Find a Supervisor

Tips for finding a research supervisor in the Faculty of Medicine.

These tips were originally compiled to help students find a UBC Faculty of Medicine supervisor for the Summer Student Research Program (SSRP) or similar summership programs thus information provided may not be applicable for all situations.

  • The UBC Faculty of Medicine (FoM) is divided into 21 different departments or schools (this includes a Department of Medicine, which should not be confused with the Faculty of Medicine). The larger departments or schools are also subdivided into divisions.
  • In addition to their departmental affiliation, many FoM researchers are also affiliated with FoM Research Centres or Institutes. Centres are composed of individuals from various faculties and/or departments with a common research focus while Institutes are associated with a single geographic location or administrative structure and are normally made up of a number of centres or research groups covering a wide range of research areas. Research Centre or Institute members can include Faculty of Medicine researchers as well as researchers from other faculties at UBC or from other universities or institutions.
  • You can find hyperlinks to FoM Departments, Schools, Centres and Institutes websites here. Click here to see a list of Faculty of Medicine divisions.
  • Note that only senate approved Research Centres are listed on the FoM website. You will find additional research centres and research programs listed on the Research Institute websites.
  • If you are looking to work in a specific research area a good first step is to determine if that area is the focus of one of the FoM Divisions, Departments/Schools or Centres or the focus of a Research Program or Centre at one of the Research Institutes.

Investigate the types of research being conducted in the UBC Faculty of Medicine and determine what matches with your interests:

  • Think about how you could contribute to the research goals of your potential supervisor
  • What specific skills or knowledge could you bring to the role that you have gained from previous research experience (paid or volunteer), other work/volunteer experience or related coursework.
  • Consider both hard skills, such as specific lab techniques or computer knowledge, as well as soft skills such as communication, time management and adaptability.
  • If you are approaching a supervisor to talk about a specific funding opportunity or program, such as the SSRP, be prepared to answer questions about the rules, application process and deadlines of the program(s). If you plan to discuss the SSRP you can also provide them with a copy of the SSRP Factsheet for Potential Supervisors.

No. In general supervisors do not expect students to approach them with a specific project idea. Established researchers usually have an ongoing research program maintained by operating funds that can only be used to support research for specific topics/projects. Fortunately most will already have specific student-appropriate projects in mind to discuss with you. Past evidence indicates that in most cases there are opportunities to customize existing project ideas to better suit individual student interests and abilities.

Alternatively, you may wish to develop your own project idea by seeking a solution to an existing problem or question you have encountered. Projects such as chart reviews that do not require operating funds would not be restricted by existing funding agreements. Finding an experienced research supervisor to provide you with guidance and advice will help you develop a well-designed, scientifically rigorous project.

Ensure all of your communications (both written and face to face) are professional:

  • Use appropriate/professional dialogue; check written communications carefully for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Send emails from a professional email address.
  • Until instructed otherwise, always address individuals by their professional name and title; i.e. “Dear Dr. Smith” as opposed to “Hi John”.

Send a personalized email that indicates why you are interested in working with this specific person/research group. Never send a generic/mass message addressed to multiple people (it will almost certainly get ignored/deleted).

If you already know your potential supervisor the easiest thing to do is simply ask them if they are available to meet with you to discuss potential research opportunities. You can do this in person, via email or by phone. 

If you do not yet know your supervisor a concise, well written email is an appropriate method of initial contact as it will give the recipient time to read over the details and absorb all of the information. Randomly approaching them in the hallway and springing the idea on them is probably not a good idea. However, introducing yourself at a departmental function, poster day or other networking event and letting them know about your interest in their research would be an excellent first step.

