Looking for a dissertation supervisor can be a daunting task, especially as a postgrad student at a new university. Here are a few helpful tips on what to do and when to do it that I hope will be helpful to whoever stumbles across this article.
Take time to figure out your research interest.
This sounds really obvious, but you would be surprised how often people don’t take time to really think this through. I came to Edinburgh with an idea of what I wanted to study in depth and that changed very early on in the academic year which ended up costing me a lot of time. I was left with many research options but essentially no ground to stand on since the topics were somewhat “new” to me. This meant that I had a lot of reading to do which took me longer than I thought it would.
While changing your field of interest is normal and won’t drastically change your life (possibly?), the earlier you know what you want to research, the earlier you can organise your thoughts and compile a list of journals and texts to go through. Time is
money less stress for you later on.
Find out which lecturers/professors research your field or topic of choice
Take time to really find what your professors’ research fields are and email them about their work. A lot of them have links to papers they have written or collaborated on and it is in your best interest to go through them. This will give you a better understanding of who to ask questions. If you can build a rapport with lecturers, then do it. It could be done through in-class participation or attending research groups, talks, or office hours. This will save you a lot of time when you have to start looking for a potential supervisor since you will already have someone you could ask or potentially have begun to think of research questions with.
For you academic introverts out there that find this difficult, I encourage you to find one lecturer whose class you like and just try to ask them questions about their class. You will thank yourself later on for doing so as trying to think of who to ask later on when you’ve not spoken to anyone can be quite stressful. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in a situation where you really haven’t spoken to any profs, don’t worry too much as you will be able to reach out to them based on research interests later on anyway (I’m a Masters student so I’m not sure if this is applicable for undergraduates).
Form a research question
Try your best to have a broad question or idea and take this to the nearest professor, preferably the person you are thinking of working with. At this point, you may want to ask whoever you’re in contact with if they are available and willing to supervise your paper on your proposed topic. You also want to be doing the groundwork which consists of reading papers about the topic. It may be helpful to ask for recommendations about specific journals to read since there is a lot of material out there thus it would be helpful to have someone guiding/signposting you.
Pick a supervisor you like and can work with
Supervisors are people too so please make sure you work with someone you like. I’m not saying you have to be the best of friends, but it is in both of your best interests that you are able to clearly communicate with each other and that your timetables can match up. Make sure you think about whether the person you’re asking to supervise actually has the time to answer your emails and set up meetings. If they’re in charge of many other classes, students, projects, etc. you may want to reconsider as you really need a supervisor who can be present. That said, supervisors do have a lot going on so please be considerate and don’t expect them to carry you through your thesis. Do the work you have to do.
If you have no idea where to start and this article seems helpful in theory but daunting in practice, then the first thing you need to do is ask your personal tutor for help. Talk to them about your research interests and ask them to sign post you to their colleagues. (A huge shoutout to my personal tutor Matt Spike who is the MVP of doing this). Your PT’s will be a huge help if you ask them for help. You should have met them by the time dissertation season rolls around so ask them ASAP because the aim of the game is to save as much time as you can so that you have more time to write up your paper and conduct your study.
Best of luck!