How to Find a Potential Supervisor

By Marta Antonetti

FINDING A POTENTIAL SUPERVISOR IS HALF THE BATTLE: The identification of a potential supervisor tends to be a requirement of the DPhil application process, yet its import may be overlooked. It can be done more and less effectively. In capturing the interest of a professor, you can guarantee that your application will be assessed carefully. What’s more, the identification of a potential supervisor is one aspect of the application process over which you have huge control. Below, I’ll share some tips, based on my own experience, on the best approach to take in contacting potential supervisors.

1 CONTACT AS MANY POTENTIAL SUPERVISORS AS POSSIBLE: The larger the pool of professors you contact, the more likely that one will be intrigued by your project. How can you deepen your pool? You may have to explore different departments. My research project, for example, has to do with the political ambition of women. So, in searching for a potential supervisor, I explored the web pages of the faculties of politics, sociology, psychology and gender studies. Once on the appropriate webpage, check out the research interests of each professor. What kind of relevance does your project have to their interests? It may prove useful to contact the department’s DPhil director, as she/he usually has a feel for the type of projects her colleagues tend to supervise.


First things first, after a brief introduction, get straight to the point: introduce your research question, name the theory on which your project is based, and name the methodology you intend to use. This should be done as concisely as possible, in no more than a few sentences.

Following, your email should include your CV and your Research Proposal. By this point, your proposal should be as clear and comprehensive as possible, as if it were a final draft (of course, it may well change many times in the future). Here, my advice would be to include your proposal in the text body of the email AND as a nicely-formatted attachment. This is a precautionary measure – professors are busy people, and attachments can go unread.

4 SHOW THEM THAT YOU ARE READY TO LEARN: Be sure to ask for feedback on your proposal (preferably earlier in your email than later). It sends the right message: you are here to learn. It gets the professor thinking about your project – you may well receive a valuable comment or two. Some professors even enjoy giving feedback, relishing the chance to flex.

Two final quick tips: If a professor is not interested, ask her/him for the name a colleague that might be; If you are not a native English speaker, I would highly recommend investing in a good proof-reader.

And now, good luck with your application, and don’t forget to have fun in the process ;)