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Finding a supervisor

The relationship with your supervisor is of crucial importance to your research and progress as a PhD candidate. The department will normally allocate two supervisors, at least one of whom will be actively engaged in, or has had experience of, research in the field of your thesis. Your supervisors will be your guides and mentors as you design, research and finally write up your PhD project.


Before you submit your application, you should ensure we have a member of staff who shares your research interests. We receive many good applications each year that we cannot accept simply because we have nobody to supervise the thesis in the department. Therefore, once you have written your proposal, you should consult our staff research directory to find out who is doing what in the department and identify potential supervisors. Applicants are encouraged to make contact with potential supervisors prior to submitting an application. While individual academics cannot make a decision to accept a given application, most successful applicants have contacted potential supervisors to ensure that there is an interest in supervising their particular research project.

Please note that if the department does not have a member of staff in your specialist area, or if all academics in your area are currently at full supervisory capacity, we will not be able to make an offer no matter how good the quality of your application is.

Making contact

Once you have identified a potential supervisor, you are very welcome to approach them to see whether they would be interested in your particular project. The best method for making contact is by emailing your proposal with an introductory letter and project summary, to your potential supervisor(s).

Please note that while many academics are happy to speak with prospective students, not all are receptive to speculative contact. Also note that an expression of interest from a supervisor, or even their involvement in refining your proposal, is not a guarantee that your application will be successful, particularly if your submitted proposal is not up-to-scratch.

One of the primary reasons for unsuccessful applications is an inadequately specified research proposal, which does not go far enough in convincing potential supervisors that the applicant has it within them to write a successful PhD. In order to get your prospective supervisor(s) to say ‘yes’, you really do have to submit an excellent proposal!

Find an expert through our staff listing online

Supervision and the PhD

For my own PhD, I was lucky to benefit from having amazing and supportive supervisors. This has made me appreciate and understand the special role that a supervisor has over the course of the PhD.

I work between the areas of social science, health and biomedicine and supervise students working in these areas. Much of my research takes me into labs, where, for example, I talk with researchers who are using the latest genetic technologies. I recently visited a lab where researchers are rewinding human blood cells and reprogramming them into human heart cells. These new technologies that involve human (as well as animal) bodies, raise a host of political, economic, ethical and cultural question; the kinds that need more social scientific analysis and investigation. Working with PhD students to examine these issues is one of the most rewarding aspects of academic life.

At this point in higher education, doing a PhD involves much more than the piece of original research you set out to undertake. It also involves navigating academic life in its many forms through planning research, conferences, writing papers, collaborations and, of course, preparing for life after the PhD. In our department you not only benefit from dedicated supervisors who understand these multiple challenges, but you also get to work in a supportive and collaborative research culture—something invaluable during the years you will spend as a PhD student.

- Amy Hinterberger, Assistant Professor of Sociology