How to find a supervisor

There are three easy ways to find a supervisor who might be interested in your particular research project.

1. Search for a person
Use Swansea’s Directory of Expertise to search directly for academics working in your field. Search by generic keywords or subject areas and browse academic profiles to find the likeliest candidate to be interested in your idea.

2. Search for a subject
Another way of searching for a supervisor is to get a feel for who is working in your field by browsing department pages for the subject you are interested in, information on research groups and centres, and staff biographies. Alternatively, email the director of research in the relevant department and ask them to recommend a potential supervisor - make the most of their knowledge of the expertise available in their department.

3. Search for a project
Many prospective research students, particularly in the sciences and engineering, will look for a predesigned project. These are advertised by the academic in charge of the project, who will usually have secured funding from a research body for a studentship. All Swansea’s studentships are advertised throughout the year on our research scholarships page.

Things to consider

Don’t be put off choosing a supervisor you don’t already know – some PhD students will prefer to undertake research with an academic from their previous study who they know and like. This is fine, but remember that the most important factor in choosing a supervisor is that their interests are closely related to your own.

Get to know your prospective supervisor’s work  - spend some time looking at their list of publications. Are their research interests similar to yours? How well established are they? Is this even important to you?

  • Newer academics will have fewer PhD students and commitments, and thus potentially more time for you. If you work well with lots of hands on support, a supervisor like this might be right for you.
  • More established academics will have more responsibilities and commitments, including more PhD students demanding their attention. This could mean that they take more of a ‘hands off’ approach to supervising you. They will also have more expertise within your field, and more experience of PhD supervision. Their reputations will be more established, meaning they may have more contacts for you to benefit from.

How do they work – how do you work? Do you think you will be compatible? PhD study is largely self-directed and self-driven, but some supervisors will want to be more involved with your research than others. Ask them what their expectations will be in terms of regular contact – tell them your expectations. Obviously this will differ from subject to subject – in some science and engineering subjects you may be working with academics in a laboratory on a day-to-day basis, while in arts and humanities supervisors might have little more to do than point you in the right direction.

Meet them for an informal chat before you commit to anything. You will be working with this person for the next three to four years!

The role of the supervisor

Ultimately, a supervisor’s role is to assist and support you throughout your research.  Your supervisor will:

  • Help you formulate your research plan in the initial stages of your PhD
  • Advise on research aims and objectives and suggest relevant training or skills courses
  • Provide direction in terms of relevant literature and sources
  • Give guidance on gathering, recording and analysing data
  • Supervise your written work, providing constructive criticism and ensuring you keep to deadlines
  • Support and advise you when it comes to presenting papers at conferences and publishing your work