Selecting a Supervisor

Selecting a research supervisor is a very important decision, and can make a significant impact on your honours experience. Below you will find information provided by past honours students that may be useful in helping you make the best decision for yourself.

What should I ask possible supervisors?

  • Are you taking any new students? If the supervisor is not willing to take any additional students (e.g., if they are on sabbatical), you will need to reach out to someone else.
  • How many students are you taking on? This may affect how much time the professor can devote to you.
  • How much time do you expect of me? Make sure to get an approximate time commitment; some professors may require more time than you can offer.
  • Will I be able to schedule a specific time each week to discuss my project with you?
  • If I choose you, what will be my duties and responsibilities? It is a good idea to find out exactly what is expected of you ahead of time.
  • What financial costs (if any) will I be responsible for? You should discuss financial expectations about research materials before you choose your supervisor.
  • How will I be graded? Don't expect to automatically get top marks. Different supervisors will use different methods of grading.
  • How accurately does the departmental information describe your research interests? For many professors, research interests change from year to year. Find out what your prospective supervisor is interested in.
  • Are you currently doing any research? Having research interests is different from actually doing research. If lab work is important, make sure that the professor is currently involved in research.
  • Will I be participating in a reading group or lab meetings?
  • Are you currently working with any other students (i.e., graduate students)?
  • Do you have any special projects or experiments planned for next year? May I see your lab? Ask for and read any reprints that describe the basis for ongoing projects. Check out the space and ambiance. Talk to other students in the lab.
  • Is there a possibility that you will be leaving on sabbatical in the next two (or three) years? An absent professor may pose a problem to your own research plans. It may also leave you without any guidance for a year.
  • Are you open to new or alternative ways of working? To be asked if you are prepared with a plan or design of your own.

What should I ask other students?

  • Was this professor helpful with your research proposal and thesis? A research proposal and thesis are big projects. You should know ahead of time whether you'll get the guidance you need.
  • Is this professor easy to get along with? Bright people can disagree.
  • What were the expectations for achieving a top mark?
  • Were you able to do a project that reflected your own ideas and wishes?
  • What sort of time and work were involved?

How to initiate contact with possible supervisors?

  • Prepare a "mini portfolio", including your resume (feel free to get help from CAPS if you need it), a copy of your transcript(s), and a sample of your writing (i.e. an essay you are proud of).
  • Prepare this "mini portfolio" before arranging to meet with a potential research supervisor and offer the portfolio to the professor during your meeting.

Some other things to keep in mind.

  • Do your homework!
  • We recommend that you read up and talk with other students about possible supervisors before you go to talk to them. Know about the research record and current interests of your potential supervisor. The department web pages have updates.
  • Don't be discouraged if there aren't any professors that are conducting research in your area of interest. Your honours thesis is designed primarily to help you develop research skills. The area you study is secondary. The methods you learn will apply to other areas.
  • Make sure your supervisor is going to take you seriously. In your interview ask questions that show that you have thought about your goals and priorities.
  • Once you begin, don't forget that lab work can be very time consuming. Schedule your time carefully.
  • ASK QUESTIONS. Never be afraid to ask questions. You'll never know until you ask.
  • Avoid procrastination. Your supervisor should help you set reasonable milestones for your project.