10 Best PhD Supervisor Selection Method Explained
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10 Best PhD Supervisor Selection Method Explained

The most important step in your PhD journey is choosing the best supervisor that will guide you as you walk the path toward a PhD degree. Your intelligence and skills won’t help so much if the supervisor you’ve chosen won’t do as good a job as you. That is why we are here to help. We have provided answers to most questions you might have with regard to getting the most from your PhD supervisor. These will help you become successful in your PhD journey and hopefully guide you as you nurture a strong working give and take relationship with your supervisor.

When to first communicate with your supervisor

Communication is the most crucial and vital ingredient in any successful endeavor, whether it’s a group work, a long-term project, or others. Thus, in other words, building a strong communication foundation with your supervisor is very important. If you wish to be successful with your Ph.D. journey, then you and your supervisor should be able to communicate well and must also be able to provide feedback and constructive criticisms. Setting the grounds as to what you can and cannot freely express can help build a good relationship.

This is also beneficial if you are looking to creating a successful team. To make this happen, it is recommended that you list down all the researchers in your community and filter the ones that you think will make a great supervisor. Do this even if you haven’t applied for a PhD yet. Doing this will ensure that the upper hand in terms of choosing which one suits you best. The goal is for you and your supervisor to be comfortable talking to each other and be eventually learning how to overcome hard times on your working relationship without having to let go of each other.

What it means to be a great fit with your Ph.D. supervisor

A great-fit supervisor is one whose working style and personality complement your character as well as your working habits. There would come a time when you’ll hear of other students complimenting particular supervisors, and in your mind, you only wish that your supervisor was the same person or that you’ll find a person that has the same quality with theirs. But that isn’t the case all the time. What works for others might not work for you. In short, their supervisory needs and preferences might not always be the same as yours. You have to exert your personal effort to find a supervisor that suits you well.

Rely on your gut feeling and pick the one that you are most comfortable with.
It’s like choosing your own music to listen, the clothes to wear on a daily basis, or the people you want to trust and invest time in. Choosing the perfect supervisor for you means you have to trust your gut feeling. It is a personal choice, and it shouldn’t be influenced by any other person, no matter how close you might be o each other.

The types of PhD supervisors who exist

There are different kinds of PhD supervisors who exist. For others, the only way to choose a supervisor that is right for you is to observe and determine what kind of supervisor he or she is. In short, it’s like choosing a partner who you want to spend the rest of your life with. You need to invest so you’ll land with the right one.

Ten characteristics of a great Ph.D. supervisor

While it’s true that every student has different personality types and preferences, there are characteristics that fit the kind of supervisor everyone is looking for. These ten traits are considered as the “foundation” of a great supervisor.

We have enumerated them below, in no particular order. Check it out and take these into account when hunting for your supervisor:

  1. An awesome supervisor should always be approachable. He or she should look at you as a research partner and not just a student who needs to be taught.
  2. He or she should also have a good amount of connections within the academia. This would make it easier for you to land an academic position that is within your expertise after you’re done with your studies.
  3. A great supervisor also has the capability to challenge you constantly and to question your opinion, helping you learn techniques and tricks especially when it comes to defending your ideas. In other words, he or she will help you grow intellectually.
  4. A superb supervisor will give you credit for your work. He or she will not grab all the praises for the work you have done. A partnership is a partnership; thus, both of you should get the credit. He or she should not be greedy for it.
  5. He or she has the ability to get the funding you need and also has the powers to hire you as part of his or her team, specifically as a research assistant, when the need arises.
  6. A good supervisor is more than able to provide you with clear directions in your work and sets realistic expectations based on your capabilities.
  7. A supervisor that is ideal gives you the freedom to show your own personality and let you move according to your preferences. He or she does not treat you like a robot.
  8. He or she should be capable of inspiring you and encouraging you to always do your best, especially in times when you need it the most.
  9. A great supervisor sets regular meetings and boosts your self-esteem as well. He or she encourages you to work consistently.
  10. A superb supervisor lets you explore on your own, giving advice whenever you need it.

