The importance of having the right dissertation advisor cannot be stressed enough. No matter how intelligent or skilful students are, they will always need a reliable supervisor to guide them in one of the most important papers they will write in their post-graduate studies.
How should one choose the right dissertation advisor? Anyone can be appointed to supervise, but not everyone is fit to be one. Make sure to choose an advisor who understands the nature of effective supervision and has a proven track record.
Here are some points that would somehow make the process of selecting a dissertation advisor easier:
1. Assess what type of student you are.
Before anything else, assess what type of student you are because similarly, advisors have different working styles. Choose a supervisor whose working style and personality relate best to your own. Avoid choosing someone just because he/she is the popular choice in your department. Trust your gut feel and select the one you feel most comfortable with.
2. Determine how close a relationship you want to have with your advisor.
Choose someone who frequently checks on your progress if you prefer to have constant feedback and guidance. You will certainly benefit from a supervisor who is hands-on in making sure you are on the right track.
On the other hand, go for a more detached type of supervisor if you prefer a more independent approach to your research and only seek guidance when you deem necessary. This may work for some but make sure your professor is not someone who is just constantly absent or generally passive when you need supervision.
3. Decide whether you want a junior advisor or senior advisor
Either choice has pros and cons so choose which one fits your personality and goals. Junior advisors are younger so they are usually more enthusiastic, easy-going and open-minded. They are also easier to relate to and more hands-on in guiding you. They tend to go for cutting-edge but risky area of research. They are also likely to be less experienced so they have little track record and may be under enormous pressure.
Senior advisors, on the other hand, are more knowledgeable and experienced so they have strong resources. They are inclined to choose established but dated area of research. They can foster independence but may not pay much attention to you, or tend to delegate supervision to students they have trained. Some may have too many outside responsibilities so may not be as available as you like. They may not be as open-minded due to generation gap.
4. Contact potential supervisors.
Not all faculty members actively advertise student positions. Browse through faculty profiles in your university website for you to learn about the research of different supervisors and be familiar with their work. Check the different topics they have published for you to know the type of research you would be doing. You also get to learn the capability of the advisor though the success of their former students. Make sure you follow department instructions on how to approach them appropriately. Let them know your intention to apply to their graduate program and provide a few strong points about your background and previous research projects.
5. Interview some current graduate students working under a prospective supervisor.
Your peers can be your most helpful resource as they can share with you how it is like to work with a specific faculty member. There are supervisors with a lot of achievements but may be difficult to work with. Advisors may or may not be willing to co-author with their graduate students so you have to know about this info before making a decision. If you interview your fellow students, you can at least have an idea what to expect.
As soon as you have found your dissertation supervisor, develop and maintain productive relationships with him/her. You will be faced with a lot of difficulties but be efficient and do your part so your chosen advisor will see how serious you are with your post-graduate studies. Always try to meet the deadlines and respond to his/her suggested edits and corrections on time.