Choosing Your Supervisor

One of the points on which our students panels were most adamant, was that prospective PGR students should take time and care in choosing their supervisor.

It can be tempting to make this choice based solely on the research background of an academic. If they have published in your field, appear to have a similar perspective, an international reputation and an interest in your work, then it might appear that they have all of the characteristics that you need.

However, while these things are undoubtedly important, it is just as important that there is a good personal fit between you and your supervisor. You are going to be working together on a long and demanding project, if the relationship between you isn’t good and can never be good, then this will be a significant barrier to your success.

Taking the time to choose your own supervisor makes it more likely that you will be satisfied with your time as a PGR student [1].

The supervisor's role is to provide guidance, protection, information, support, encouragement, sponsorship, inspiration for learning, access to resources, different opportunities and to act as a role model [2]. Supportive supervisors can be a factor in a student’s persistence, academic achievement and their satisfaction [3]; [4].  Different supervisors have different styles and it has been found to be important to choose a supervisor who complements your work style, has a supportive supervisory style and has similar research interests [5].

When you are considering beginning a PGR degree, contact prospective supervisors in advance and ask to meet with them. Have a conversation with them about your project and also about how they see the supervisor/ supervisee relationship. How often will they meet with you? How available will they be if your project runs into problems and you need some advice? How much importance do they attach to your wellbeing? How well do they understand the link between your wellbeing and producing quality work? How interested will they be in developing you as a researcher? How interested are they in your proposed research? Will they support you to apply for conference funding etc?

Your supervisor doesn’t have to be your best friend, but you should be confident that you can work together and build a working relationship that will last through the ups and downs of your research and help you to be successful.

If possible, you should also ask to speak to your prospective supervisor’s current supervisees and get a feel for the department in which they work. Your experiences and success will be significantly influenced by the culture of the department in which you’ll be working [5]. Make sure it is a place in which you feel you will fit and that has a healthy environment and culture.

Overall, it is important not to be passive in choosing where and with whom you will study. Undertaking PGR study is a significant commitment, make sure you are committing to a place and people, who will support you to stay well and develop research of which you are proud.



Ives, G., & Rowley, G. (2005). Supervisor selection or allocation and continuity of supervision: Ph.D. students’ progress and outcomes. Studies in Higher Education, 30(5), 535–555.


Leder, G. C. (1995). Higher degree research supervision: A question of balance. Australian Universities, 2, 5–8.


Gube, J., Getenet, S., Satariyan, A., & Muhammad, Y. (2017). TOWARDS “OPERATING WITHIN” THE FIELD: DOCTORAL STUDENTS’ VIEWS OF SUPERVISORS’ DISCIPLINE EXPERTISE. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 12. Retrieved from


Solem, M., Hopwood, N., & Schlemper, M. B. (2011). Experiencing graduate school: A comparative analysis of stu- dents in geography programs. The Professional Geographer, 63, 1–17.


Gardner, S. K. (2007). “I Heard it through the Grapevine”: Doctoral Student Socialization in Chemistry and History. Higher Education, 54(5), 723–740.

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