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How to Choose a Good Supervisor for Your Thesis: Advice on the Type of Professor to Consider

Updated on July 28, 2011

Writing a thesis can be a most educational and rewarding experience. At the same time, it can also be a very harrowing experience. Choosing a good thesis supervisor can really make or break your thesis, esepecially if you are counting on your supervisor to provide good guidance - which what most students should expect and what a professor's job ought to be. How should you choose a supervisor?

1. Choose a supervisor whose area of interest matches yours

This is really important to consider, as doing a thesis will require a lot of work. If you are working on a topic that you are interested in, it will really help you find motivation as you do your experiments and research. Also, the professor who supervises you will also take interest in your project since it is a subject area that he or she is genuinely interested in. Also, if you work within your supervisor's area on interest, it will likely be his area of expertise. This means that you will be able to tap on the knowledge and experience that your professor has garnered. This is really precious knowledge and could save you many preventable mistakes. Little mistakes may create little cracks in your project, but little cracks can be very costly and damaging in the end. Examples of insider knowledge that you can tap on would be the best way to do things (intellectual part), but also resources and social ties and financial resources that will be readily available to you.

2. Choose a supervisor whose working style matches yours This might be hard to know beforehand, especially at the start. But you should try to find out all that you can about a particular professor's style of working before you seek him out to be your supervisor. If you need a lot of guidance, and your professor expects you to be independent, there will definitely be a clash in expectations, which can be very frustrating. If you want a more accountability, encouragement, and structure... these are common areas where students and their supervisor tend to clash. It is always good at the start to clarify expecations. For example, your supervisor might expect you to give a weekly report, while you might expect to contact him only when you run into roadblocks. Or your supervisor expects you to be independent and creative while you are checking with him or her for each step of your project.

3. Choose a supervisor who has a personality that you can get along with

If you are more personable, you would probably enjoy working with a professor who is more personable, warm and encouraging. If you are more private and distant, you'd be comfortable with a supervisor who would keep things professional. This is important, especially if you are studying in a culture that is different to yours, or if you are still learning a particular culture. You do not want your friendliness to be mistaken for anything else, neither would you want your professionalism or reseveredness to mistaken for arrogance. A lot of time will be spent interacting with your supervisor, whether face to face or over email. Having a enjoyable relationship will really help. Besides, after you graduate, you would most likely want a reference or recommendation letter from your supervisor. Having a good working relationship will be beneficial, and it will be much easier for your professor to write a letter that really describes your strengths. After graduation, you might also need to keep in touch with your professor for job opportunities, further education advice, and even just for friendship reasons. If you have a good relationship with your professor, this can be very beneficial. Some professors are especially hospitable to international students who are away from their families. It is this sort of warmth that can provide you with that boost of energy when you are feeling exhausted and discouraged about your thesis.

4. Choose a supervisor that other students give positive feedback on

Inspiring supervisors can make all that difference in your life - a difference that is not merely academic, but a difference that is lifelong and far reaching. Professors that can see the potential in you and your area of research will motivate you to be the best that you can be. Having a poor professor can be the most intimidating, demoralising, disillusiong and frustrating academic experience that you have. Some professors are out just to get their work published. Working with them will be a most exasperating experience and they will only help you if they can receive some kind of benefit from it. These professors can be avoided if you have the chance to ask around about them beforehand.Professors who have published a lot of papers could either mean that they are really brillant, but it could also mean that they have no time for you, and will only pay attention to your project if you have some to offer them. This can be a really devastating experience for those who have gone through it.

Do you have other advice? Please feel free to share them here!


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