What To Look For When Picking A Supervisor For Your PhD


If you’re thinking about getting a PhD, it’s important to think about who is going to be your supervisor. Your supervisor will have a large input into what research project you do and what topics will be explored. They also have significant influence over the direction of your career, so they need to be someone that you can work well with. You’ll spend a lot of time working closely with them: in class and out of class; in labs or libraries; in offices or coffee shops; at conferences or abroad—the list goes on! So it’s important to pick someone knowledgeable, interesting, and kind.

Research focus

While your supervisor will be the one to guide you through the world of academia during your PhD, knowing what their expertise is will help guide you when it comes time to choosing a research topic. You don’t want someone whose interests are so far removed from yours that you’re left feeling bored or uninterested in their work. On the other hand, if you choose a topic that they aren’t interested in, then they naturally won’t be as excited and that leads to less help. If you’re excited about a topic, you’ll naturally put more of your time into it.

In addition to looking for someone with relevant expertise and an open mind, make sure that their research aligns well with your own career aspirations.

Style of work and supervision

When you’re choosing a supervisor, you should be sure to consider their style of work and supervision. Your PhD should be about developing your skills so that after your PhD you are more attractive to potential employers, as well as be a good researcher. A good supervisor will help guide that development and help build your confidence in this process.

Ability to communicate

When it comes to communication, the key thing to look for is someone who can communicate clearly. This means that they should have no problems explaining complex concepts in simple terms, listening and responding to questions, and working with other people.

At first glance, these communication skills may seem like a no-brainer; after all, PhD students are probably looking for someone who can make them feel comfortable so they can focus on their studies with as little stress as possible. But don’t underestimate how important your supervisor’s ability to communicate — both verbally and in writing — will be throughout your entire doctoral program.

Clarity of expectations

One of the most important things you can do is make sure that your supervisor understands the goals for your PhD. It’s also important for them to understand what kind of researcher you are, and whether or not they believe that you can achieve those goals. If they don’t believe in your potential, then it’s better to find a supervisor (and mentor) who does.

It is essential that both parties establish clear expectations with each other before starting on any project together. What does each party expect from the other? What are their roles going forward? How often should they meet? When should communications happen, and with whom?


If you plan on paying for your PhD, ask about the supervisor’s funding history.

If you are going to be funded by a scholarship, make sure the supervisor has funding. This makes your life much easier, and your PhD FAR LESS stressful.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person.

A PhD supervisor is the person who will be guiding you towards your PhD, and they are likely to end up being a very important role model in your life during the next few years (and even decades). So it’s important that they are someone who has both the experience and skills needed to help you achieve your goals. But even more important than that, they should also have some qualities which make them a good fit for YOU as well!


If you’re not sure yet, take time to think about what kind of supervisor will be best for you. This is a big decision, and one that will affect your future career in many ways.


Picking the right supervisor is vital for PhD success. Publishing papers is another key part. If you want to learn more about how to write an academic paper, including how to write the abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, and conclusion, and how to respond to reviewers, make sure your paper gets through the publication process, check out our book,How To Write An Academic Paper 101. Every book sold helps us run PhD Voice.