Before you can apply to do research, it’s important to secure a supervisor. Students usually initiate contact with a potential supervisor.
See the following most frequently asked questions about finding a research supervisor.
Do I need experience in a research environment before I approach a supervisor?
Experience helps but is not necessary. The purpose of conducting research is to gain experience and determine whether a career in academia interests you. The supervisor knows you may need training to conduct research. You may also offer your time as a volunteer in a professor’s laboratory to see if you like research.
Do I have to come up with the research project?
If you have an idea for a project, ask the supervisor if this is something they are interested in doing. A supervisor will tell you yes or no. Be open to trying new things. Research is about discovery, innovation and independence. Resources are available to provide guidance as needed.
How do I begin exploring research areas and a potential supervisor?
Explore profiles of Faculty Members. Under each professor's name is contact information, publications and research details. You can check out their publications on PubMed or read more about their areas of research in the annual report.
You can also attend research events to meet others and discuss their research to get some inspiration.
How do I contact a potential supervisor?
Learn about the professor’s research area and be able to discuss why you are interested in their research before you contact them. Some professors may prefer emails, some may prefer meetings and some may prefer you approach them after class. Ask them if they have a preference.
Start by asking if they are accepting new students. If they are, let them know what you are interested in, provide a resume and cover letter, and offer to provide further information such as transcripts.
Don’t get discouraged. You may have to contact several researchers and go for a few interviews before finding the position that is right for you.
What should I bring to a meeting with a prospective supervisor?
The professor needs to assess your academic background to ensure the courses you have taken are appropriate to undertake research in their area. Bring items such as transcripts, resume and any other information that you feel will assist them in determining whether your background is a ‘good fit’. Also, bring your questions.
Once I find a supervisor, what should I discuss with them?
Discuss the subject of your research; the type of work it entails; who you will be working with; the start/end dates of the position; how much you will be paid; your hours of work per week; if you can take vacation time; what you can do to prepare; how often you will meet with your supervisor; what activities you can participate in to supplement your research experience; and where can you apply for external funding.
I am interested in a professor’s research at another university. Am I allowed to contact them?
Yes. Do exercise your curiosity and collaborate with a professor who shares your interests.