Questions for supervisors

Questions for supervisors

After you have a short list of places you'd like to go and people you'd like to work for, you can try to schedule a few meetings with them.  I did my little grand tour the week before school started in 4th year, but anytime in the fall is an good time.  This timing gives you a chance to apply for NSERC or other scholarships and do some real thinking about what you really want.

Meeting potential supervisors in person is tremendously helpful, it helps solidify whether you will be a good match or not. I set mine up just by emailing saying that I'd like to come for a quick (15 min) chat about their research and potential grad work and including a few facts (eg school and degree). Some will be open to it, some might not, but its always worth going if you can manage it.

When you're talking to them you can talk about your work as an undergrad, what their research interests are....the more discussion the better.  Just like "research, research, research" was the theme of the last post, these meetings are an important source of information. 

These are the topics I was curious about when I was looking at grad schools:

  • What are the current projects in the group?  Are any of them continuing, or are new ones starting?
  • How established is the lab?  If it's not yet established, will all the equipment I need be here?
  • What do former grad students do after working here?  Industry? Academia?
  • Are any sabbaticals planned that might affect my timing?
  • How hands on are you with your graduate students? Do you prefer frequent updates or more independent work?
  • Who else works in this group? Do we have technician support? Do we share it with another research group?
  • What are your publication expectations? How many papers do your students typically publish?
  • How are graduate students funded in this department?
  • Is there support for attending conferences or training events?

If you have an idea about the project you might do, you can be more specific:

  • Will my work depend on someone else's work? (Current or former grad students? Summer students?)  Will someone else depend on my work?
  • What support exists for this work? Is it already funded by a grant? 

The questions above are really detailed and you want to avoid pummelling them with questions.  Generally, when I've had these discussions they were more like a conversation, and  when I checked my list of questions at the end of the meeting I realized we had covered all but one or two.  For me at least, it's the act of making the list that prepared me to have a constructive discussion with a potential supervisor. 

Basically the objectives of the meeting are to:

  • figure out if you fit into the group well
  • decide if you'll have the support you need to be successful in your work
  • show your potential supervisor that you've seriously thought about what it means to be a graduate student  

How I decided where to go for grad school

How I decided where to go for grad school