Selecting Your Supervisor

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Selecting your supervisor is one of the most important things you will do in your academic career, so you need to take your time and do your homework! Finding a supervisor is not hard, but many excellent supervisors will not be immediately obvious and you should carefully research each potential supervisor as well as meet with them, and most importantly with the members of their research group. Ask around, use the UCL website and PubMed to draw up a short list. You can approach anyone on your short list easily; all supervisors receive many potential applications by email and so an email out of the blue is completely normal. Make sure you write a short but compelling email summarising your current position, your specific interest in a PhD with potential starting times, thoughts about potential funding sources (if you know of any) and attach a CV. If the supervisor is interested in meeting with you then they will set up a short meeting. Don’t panic - you are not being interviewed and this is generally a friendly chat to establish interest. You should have some ideas about what you might like to do, but do not need a fully developed project.

Remember three golden rules that should guide your search for a supervisor:

  1. Your potential research supervisor should have a track record of internationally competitive research, with high quality publications in a number appropriate for their career to date. Look at their PubMed entry and check that you can discern a clear theme to their research; check their research group website for further details of publications and citations. You want to be able to work in the research group of a world leader, or potential leader.
  2. Regardless of your potential supervisor’s publication track record and/or general fame in the field, you must meet them before making any decisions. The professional relationship between supervisor and supervisee will last several years, and for many people this will be the longest they have ever spent in one place. So you must meet with your potential supervisor, chat with them and get an idea about what sort of a supervisor they will be and whether you like them. Gut feelings are important here; you need to be able to get on with your supervisor, but also be inspired and guided by them.
  3. When you meet your potential supervisor, you must also meet existing students in the research group. If there aren’t any, this is generally a bad sign. Even research groups starting off usually have one or two members, although they may not be clinical fellows but might be basic scientists. That doesn’t matter; the purpose of meeting the research group members is to find out what the research group is like and how the group leader (your potential supervisor) treats them. It goes without saying that you need such a meeting to take place without the group leader being present, so you get an honest opinion!

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