How to find a PhD Supervisor for international students

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Choosing a PhD supervisor is one of the most challenging decisions, especially for international students planning to study abroad. And since there is no one size fits all approach or method of choosing the right one, your decision highly depends on the subject, your research area and the goals you want to achieve with your PhD.

A supervisor is important for your PhD as their expertise, experience and relationship will ultimately play a crucial part in shaping your experience; therefore, choosing a supervisor with whom you can collaborate and work well is important.

We have mentioned efficient methods for finding a PhD supervisor who will help tick all your boxes in detail below, but first, you must know the qualities of a professional supervisor.

The Characteristics of a Good Supervisor

  • A good supervisor is a good communicator and an effective listener. In the early days, if your supervisor does not return your e-mails or any other social media communications promptly, this will end up causing issues – directly or indirectly.
  • Another great quality of an excellent supervisor is that he/she is inspiring, passionate and enthusiastic about their students’ work.
  • He/she is well-informed and has extensive knowledge about the relative field and possesses extraordinary study methods and research skills. If not, you will probably experience many issues.
  • Simply put, a proficient supervisor is someone who is a mentor, adviser, confidante and voice of reason.

All things considered, you have to conduct thorough research and here is how you can choose a potential supervisor for your PhD.

Steps to choose a potential supervisor for your PhD.

1. Identify Potential PhD Supervisors

First, it is essential to find someone whose area of interest aligns with yours. Although you might know some names, it is best to cast your net wide, finding someone whose work really excites you. In doing so,

  • You may start with your own university department; are there any lecturers you know or you could ask them to recommend some supervisors. If not, then you can always investigate and go for other options besides the university.
  • Another convenient way is to check the latest publications on Google Scholar and jot down some potential PhD supervisors that can assist you.
  • Once you have made a list, visit their website and read their published research articles and ensure their interests and preferences match yours.
  • If you find someone who has in-depth knowledge of the chosen field, you will have a great opportunity to be recognised and attain your goals.

2. Seek Resources That You Can Rely On

Discussing your plans with trustworthy people can also help you find an excellent supervisor. You can ask your seniors, professors you admire and colleagues as it is always best to have additional insight. Moreover, when asking them, ensure to listen carefully, as they can provide a wealth of knowledge such as supervisory styles or personality that may not be accessible to you.

3. Look at The Supervisor’s Past and Present Supervision

PhD supervisors are most likely to assist more than one student simultaneously; they might be working or have worked on some experiments being part of different lab/research groups. Therefore, investigating their supervision, be it past or present, is always a good idea because it will give you an idea of what they have supervised or who are they currently supervising.

4. Make a Good First Impression

The best way to make a good first impression or an initial contact is a well-written email. Before that, you can attend lectures or conferences where your potential supervisor is present, allowing you to talk to them. Once met, you can write them a formal letter or e-mail.

A carefully presented e-mail will determine whether or not the supervisor will accept you as their student; therefore, your e-mail must contain:

  • A brief introduction of yourself including your area of study
  • How and why, you are interested in their work,
  • A brief description of your research proposal and why you would want to work with them,
  • Evidence of your academic achievements and interests, as well as how they align with those of the supervisor
  • A polite invitation to a meeting

5. Things to Look for When Meeting a Potential Supervisor

When meeting your supervisor for the first time, ensure you are prepared because it can be intimidating. Besides having yourself informed about their work and publications, make sure to assess the following:

  • First, a face-to-face meeting will instantly provide you with an idea if they are the right fit for you or not,
  • Still, ask them about their experience – how many students they have supervised or currently supervising
  • As most supervisors are busy, don’t forget to ask them about their availability; this will give you an idea of their commitment and dedication towards your PhD.
  • Moreover, if you have a family and require additional assistance or prefer to work remotely, let your supervisor know. This will reveal whether or not they can accommodate your needs.

6. Make a Final Decision

Suppose you have managed and found two or three supervisors to work with; here is how you can make a final decision to choose the right one that best matches your needs and preferences:

  • Ask the previous or senior students to get to know their reputation, personality, and supervision methods.
  • Consider the university’s reputation because top-notch universities will certainly provide good credentials.
  • Other than that, go through the university’s policies for PhD supervision.


To conclude, finding a good PhD supervisor as an international student requires careful consideration and detailed research. You can start by identifying your research goals and then exploring international universities specialising in your subject or field. Once found, contact them, state your interest and provide a well-written research proposal.  If possible, you can arrange a meeting and assess them by asking relevant questions.

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