PhD advisors – Insider information you need to know!

Choosing a PhD advisor that matches your preferred management style and will support you through your entire postgraduate qualification will make your PhD much nicer. It cannot be overstated – your PhD will be dictated by your PhD advisor. That is why you need to be incredibly careful when you choose who you work under.

PhD advisors should help you grow as an academic and help you overcome issues and hurdles with your PhD research. They will be responsible for ensuring that everything you do meets academic credibility expectations and increases your chances of a successful career.

Although this is the ideal definition of a great PhD advisor – the reality is really simple.

PhD advisors have huge pressures from the University to bring in money, graduate students, contribute to the administrative tasks of the department and university, and publish peer-reviewed papers in high-quality journals.

This article will help you make the best choice for your PhD advisor and, hopefully, answer some common questions that people have about PhD advisors and supervisors.

What does a PhD advisor do?

A PhD advisor is an experienced professor or researcher who provides guidance to students enrolled in a doctoral program.

There is no formal qualification for allowing a supervisor to take on students, however, quite often new professors co-supervise PhD students before they are allowed to supervise their own.

The advisor can also help students plan and complete their dissertation, take classes, and manage their time.

Importantly, they provide advice on:

  • research topics
  • research methodology
  • techniques, and methods that would be most beneficial for the student’s unique project
  • academic writing style
  • navigating the academic career path
  • submission to journals and peer-reviewed publications
  • preparation of conference materials
  • attending conferences
  • giving academic talks
  • and much more.

Additionally, advisors often help with writing assignments, editing drafts of manuscripts, and reviewing literature related to the research topic.

Depending on the relationship they have built with their students, they may also serve as a mentor or role model for the student throughout the duration of their PhD program.

My PhD supervisor relationships evolved dramatically over the time that I was a student and some got better and some got worse throughout the three year project. Nonetheless, each supervisor was able to help me in different ways and all of my relationships remained professional.

What do you call your PhD advisor/supervisor?

When referring to one’s PhD advisor, the most commonly accepted term is “supervisor”.

This title reflects the role of the advisor in providing guidance and support throughout the doctoral journey.

“Supervisor” can sometimes sound a little bit clinical given how closely you end up working with them.

Each supervisor/student relationship is unique and will require maintenance to ensure that it continues to provide value to both the supervisor and the student over the course of the entire project.

One of the most important things that they can do is provide invaluable feedback on drafts and papers before they are submitted for assessment. They shouldn’t allow you to submit your thesis unless it meets the fields criteria for quality and rigour.

A good relationship between PhD student and supervisor will lead to a successful outcome for both parties.

How do I choose a PhD advisor? Find a supportive supervisor

When choosing a PhD advisor, it is important to consider their research interests and expertise and match them with your research interests. You can find this information on the department’s website or their staff page.

Also, it is important to look at their publication record as you need a supervisor that is publishing regularly in academic journals to help accelerate your career in the early stages.

It is also essential to find an advisor who will be willing to mentor you and who will be open to collaboration and feedback. Have a meeting with them and ask every question you need to ask without fear.

You need to rely on some initial “gut instincts” on whether or not you would be able to work well with this person.

Sometimes popular supervisors do not have the time to dedicate enough mentoring energy to all of their students – just because they are popular does not mean they will be the best fit for you.

You can check out my YouTube video below for how to choose a PhD supervisor and all of the secrets they won’t tell you.

It is important to choose an advisor with whom you have a good rapport and can communicate effectively with.

It is also essential to evaluate their track record of success in helping students complete their PhDs and how they approach supervision.

It is not necessary that they have graduated many students – or any at all. However, evidence that they will be a good supervisor is often found in the number of students they have been able to graduate within a typical PhD lifetime (3-5 years).

Obtaining Information on Potential PhD supervisors

As a potential PhD student, it is important to obtain information on potential advisors before committing to one.

Faculties in the graduate program are often busy and have many graduate students seeking their supervision.

One of the best strategies is to search for recent publications from the faculty member and get to know them through meetings or conversations.

Go to google scholar and sort by year. The more publications in recent years, the better.

Supervisors love talking about their latest papers and research and it may be easier to say that you want to meet up to talk about their recent paper than trying to talk about potential PhD positions in the group.

Meeting a PhD advisor in person helps the student understand the faculty’s research interests better and allows them to gauge if they will be able to work with them effectively.

Another way of obtaining information about a potential advisor is by talking to other graduate students who already have them as supervisors; these students can provide valuable feedback on working with that particular professor or committee member.

It is important to get to know your potential supervisor before you commit, so you can make sure that the choice of advisor best suits your dissertation project and future plans.

What do PhD advisors look for in students?

When looking for a PhD student, advisors look for candidates that are motivated and passionate about the topic they are researching. They are also looking for someone who can help boost their career by publishing as many papers as possible.

You can actually boost your chances of being accepted into a PhD research group by expressing your desire to publish as many papers as possible

They want someone who is willing to put in the hard work and dedication required to complete a complex research project.

They also look for:

  • students who have strong analytical skills and can think critically.
  • someone with excellent writing abilities
  • the ability to effectively communicate their research findings.
  • good work ethic,
  • enthusiasm for learning, and
  • willingness to collaborate with other researchers.
  • someone who is organized
  • good time management skills so they can stay on track while working on their project.

An advisor looks for a student who can contribute to their field of study and research group in a meaningful way to progress their own career in academia.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about PhD advisors.

I have shed the insider secrets for finding your PhD advisor and what they really look for in a student.

No matter what you decide, a PhD will be hard work but selecting a fantastic advisor will make it much easier for you.

Do your research and don’t take this decision lightly.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.