How to Connect with a Supervisor

How to Connect with a Supervisor

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 o co-author with other professors in the department or with students?
  • Collegiality and interpersonal relationship: How well will you get on with each other? 
  • Expectations:  Have you compared your expectations to being a grad student with their expectations of what it means to be a grad student?


Ask your potential advisor:

  • What qualities or experience type do you look for in a graduate student?
  • How many other students do you currently have?
  • Where are they in their programs?
  • Did your former students finish on time, i.e. master’s in recommended 2 years and doctoral in recommended 4 years
  • What are your former students doing now – did they get employment in their preferred area of study –  how long did it take?
  • Are you new, nearing retirement, or taking a sabbatical soon?


  • What kind of management or guidance style do you think you have – involved or more hands-off?
  • What is your mentoring style?
  • How often do you typically meet with graduate students – weekly, monthly?
  • Will we meet together to complete the required Progress Report?
  • Will I have input into that Report and be able to discuss my progress with you in detail?


  • Do you have regular lab meetings – if so how often?
  • What are they like – who attends?
  • How much does the supervisor know about funding opportunities, course requirements, etc? If not much, they might not know other important details that would help you along the way.
  • Is the advisor looking for someone to work on a specific project? If so, what are the expectations?
  • Do you have a grant or other resources to support my research project?


  • Will I be expected/permitted to serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) throughout grad school or may I decline a TA to suit my study workload?
  • Will I be permitted to serve as a Teaching Fellow (TF) if one becomes available?
  • Do you have salary support for research assistantships for some or all of my time?
  • Will we, or can we, co-write grants to expand/support my research?
  • If we’re depending on those, and they’re not funded, is there a backup plan?
  • What is your policy on students/post-docs listed as first authors on their manuscripts/ reports/ publications?


Figure out if you have someone who will meet your needs–one person may find a very hands-on weekly meeting approach great for scientific growth, while another finds it completely stifling.  Supervisors probably won’t change their supervision style but if you know what it is you can decide whether it suits you, whether you’re willing to adapt, or whether this supervisor is just not the one for you.

Some portions snipped from McGill University, Future Graduate Students website