How to find a supervisor

Supervisors play an integral role in your experience as a research degree student. The relationship between you and your supervisor will have a significant impact on the positive and successful completion of your degree, so finding the right supervisor is crucial.

The first step

Before applying for candidature, all applicants (other than those applying to study in the Faculty of Business and Law) must contact a supervisor within the relevant faculty, school or institute to discuss research opportunities. 

Business and Law applicants are encouraged to email the faculty directly for all supervisor related enquiries.

Contact a supervisor

Defining your area of interest

Identify your area of interest and determine which field of research expertise it belongs to. Selecting a topic which falls into one of Deakin's defined research priority areas ensures that you will have access to the world-class resources, peer support, and research staff you need.

Key research themes

Deakin's four main research areas are:

Choosing the appropriate faculty

Your supervisor's field of research and areas of interest should align closely with your own.

Deakin is divided into the following four faculties:

Making the right choice

You'll need to find a supervisor who you can work well with both professionally and personally, as you'll be working with them for the duration of your degree.

Questions to ask

To determine if a supervisor is right for you, you might like to ask:

  • what areas of research do they specialise in?
  • what areas of research have they previously worked in?
  • what areas of research do they have experience in supervising?
  • do they have time to supervise you?
  • what is their preferred working relationship, i.e. what level of guidance do they offer, mode and frequency of communications, expectations of setting milestones, how quickly do they provide feedback?
  • what is the research culture of the workplace where the supervisor is located?
  • how many students are they currently supervising and have supervised to completion in the past?
  • what percentage of their students completed their degree?
  • how many of them completed in the normal candidature time limit?
  • how successful were those students in the examination (e.g. did they pass first time or was a re-examination required)?
  • what were the employment outcomes of previous students?
  • what sort of publication track record did they have when they completed?

Will I always get the supervisor I want?

Deakin may not be able to appoint the person you request as your supervisor, and not all research topics are suitable for higher degrees by research. 

The topic you choose must provide sufficient scope to explore a range of research techniques, and be likely to lead to sufficient results for an acceptable thesis to be produced within the normal period of candidature.

Appointment of supervisors

If you're offered a place as a postgraduate research student, Deakin will provide a qualified team of at least two supervisors who will guide and support you through every stage of your degree. 

The team is established and maintained for each student on the recommendation of the head of school and Pro Vice Chancellor or institute director. Team supervision gives students formal access to a wider range of informed views and opinions.

Who will be in my supervision team?

Supervision teams must include either a principal or an executive supervisor, and will normally have one of the following compositions:

  • principal supervisor plus at least one associate and/or external supervisor
  • two co-supervisors, one of whom will be the executive supervisor, plus possibly one or more associate and/or external supervisor/s
  • an executive supervisor and a research adviser, possibly with one or more associate and/or external supervisor/s.

The role of principal supervisor

The principal supervisor is a university staff member with relevant qualifications and research experience in the same area as the student they are supervising. 

This person will have previous supervision experience and needs to have supervised at least one previous student to completion at that level. 

He or she will provide instruction, assistance, a sounding board for ideas and plans, and be available to review written material.

Your relationship with your supervisor

The relationship between you and your supervisor will change during candidature. At the outset, expect help in clarifying the research project and preparing a realistic research plan and timetable. 

If you need to develop new skills and techniques, the supervisor can help with advice and possibly instruction.

The next stages of your relationship

As the project proceeds, your supervisor's role becomes one of assistance in monitoring progress. Try out ideas, discuss experimental results and write up sections of the work for your supervisor to review. 

Towards the end of the project you’ll become the authority on the topic and your supervisor will become a senior colleague. 

You'll make the greatest use of the supervisor's experience and knowledge of standards, but he or she may not be able to provide technical help because you have become the expert.

Support and communication

Even the strongest commitment to your research degree can be disrupted by a personal crisis. Your ability to succeed may depend on how well you use the assistance available. 

Always keep your supervisor informed so they can take circumstances into consideration when providing advice. Your supervisor can also direct you to university support services provided by the Division of Student Life, which offers a counselling service.

Scheduling and frequency of meetings

The supervision process will only be successful if there are regular and frequent meetings and discussions between you and your supervisor. 

From the outset, establish an agreed timetable. Supervisors have many demands on their time and may need gentle reminders of meetings. 

How often you need to meet will depend on the nature of your project and the stage of the project you are at.