Young and inexperienced vs old and experienced PhD Supervisor

Should you choose someone who is young or go for someone who has enough experience supervising students already? The most obvious difference between someone who’s old and someone who is young is that older ones tend to be more confident because of the experience they have on their shoulder. They can give you more freedom and guidance to do you work on your own.

On the other hand, younger ones have fewer experience on their plate, and thus might be tighter in terms of following your progress. They have the ability to make sure that you that they are guiding you the best way they could. They also tend to be more involved in your research project because they have a personal agenda too, hunt for publications that would aid them in becoming a professor. In other words, they will treat your project that is worthy of publication.

If you are torn between the two, then just remember this: It all depends on your career expectations and working style.

Your PhD supervisor does not possess unconditional knowledge about your research project
As the student pursuing your master’s degree, your supervisor knows a lot more about your topic than you do. That should be a given. Therefore, they are able to provide you with the advice and guidance you need related to your research.

However, it is different when you are a student that is pursuing a PhD degree. Embarking on this path means stepping into the unknown. But the good thing is that at the end of it all, you will know a whole lot more about your topic than your supervisor used to. This only means that your supervisor might not have the knowledge to provide you with the best advice. This means you need to look beyond asking him or her for information. You have to contact other researchers from the same field especially in times where you encounter certain blockages and obstacles.

Your supervisor is not a “Genie in the Bottle.” He is not there to save you when everything else goes wrong. On the other hand, that’s the beauty of it all: it will make you tougher.

Setting meetings with your Ph.D. supervisor

The frequency of meetings you hold with your supervisor depends on your progress. There are some who needs to meet them as often as possible while others only need to see their supervisors in certain times. But the end game is the same: Meet them regularly or at least twice a month.  The best way to do this is to talk with your supervisor and discuss the frequency of your meetings. It is something that only the both of you can agree to.

What your Ph.D. supervisor can do for you

Helping you produce a high-quality research should be on top of the list of the things that your supervisor can do for you. They should give you the best guidance they have to offer in terms of your research structure, including the questions to ask and the methodology to use. They should be able to provide advice also on different issues that come up while doing your research. Most of all, they should be able to provide a helping hand in writing your thesis and also give constructive and critical feedback.

On the other hand, while this is something that’s really good, you shouldn’t rely everything to be offered to you on a silver platter. Also, if you can research it on your own, then do so. Do your own research first, and if you still can’t find the answers, then ask for help.

Furthermore, a great supervisor must have the ability to teach and guide you in writing journal articles and grant proposals as well as connecting you with some researchers in your field. But there’s a limit to that too. They should not in any way do the job hunting for you or do the writing for you.

To make it clear, ask your supervisor for help or advice only when you need it.

What to do if things go wrong

Frictions between you and your supervisor are inevitable during your postgraduate studies. But this should not be a reason for you to change supervisors. Remember the ground rules you set in pointer number one. Communication should be vital. Put into mind that disagreements are natural, and it will pop up from time to time, especially when you are in the same team. But if you have a strong communication foundation, these disagreements will be handled in a manner that will help both of you grow and learn.

In other words, do not hesitate to have a conversation with your supervisor. If you’ve exerted all effort and still the disagreement is not solved or the situation gets worse, then it’s time to change your supervisor – this should only be a last resort.

How many times can I change my PhD supervisor?

No one, in any school, is setting limits in terms of you changing your supervisor. The goal here is to find the perfect fit for you, regardless of how long it takes or the number of times you have to change. Just make sure that you have already carefully examined which supervisor is the best for you. Only when it does not work should you switch teams and change your supervisor.

So there it goes. Ten pointers for you to take into consideration when it comes to getting the most out of your PhD supervisor. We hope that these pointers will help you land the perfect fit for you. Just remember that when things go wrong or if you’re no longer happy with the supervisor you currently have or when you are not getting the most out of him or her, you have the option to change supervisors. Just don’t do it in a blink of an eye. Take some time to think about it and do what you can within both your powers to make it work. After all, it is your future that is at stake here, so everything should be within your ideas and preferences.

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