How to Choose your Thesis (or Dissertation) Supervisor.

In semester one of my third year, I was already stressing about narrowing down my options for my Honour’s thesis topics (also known as a dissertation, depending where you are).

There were so many things I had enjoyed in my undergrad, and so many topics I could see myself enjoying in the Honours year, that I was overwhelmed.

It can be super hard to choose your thesis supervisor!

I was left to my own devices while I tried to navigate my potential options in my third-year.

My lecturers were saying that students should “perhaps meet with some potential supervisors toward the end of the year,” but no one was explaining what I should look for in these potential supervisors.

I want to share with you the five steps I took to choosing my thesis supervisor and why you shouldn’t stress too much about picking the perfect topic. How should you choose your thesis supervisor?

Questions you need to ask yourself to choose the right thesis supervisor

1. Brainstorm Topics

Reflect on topics that peaked your interest during undergrad. This could be from the class curriculum, discussions with your peers or professors, or everyday musings.

Think about:

What modules most interested you? Which subjects did you choose as electives? What readings did you enjoy?

As a whole, what drew you to your degree program in the first place?

What do you talk about – in regards to your degree – to family or friends outside of university?

2. Review your Favourite Professors & Lecturers

Sometimes, topics that you enjoyed are not necessarily parallel to teachers you enjoyed having. And this also works vice versa.

Students often first turn to their favorite topics when deciding on their thesis supervisor – but you do not want to neglect thinking about the relationship you will have with your supervisor.

You will be spending an entire year with this person as your guide. Reflect on who you want to have weekly meetings with (someone you can comfortably converse with), share your problems, and even maybe cry with (not that I hope you get to that point – but it happens!).

I can assure you, the supervisor-student relationship you have will be absolutely crucial to navigating the Honour’s year.

Take it from my personal experience, with the COVID-19 crisis, I am so grateful for my supervisors. The unwavering support they have given me through the many Zoom meetings (and the added bonus of cats in the background, pyjama bottom morning meetings and virtual coffees).

3. Look at their Published Papers & Research Methods

So you know what and who you like – which academics in your university tick some of your boxes?

Check out their published research and see what directions they could take you. You can easily do this on Google Scholar.

It is important to review their style of project: what research methods do they use? Is this something you can see yourself doing?

In Psychology, the classic dichotomy is qualitative vs. quantitative research. This usually means working with numbers and statistics, or working with more complex (and usually wordy) data like interviews and stories.

For me, I crossed out a lot of options, as I knew I wanted a neuroscience focus and to work with some electrophysiological data (EEG).

Think about the types of skills you’d like to gain from your project.

4. Assess their Work Environments/Office

Where would you be working if you choose that supervisor?

Some supervisors may be a part of a larger research team. This would mean you’d have access to a larger group of people if you ever needed help. It can also expose you to a wider variety of research projects and give you an office to work in during your Honours year.

Some supervisors may not be part of a research team, and thus you won’t have the opportunity to mingle with many of their colleagues. You might be left to your own devices more than you would within a larger research group. This may be okay for you – but that just depends on your work style.

5. Technicalities

There are also some smaller technical questions you could ask yourself:

Is said supervisor going to be around when I need them? Will they have any periods of leave over the year?

What are their specialties? What are their weaknesses? Will you need co-supervisors on board to assist in other areas of the project?

Will said supervisor help to lead me to the career / future I’d like to follow? Does the project you could potentially do with them align with the skills you’d need for a future job?

Final Things to Consider…

At the end of the day, I would prioritise finding a supervisor that you can see yourself having a healthy working relationship with.

While it can seem overwhelming trying to perfect every aspect of your choice, you should know that your Honours year is about developing your skills and showcasing your research ability.

Don’t worry too much about your exact topic! Instead, focus on what you will be able to learn from the process, and preparing to put in the effort to present a final project to the best of your ability.

Hopefully these tips can help you to choose your thesis supervisor!

Have a look at my latest posts here!

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