Finding a Supervisor

Interview potential supervisors/supervisees to find the right fit

Some graduate programs at McGill have admission interviews for applicants, and some supervisors choose to conduct their own interviews for potential supervisees. In preparing for this kind of interview, supervisors and students should review the criteria and ranking scale for the appropriate program as well as any criteria specific to the research group or proposed project.


Visit the Future Graduate Students website for support in applying to McGill

The Future Graduate Students website is a great resource for prospective students, and includes a page on how to connect with potential supervisors as well as questions to discuss during this initial contact.


For prospective graduate students, supervisors provide an important early contact with the University.

Approximately 70% of student-supervisor matches at McGill are arranged during the application process. 

The initial contact between supervisor and student is an early component of the process of determining if McGill is the right place for the student and if the student and supervisor are a good match based on interests, academic preparation, and fit.

Early conversations set the tone for a potentially long-term supervisory relationship.
Prompt, informative and professional responses are important.



The Interview Process

Before the interview

Both supervisors and students should:

  • review the criteria of the program as well as any specific requirements needed for the research (e.g., technical skills)

Supervisors should:

  • determine a ranking scale
  • create interview questions that address the criteria 
    • Tip: Questions that ask about scenarios commonly experienced by graduate students can elicit specific, informative responses and facilitate easier comparison across candidates

Students should:

  • think of questions they would like to ask their potential supervisor to help clarify expectations and determine if they are a good match
  • prepare any documents (e.g., CV, transcripts) as well as responses to expected questions

The interview

As with the initial contact, the interview helps set the tone for the potential supervisory relationship. Honesty about requirements, qualifications, supervisory/ work styles, personality, and expectations during the interview can help prevent later conflicts.

Letter of Understanding templates can help guide conversations about expectations; supervisees can request to see a template, and supervisors can share a template. 

After the interview

Supervisors should:

  • make independent judgements in relation to the criteria and ranking scale
  • agree on consensus rating to ensure that the reasons for acceptance or rejection are supported
  • communicate decisions in a professional and timely manner

What should you look for in a potential supervisor/supervisee?

Finding the right is critical to a successful supervisory relationship. Multiple factors go in to finding the right fit, and you may wish to consider experience, expertise, skill, communication styles, learning styles, and other factors specific to your long term goals. While prospective students who apply will provide letters of reference, supervisors can connect prospective students with current supervisees who can share their experiences with the supervisor. 


For Students: 

If you are new to graduate studies at McGill, it can be difficult know what to ask to determine if you and a potential supervisor will be a good match. Fit depends not only on your research interests, but on finding a research environment that will help you thrive.

We asked a group of current PhDs to share their advice on what to look for in a supervisor, and how they knew that they had found the right fit for them. 



For Supervisors:

Questions for supervisors to consider when deciding whether to supervise a student:

  • Do the candidate's knowledge and skills match the program and project requirements?
  • Do their research interests match your area of expertise?
  • What is the candidate’s motivation for pursuing the degree?
  • Are you able to support the candidate in their career goals?
  • Does the candidate understand how doctoral work differs from their previous education?
  • Has the candidate demonstrated personal traits, such as independent working, analytic thinking and handling uncertainty, that are necessary for successful doctoral work?

Adapted from CAGS (2013)

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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