Your initial contact with a potential supervisor should serve several purposes:

  • Discuss your interest in the potential supervisor’s research and your desire to participate in their research program.
  • Provide a brief introduction of you and your background (i.e. why you would be a good fit for their team)
  • Provide information on what type of opportunity you are seeking – volunteer, work study, summership, part-time, full-time, etc. If you are hoping to apply to a specific funding program include some basic information on the program in case they are not familiar with it. For example, if you wish to participate in the SSRP you could include a brief summary of how the program operates, a link to the program website, and a copy of the SSRP Factsheet for Potential Supervisors. Think of the benefits of the program to the supervisor. For example, the SSRP provides them with the salary for a full-time research assistant for two months.
  • Determine if the recipient is interested in potentially being your supervisor. This of course will depend on what you have to offer them. By initiating contact you have already demonstrated your initiative and interest in participating in research; hopefully you have also showcased your excellent communications skills. Closing your email with a suggestion to set up a meeting to discuss your qualifications (and what opportunities/projects the supervisors has available) is a good step.
  • If the first supervisor you approach is not interested, don’t despair! Keep looking and contact another potential supervisor; most faculty members are open to being involved in student research. Asking the Student Research Coordinator for a list of past SSRP supervisors in your area of interest can also help you find a potential supervisor who is open to participation.

Think of this meeting as a job interview. Your potential supervisor will be evaluating you and determining if you are a good fit for their research program. This is especially true if you did not know the supervisor before you approached them about participating in the SSRP.

  •  Bring your resume and be prepared to discuss your previous work experience, academic interests, professional goals and qualifications.
  • Some potential supervisors may be interested in receiving a copy of your transcripts or a sample of your written work. Discuss this prior to the meeting and be sure to bring copies of the appropriate documents to the meeting.
  • Ensure you understand and are knowledgeable about your potential supervisor’s research program and make a list of questions you have about their work.
  • Dress professionally and use appropriate dialogue throughout the interview.
  • As with any job interview introduce yourself with a smile and offer a firm handshake.
  • While discussing your interest in their research mention the skills and attributes that you could contribute to their research team.
  • If you want to apply to a specific program, such as the SSRP, ensure you mention the benefits to them and outline the rules, application process and deadlines.
  • Be considerate of your potential supervisor’s time by coming prepared and not stretching the meeting out unnecessarily and show your appreciation by thanking them for taking time to meet with you.

The initial meeting will also give you a chance to determine if this is the right opportunity for you.

  • What kind of supervisor are they?
  • Will they be doing the day-to-day supervision themselves? In many cases your initial training and day-to-day activities will be overseen by another team member such as a lab manager, postdoctoral fellow, resident, graduate student etc. this is especially true in large, well-established research groups.
  • Find out who you else you will be working with and determine if you are comfortable with their supervisory style, personality etc. It is always helpful to meet with current lab members to get a feel for the work environment and team dynamic.
  • What expectations does the supervisor have for you in terms of work hours, project deliverables etc. For example, what happens if the project takes longer than expected? (e.g. takes longer than the funding period) are you expected/willing to stay on and finish the project? What if your funding application is unsuccessful? Are you willing to volunteer? Does the supervisor have other funding available? Etc.

 If your potential supervisor had questions you could not answer at the meeting (e.g. about a specific funding program you are eligible for) find out the answers as soon as possible and contact the supervisor with the correct information.

  • If your potential supervisor agrees to supervise you for the SSRP or another opportunity congratulations! Work with them to ensure paperwork or applications are completed and submitted prior to any deadlines.
  • If your potential supervisor seems interested in hiring you but is not yet ready to make a decision, follow up with a phone call or email a few days after your meeting.
  • If your potential supervisor has no suitable research opportunities available ask them if they could refer you to a colleague who may be interested in taking on a student.

  • Remember that due to budgetary constraints not everyone who applies to the SSRP or other summership programs will get funded. If you are serious about being involved in research ensure you apply to as many different programs as possible to maximize your chances of getting funded
  • If you are talking to more than one potential supervisor about possible positions ensure that you are open and honest regarding your actions and decisions. The research community is more interconnected than you might think and leaving a negative impression on one person could adversely affect you in the future.
  • If you are new to research consider volunteering. This provides you with an opportunity to “get your foot in the door” and may lead to a funded position in the future. It is much easier for a potential supervisor to commit to funding a student who has already proven that they can be a valuable part of the research team.
  • Many students start out volunteering during the fall semester and progress to either a part-time work-learn position or a fully funded summership in subsequent semesters.