a dependency set by academic institutions, and one in which the future of the student to a substantial degree lies in the arms of the supervisor. Therefore, it is very important to seek a supervisor carefully and mindfully, and to learn from the prior experience of other students. The following list of tips derives from such experiences.

  1. Different supervisors suit different graduate students: Although there are some personality characteristics of a potential supervisor that will be ill-suited to almost all students, many characteristics evoke differential results. For instance, a fairly passive supervisor can be a nightmare for a student who needs continual guidance, while it can meet another student's needs for 'space to operate'. Try to understand what your needs are, and look for a compatible supervisor.
  2. Be wary of professors with bad human skills: Highly eccentric scholars may be interesting lecturers, and may write fascinating texts, but at the end of the day you need to interact with them frequently, and bad human relations make this very difficult. Look for professors who can be labeled 'fair' and 'good people', for empathy is essential in this situation in which you are so dependent.
  3. Try to figure out what makes your supervisor-candidate tick: Different professors are looking for different things from the supervision process. Some fill a duty to give a chance, some seek to nurture scholars who will follow in their path, and some are interested in young scholars they can publish with. If you understand what this professor is looking for, it will help you understand your compatibility.
  4. Try to find out what your supervisor-candidate's strong-suits are: Read their texts, look for their publishing history, their institutional affiliation history, and ask people who know them about what this supervisor does. You may find out, for instance, that this potential supervisor hardly publishes, or tends to publish solo (relevant to some disciplines) or always with the same scholars. This too may help you assess your compatibility.
  5. Try to find out your potential supervisor's current scholastic agenda: In many cases in order to get a professor to agree on supervision you have to audition. That is, you have to pitch one or several ideas for a dissertation, and in general 'sell' your project to the professor. You will make a much more relevant pitch if you know what your professor is working on right now.
  6. Compromise: Don't pretend there is an unlimited pool of supervisor-candidates, because after taking into account the factors most relevant for you, you will probably end up with a small list of options (if not you are probably ignoring many variables). Try to compromise what is least important to you.
Last, you may want to take a look at a humoristic take on types of supervisors to be wary of, in this video.
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Tagged: tips, graduate

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