Tips for finding a research supervisor in the Faculty of Medicine.These tips are aimed at students seeking a UBC Faculty of Medicine supervisor for the FoM Summer Student Research Program (FoM SSRP) or similar summership programs so the information provided may not be applicable for all situations.
- Identify Researchers of Interest
- Prepare to Approach a Potential Supervisor
- Contact a Potential Supervisor
- Meet with Your Potential Supervisor
- Post-Meeting Follow up
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 Faculty’s Divisions, Departments/Schools, or Centres, or the focus of a Research Program or Centre at one of our affiliated Research Institutes.
Understand the structure of the Faculty of Medicine: What is a Division? Department? Centre?
- The UBC Faculty of Medicine (FoM) is divided into 22 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. For example, two divisions within the Department of Surgery are Neurosurgery and Radiation Oncology.
- In addition to their departmental affiliation, many FoM researchers are also affiliated with FoM Research Centres or Institutes. Centres include researchers from different faculties and/or departments with a common research focus, while Institutes consist of a number of centres or research groups that are associated with a single geographic location or administrative structure. Individuals in Research Centres or Institutes can be FoM researchers or researchers from other UBC faculties, universities, or institutions.
- Note that only senate approved Research Centres are listed on the FoM website. Additional research centres and research groups are listed on individual Research Institute websites.
Discover what research is being conducted in the FoM and who is doing it
- Talk to your instructors, clinical advisors, teaching assistants, etc. Read researcher profiles on FoM Department, School or Research Centre/Institute websites, or Health Authority or Health Authority Research Institute websites. VCHRI, CFRI and PHCRI all have online researcher databases. Many Research Centres/Institutes also send out e-mail bulletins that you can subscribe to.
- Search the UBC Research Supervisors database.
- Browse past projects on the FoM SSRP website or look at the list of previously funded FoM SSRP projects here.
- If you’re having difficulty, contact the FoM Student Research & Education Coordinator or one of the local research coordinators from the distributed campuses. Together we maintain databases of researchers who are open to working with students.
- Read UBC Medical Journal or other Faculty of Medicine (FoM) or UBC news.
- If you are interested in clinical research, search the Patient-oriented Research Repository.
Before Approaching a Faculty Member
- 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 (e.g. specific lab techniques or computer knowledge) and soft skills (e.g. communication, time management, adaptability, etc.).
- If you plan to discuss a specific funding opportunity or program, such as the FoM SSRP, be prepared to answer questions about the rules, application process and deadlines of the program(s).
Do I need to have my own project idea?
No. Typically supervisors do not expect students to approach them with a specific project idea.
- Researchers generally have ongoing research programs encompassing specific topics/projects. Most will have specific projects ideas in mind already (but there are often opportunities to customize project ideas to better suit individual 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. Finding an experienced research supervisor to provide guidance and advice will help you develop a well-designed, scientifically rigorous project.
Contact a Potential Supervisor
- Use appropriate/professional language; check email carefully for spelling and grammatical errors.
- Send email from a suitable email address (i.e. not firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Until confirming otherwise, address individuals by their professional name and title; i.e. “Dear Dr. Smith” not “Hi Jennie”.
Initial contact Methods
- Send a concise, personalized email that indicates why you are interested in working with this specific person/research group; a generic/mass message is likely to be ignored/deleted.
- Alternatively, introduce yourself at a departmental function, poster day or other suitable networking event.
- If you already know your potential supervisor, simply ask them if they are available to meet with you to discuss potential research opportunities.
Your initial contact with a potential supervisor should serve several purposes:
- Mention your interest in their research and desire to participate in their research program.
- Provide a brief introduction indicating why you would be a good fit for their team.
- Mention the type of opportunity you are seeking – volunteer, work study, summership, part-time, full-time, etc.
- If you hope to apply to a specific funding program include basic information on the program (1-2 sentences) in case they are not familiar with it.
- If the first researcher you approach doesn’t have any opportunities, don’t despair! Keep looking, most faculty members are open to being involved in student research.
- If a researcher doesn’t have any current opportunities available, don’t be afraid to ask if they know of a colleague who may have a suitable opportunity.
Meet with Your Potential Supervisor
Treat the meeting like a job interview. Your potential supervisor will be evaluating you and determining if you are a good fit for their research team and program.
- Dress professionally and use appropriate dialogue and body language throughout the meeting.
- Bring your resume and any other requested documents (transcripts, funding program information, etc.).
- Be prepared to discuss your previous experience, academic interests, professional goals and qualifications.
- Become familiar with their research before the meeting so you are prepared to discuss potential opportunities including skills and attributes that you could contribute to the research team.
- Be considerate of their time: come prepared and keep the meeting on schedule. Thank 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.
- Will they be doing the day-to-day supervision or will it be done by a lab manager, postdoctoral fellow, resident, graduate student, etc. What is their supervisory style? Personality?
- Who else will you be working with? It is always helpful to meet with current team 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? 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?
Post-Meeting Follow Up
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 requested information.
- If they agree to supervise you for the FoM SSRP, or another opportunity, congratulations! Work with them to ensure applications are completed and submitted prior to the deadline(s).
- If they seem interested in hiring you but are not yet ready to make a decision, follow up with a phone call or email a few days after your meeting.
- If they do not have a suitable research opportunity available ask them if they could refer you to a colleague who may be interested in taking on a student.
- Due to budgetary constraints not everyone who applies to the FoM SSRP or other summer studentship programs will get funded. If you are serious about being involved in research, ensure you and your supervisor apply to multiple programs to maximize your chances of getting funded.
- Applying to different programs with different supervisors is not recommended – if you are offered both awards you’ll have to turn one down leaving that supervisor in the lurch. The research community is fairly interconnected 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 their value to 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.