Now that you know how to find a supervisor for your project, you might be wondering about how to choose a good PhD supervisor. You’ll be spending a lot of time with them during your PhD, so it pays to understand what to look out for in terms of personality traits, expertise and experience.
#1 Substantial research expertise
The ideal PhD supervisor will be an expert in their academic field, with a wealth of publications, articles, chapters and books. They’ll also have a background in organising and presenting at conference events.
It’s also important that their expertise is up-to-date. You should look for evidence that they’re currently active in your research area, with recent publications and conference attendance. The quality of these publications is also important – prominent, peer-reviewed journals are ideal. If your prospective supervisor has lots of citations, that’s also a great sign.
#2 Clear about their career plans
After you’ve made initial contact with a supervisor, it’s good to get an idea of where they see their own future. If they’re planning to retire, go on sabbatical or change institution, that could cause problems for your PhD later down the line. It goes without saying that you want a supervisor who is going to stick around for the duration of your PhD.
#3 Previous experience as a PhD supervisor
Ideally, a supervisor should have a long track record of supervising PhD candidates, with plenty of experience helping them through the ups and downs that come with research. It’s well worth investigating how previous supervisees have done under the tutelage of your prospective supervisor – university websites, ResearchGate and LinkedIn are the best places to do this.
If you’re able to visit the department in person, speak to current PhD students to get an idea of how they’re getting on.
It can be difficult to judge someone’s personality on the basis of emails, a video call or a chat over coffee, but try to decide if your potential supervisor is a good match for you on a personal level.
Do they seem enthusiastic about your work and inspiring about their own interests? Will they make a good mentor when it comes down to the hard work of completing your PhD? Are they more of a hands-on or hands-off supervisor?
#5 Organisational skills
Excellent organisational skills – both on your part and your supervisor’s part – are key to succeeding at a PhD. You’ll want a supervisor that is clear with their expectations, giving you deadlines where necessary but also having some flexibility that takes your personal situation into account.
You also want a supervisor who is easy to get hold of for feedback and advice, with regular office hours. Many academics are extremely busy, but you should expect your supervisor to find time for you where necessary.