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Finding a Research Supervisor and/or Project

The age-old question people ask when they want to get started in research is: “How do I find a supervisor or project?”

I think that a good supervisor and project can make a huge difference to your experience doing research - after a lot of trial and error on various projects, here are my tips and tricks for those of you looking to get started on your research journey!

There are two main factors I think you should consider when finding a project and these are:

  1. Whether you want to do a project in your own time or if this is part of a predefined block of time (including cases where you are developing a project to apply for funding to undertake it e.g. summer studentships)

  2. Whether you want to devise your own project or if you are happy to work on a project that your supervisor provides

Now that you’ve considered that, enjoy the following list of sources for supervisors and/or projects!

  1. Lecturers or personal tutors

  2. Researchers at your university - you can check out the researcher profiles on your university website to find people working on areas you are interested in.

  3. If the project is part of your course, your faculty may provide a list of supervisors that you can choose from. Blog post about selecting a scalable research assignment coming soon!

  4. This is if you are applying to specific programmes aimed at getting students into research or giving them more experience in a specific field e.g. summer studentships (I have previously published a blog post on this): there might be a list of potential supervisors that the organisation offering the studentship can provide. If not, you might also be able to find out about applicants who were selected for the programmes in previous years and the supervisors they worked with.

  5. Social media - Twitter is my preference for this as academics often use it to disseminate their research, it’s also a good way for you to increase your visibility!

  6. Event speakers e.g. at conferences and workshops

  7. Student-led societies - a number of these may offer projects with named supervisors that you get allocated to after successfully applying to join their research programme (and potentially joining their teaching on research skills). The Healthcare Leadership Academy Research Masterclass is an example of this, there will also be societies offering something similar locally e.g. YoungAcademics Manchester and the Clinical Specialties Society at King’s College London.

  8. Collaborative projects - this is quite common in surgery where a large dataset is assembled from data collected by individual teams at local hospitals. You can start off by collecting data, eventually becoming a hospital lead or regional rep for the society. Examples of these include StarSurg and NANSIG.

I recommend keeping a list of potential supervisors as you go along. An Excel spreadsheet with details on any factors that are important to you e.g. the type of research they do is great to help keep track of things. Once you have a shortlist of potential supervisors, make sure to consider:

  • Their research output and stage of training/background

  • If there is a predetermined project, whether the specific project is for you. Think about the specific skills you want to learn and the timeline because some supervisors might want to submit the work for a specific conference or issue of an academic journal.

  • Whether your goals align with your supervisor’s - for example, if you are looking for a first-author publication and your supervisor is currently a specialty trainee, they might also need the authorship for their portfolio so make sure to discuss this early on.

I came across this Twitter thread about red flags to look out for when you come across a research opportunity which I also recommend you check out because the advice really resonated with me. More of my thoughts on that in my next blog post on selecting a scalable research assignment!

And that is the end of this blog post, good luck, I hope you’ll enjoy your project!

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