Choosing your PhD supervisor

Whether you’ve settled upon a particular topic of research or are still tinkering with a few ideas, it’s vital to know just how important your PhD supervisor will be on your research journey.

Finding the right PhD supervisor is an essential part of your research journey.

They’ll hopefully be with you throughout your PhD journey, offering expertise, guidance and even emotional support when times get tough. Therefore, it’s important that you choose a supervisor that meets your needs.

We’ve put together a few key things to consider when selecting a supervisor.

What kind of PhD supervisor do you need?

You may go through your studies with just one supervisor, acting as a sort of PhD mentor, or you may find yourself assembling a team of supervisors.

Whatever the case, it’s important to think of what kind of supervisor is right for you.

For example, you may be a great writer that struggles to analyse data effectively – therefore, approaching a supervisor with strengths in this area will be a real boon.

Naturally, you’ll also need a supervisor that has the expertise you crave (more info on that later).

In short, whatever areas you are lacking in will need to be found somewhere, and having PhD supervision that has those strengths will complement your existing skills perfectly. You’ll also be able to learn from them as you go along.

If your research project is interdisciplinary, you may find yourself with two or three different supervisors – with each one having a specific focus and interest in your work, you’ll gain a diverse and in-depth knowledge of areas you previously hadn’t investigated.

A PhD journey can be a lonely journey, too, so it may be a good idea to meet with your intended supervisor and get a feel for them as a person – are they going to be there for you when you need them?

Will they put a shoulder around you when times get tough? Will they tell you straight when you’re taking a wrong turn in your research?

Expertise and industry links

One essential aspect of PhD supervision is that your chosen advisor or advisory team have in-depth knowledge of certain areas within your research project.

Your supervisor may not possess every ounce of information you need in order to conduct your studies, but that’s the point – the PhD is your journey towards becoming the expert in your chosen field.

However, having a supervisory team that can input invaluable data, has considerable experience and core knowledge of relevant areas around your research area will be essential as you shape your project and develop your question.

You could get a better idea of their research history by browsing through their publications, either through ResearchGate or BCU’s own Open Access Repository.

It will also be beneficial to assess what industry links your potential supervisor has – have they spent years working in an appropriate field? Do they conduct research and/or consult with some of the industry’s most recognised organisations?

A supervisor with those sorts of connections and experience will help offer real-world insight into your studies.

At BCU, for example, our lecturers regularly work with leading organisations on exciting research projects, knowledge transfer partnerships and more, ensuring their research influences and impacts industry.

Do they share your research interests?

Your PhD supervisor needs to believe in your work. They should see the importance and relevance of your chosen research topic, and appreciate and nurture its potential impact.

Therefore, when targeting a potential supervisor, ensure that their research interests chime with your own and whether or not they are welcoming PhD applications in your chosen area.

Alternatively, you may have the option to write out your proposal and be signposted to the right academic – at BCU, if you’re applying for a PhD in the Institute of Creative Arts, you must complete a draft PhD project proposal.

If successful, you will then have the option to meet with a lecturer interested in your idea.

More info on how to apply at BCU can be found via our PhD FAQs section.

A long-term relationship

Your supervisor is less of a teacher and more of a PhD mentor – they will be assisting you on your learning journey for anything from three to six years.

It’s a relationship that will have to weather personal and professional upheaval, tight deadlines, research challenges and many more.

However, it shouldn’t just be a relationship that ends as soon as you’ve finished your thesis – you should look to forge a rapport with your supervisory team that lasts beyond your PhD studies, one that can help you with your future research and your career choices.

Interested in studying your doctorate at Birmingham City University? Information on applying and current studentships are available on our How to Apply page.