How to find and connect with potential supervisors
Your relationship with your supervisor will be one of the most important factors contributing to the success of your graduate studies. Taking the time to find a supervisor who will complement your research and learning style will help to ensure the success of this relationship. Below are some important considerations to assist you in your efforts.
Do you need to select a supervisor?
Every department at McGill has different admissions procedures. While some will expect you to connect with a potential supervisor prior to applying, others will assign a supervisor to you after you have been accepted. Make sure to carefully read the requirements of the program into which you are applying, available on the departmental website, to find out the supervisory procedures for that department. If it is unclear, contact the Graduate Program Director to clarify.
Identify Potential Supervisors
- Browse our Program Pages to identify the department in which your research of interest is taking place.
- Develop a shortlist of potential supervisors from the Faculty members working in your area. In comparing them, try to identify who would be the ideal supervisor for you both in terms of research interests and teaching/learning style.
- Review Faculty member research profiles to locate potential supervisors with research interests similar to your own. Check Departmental websites under the menu heading ‘Faculty’.
- Think laterally – if you don’t find what you’re looking for in one department, look at the research profiles of Faculty in related fields.
What to look for
By looking at a Faculty member’s CV and talking to them as well as to their current and former students, you can get a good idea as to who might be the best supervisor for you.
A good supervisor should be able to provide you with some direction, while allowing you to take initiative. There are a number of factors that can promote a successful supervisory relationship. These include:
- Expertise: Are they working on your area of research?
- Experience: Have they supervised many students before?
- Availability: Will they be available to meet with you when you need them?
- Research agenda: How active is their research?
- Publishing: How often do they publish? Do they co-author with other professors in the department or with students?
- Collegiality and interpersonal relationship: How well will you get on with each other?
Make a connection
Prior to researching and speaking to potential supervisors, make sure to contact the academic unit offering your program in order to establish a relationship.
The Graduate Program Coordinator will be your main contact person within the unit and will provide you with pertinent information. They will answer your questions about program requirements, the admissions process, supplemental materials, funding opportunities and the procedure for finding a supervisor within the department.
When you are ready to contact potential supervisors, approaching them by email is a good initial step. Ensure that your messages are tailored to each professor, not generic. You must catch the interest of the professor quickly and make a good first impression.
- Write a concise and professional letter. The message should start with Dear Professor/Dr. (lastname) and end with "Yours sincerely" followed by your full name and contact information (or the formal equivalent in a message written in French).
- Attach your Curriculum Vitae and unofficial transcripts. Note, you may complete and submit the Canadian Common CV. State why you are writing (e.g. I am applying to the M.Sc. program in specify program).
- State why you are interested in graduate studies (including career goals) and emphasize any research or leadership experience and analytical skills.
- If you already have funding, state the amount, duration and source.
- State why you are approaching this particular professor, and why your research interests and goals are a good match. Refer briefly to specific published articles by the professor that interest you.
- Offer an opportunity for further discussion (teleconference, videoconference, or if you are in Montreal, an in-person interview).
Questions and issues to discuss with potential supervisors:
- Capacity: Does the professor currently have graduate students? Not enough? Too many? Looking for more?
- Expectations: Working hours, frequency of student-supervisor meetings, group meetings, reports, record keeping, contribution to general duties, assistance from and to other personnel/students, and meeting program milestones.
- Expected attendance at journal clubs, seminars, etc, aside from official requirements of the Graduate Program.
- Financial considerations: stipend, presentation/attendance at conferences.
- Conventions on authorship (within the norms of the discipline and McGill’s Regulation on the Conduct of Research.
- Review of written work: extent of supervisor’s involvement with student’s presentations, thesis preparation, time frame for return of comments, etc.
- Supervisory style: keeping in mind the questions above.
- Student Success: how many students have they supervised through to graduation? Have the students finished their program in good time? Have many of the students published? How have the students done in the job market?
- Personality: trust your instincts as to whether you would be a good match.
If at all possible, try to visit McGill and meet with your potential supervisor. Not only will this give you an opportunity to show them how excited you are to work together, but it will also allow you to get a sense of their personality. After identifying potential supervisors, call or email them to find out if they are taking on new students.
Away from McGill?
If you are unable to visit with your potential supervisor in person, you will need to rely on communication by phone, email or videoconference. Even if you are communicating at a distance, try to establish a personal connection. Show your potential supervisor why you are interested in working with them in particular.
Talk to current/former students
Talking to the current and former students of a potential supervisor is a good way to find out about their supervisory style, and will allow you to determine whether you work in a similar way.
- If you are visiting McGill, consider meeting up with some students in person to discuss working with this supervisor.
- If not, ask either the professor or the Graduate Program Coordinator/Secretary to provide you with email addresses or phone numbers.
Questions to ask current/former students
- What has been their experience working with this supervisor? Is the supervisor readily available when questions or problems arise?
- What is expected of them as graduate students working under this supervisor? Does the supervisor take a hands-on or laissez-faire approach to supervision?
- What do they feel are this supervisor’s strengths in terms of graduate supervision?
- What do they feel are their weaknesses in terms of graduate supervision?