Going To Grad School? Here’s How To Know If Your Supervisor Is Right For You


One of the most important decisions you will make when applying to grad school is choosing a supervisor.

In fact, the graduate-supervisor relationship is so crucial for a grad student’s success that Canadian universities have created guidelines on the responsibilities and expectations for a good supervisory relationship.

While some grad school programs select a supervisor for you, others allow you to pick your own. If this is the case, this decision will highly impact your success in the program, so choose wisely.

Here’s how to know your supervisor is the ideal match for you:

1. They share the same interests and views on your research topic.

Go with a supervisor who is experienced in your area of research and also shares similar views on your topic. As you probably know, having similar interests is the core of any positive and productive work relationship. Additionally, finding a supervisor with a similar working style and approaches, or is open to compromising, is crucial. For example, if your supervisor likes to keep their meetings short and sweet and you prefer longer discussions, this incompatibility could make things difficult later on.

2. They treat you like a research partner and not just another student.

Of course, they should be offering guidance and mentorship to support your intellectual growth, but there also needs to be balance. You should feel like you’re working together as a team, not like an assistant to your own research. A good supervisor makes sure that you’re carrying your weight while also giving you the space to explore on your own.

3. They challenge you, inspire you, and have time for you.

A good supervisor should challenge your opinions and question your ideas. They should push you to find a deeper level of understanding in your research and give you constructive feedback throughout your program. Lastly, they should be available to meet on a regular basis so you can address any issues and challenges in a timely manner.

Can I change my graduate supervisor?

The best way to foster an effective relationship with your supervisor is to define your roles and expectations clearly early on. However, if you simply do not get along with your supervisor, consider addressing the issues with them before you make the change. Finding a new one at a later stage can be difficult and take away valuable time from your research. If you’ve addressed the problems with your supervisor and still can’t fix them, then you should follow the procedure for change that is specific to your university.

4. Their personality fits with your own.

Pick a supervisor that you feel comfortable with. You should be able to freely share your ideas and opinions with them without hesitation; the last thing you need in your already-stressful semester is to worry about disappointing your supervisor’s expectations. Besides, this is someone you will be working with for a year or more, so you need to feel confident that they will help nurture a working relationship that is mutually satisfying and beneficial.

Haven’t had the chance to get to know your potential supervisor in your undergrad? That’s ok! Here are things you can do to ensure they’re a good fit for you:

  • Get in touch with their former grad students. The success stories can be an indication of their capabilities as a supervisor, and they will be able to provide insight into the supervisor’s working style, personality, and mentorship.
  • If you can, try to pick a supervisor who doesn’t have many students already. They will be able to offer more focus and attention on your own research.
  • If you are thinking about an academic position after graduation, consider choosing a supervisor who has many connections within academia. The same goes for students with non-academic pursuits – in this case, try to find a supervisor who is still actively working in your industry of choice.

Your supervisor is more than just a mentor – they will be your collaborator, working closely with you to help you define your goals and eventually achieve them. Make the right pick and you’ll be well on your way to grad school success!

Want to learn more about Grad School? Check out our Career Guide!