How to Find and Contact Potential Supervisors while Applying for MS in Canada/US

The majority of Masters (MS) programs in Canada require securing a potential supervisor in your desired field of studies prior to submitting an application. If you are particularly keen on pursuing a thesis-based or research-based Master’s program, this is kind of mandatory. In fact, even if you are looking for MS at the top universities in the US, contacting potential supervisors is recommended. In this post, we will discuss how to find and contact potential supervisors while applying for MS in Canada (or US).

Why is it important to contact supervisors prior to submitting an application?

A supervisor is a professor (or faculty member) who oversees your research and the development of your thesis. They provide mentorship, support, and guidance throughout your Master’s program. 

Your relationship with your supervisor will be one of the most important factors contributing to the success of your graduate studies.

Taking the time to find a supervisor who will complement your research and learning style will help to ensure the success of this relationship.

Your master’s thesis or dissertation is an important component of your degree program. Additionally, it will also shape your future job prospects. Read How to Choose a Master’s Dissertation (Thesis) Topic to Improve Job Prospects.

So, by all means, you should make sure if you are going to work with the right mentor.

Do all Masters Program in Canada Require Contacting Supervisors Before Submitting an Application?

Every department at Canadian universities has different admissions procedures. While some will expect you to connect with a potential supervisor prior to applying, others will assign a supervisor to you after you have been accepted.

Make sure to carefully read the requirements of the program into which you are applying, available on the departmental website, to find out the supervisory procedures for that department. If it is unclear, contact the Graduate Program Director to clarify.

For coursework-based and professional Master’s programs, usually, you don’t need to contact potential supervisors. So, the best way forward would be to contact the department/program graduate coordinator to determine if having a supervisor before you apply is required for your program.

Your graduate or course coordinator will be able to answer questions about program requirements, the admission process, supplemental materials, and funding opportunities.

This video will help you as you prepare to research, contact, and select a supervisor for your graduate studies.

How to Find Potential Supervisors for MS?

Start with asking yourself questions about your own research interests and learning style:

  • What topics of research do I want to explore? Why do I find a particular topic or area of study interesting? How familiar am I with this topic?
  • What skills and knowledge do I have that complement my research interests? What expert knowledge do I want to acquire? What skills do I want to enhance or develop?
  • What level of supervision do I thrive under when completing independent learning? Am I an independent learner and worker, or do I require more supervisor involvement and guidance?

These questions will help you understand your personal needs as a graduate student. It is important that both the student and supervisor are able to communicate clearly and to understand roles, responsibilities, and expectations.

Once you’ve determined your field of study, and, if the graduate program of your interest requires securing a potential supervisor at pre-admission stage, you can begin your search. 

What to look for in Potential Supervisors?

By looking at a Faculty member’s CV and talking to them as well as to their current and former students, you can get a good idea as to who might be the best supervisor for you. 

A good supervisor should be able to provide you with some direction, while allowing you to take initiative. There are a number of factors that can promote a successful supervisory relationship. These include:

  • Expertise: Are they working on your area of research?
  • Experience: Have they supervised many students before?
  • Availability: Will they be available to meet with you when you need them?
  • Research agenda: How active is their research?
  • Publishing: How often do they publish? Do they co-author with other professors in the department or with students?
  • Collegiality and interpersonal relationship: How well will you get on with each other?

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to identify potential supervisors or MS in Canada/US:

  • Browse the Program Pages of your target/shortlisted universities to identify the department in which your research of interest is taking place.
  • Faculty profiles or websites will often provide details about conference participation, course instruction, publications, and CVs.
  • Create a shortlist of potential supervisors from the Faculty members working in your area. In comparing them, try to identify who would be the ideal supervisor for you both in terms of research interests and teaching/learning style.
  • Review Faculty member research profiles to locate potential supervisors with research interests similar to your own. Check Departmental websites under the menu heading ‘Faculty’.
  • Think laterally – if you don’t find what you’re looking for in one department, look at the research profiles of Faculty in related fields.
  • Consider how your research interests and experience may intersect with a faculty member’s and identify opportunities to expand your knowledge in the desired area.
  • Use your findings to further refine the list of potential supervisors to explore further.

How to Contact Potential Supervisors for MS?

  • Review the faculty member’s information online and become familiar with their research. Consider their publications as well as those of their graduate students.
  • Write a concise introductory email to the faculty member you would like to work with. Introduce yourself, your academic credentials (GPA, academic awards, research experience, etc.), the kind of research you would like to pursue, and the reason for it.
  • Few universities (e.g. Queen’s or Lethbridge) have got specific forms for contacting potential supervisors.
  • Use formal salutations (“Dr./Professor” followed by the last name) and close (“Yours sincerely” followed by your name and contact information). Attach your current CV and transcripts.
  • It is advisable to have a CV/Resume prepared with your educational history, research interests, and CV/Resume highlights (e.g., work experience, scholarships, publications, and conference papers) to aid you as you fill in the contact form. 
  • If you have your own funding (e.g., external scholarship), specify the source and amount you have been awarded.
  • Advise them you are going to apply for a graduate program at the university and ask if s/he might be interested in serving as your supervisor for a program.
  • Ask for further discussion by phone, video conference, or in-person (if possible).
  • If you don’t receive an immediate response, do not be discouraged. Faculty members might just need some time to review and get back to you, especially in the middle of a busy semester or during the summer if they are in the field or away at a conference.
  • After contacting a potential supervisor, please allow 5 business days for the faculty member to respond. Faculty members are very busy and it may take time for them to respond to your email.

How to Increase the Chances of Getting Response from Potential Supervisors?

  • While sending the email, stress how your interests align and why you’d like to join the professor’s research group.
  • Be specific. Send a specific email that makes it clear you know the area of research of the potential supervisor and that it aligns with your interests.
  • You should understand the potential supervisor’s research and read their recent publications. In the email, you must clearly express interest in some areas of that research.
  • Gain as much relevant project and/or lab experience as possible. This will help you find out how you like to learn and conduct research. Then, you can search for potential supervisors who match your learning and working styles.
  • Tailor your email to the individual recipient and do not send a general email to multiple faculty members. Ideally, you should not reach out to more than three professors in the same department. Professors within the same department are likely to discuss the resumes.
  • Talk to current grad students and/or recent alumni (who are working with your shortlisted potential supervisors) to discuss their research, workloads, working experience with supervisors, the application process, etc.
  • Do follow up if you don’t receive a reply after one week

Example of Email for Contacting Potential Supervisors

Dear Dr. Smith,

I am a prospective graduate student at the University of XX. I am in my final year of the undergraduate program in Biology with a focus on plant breeding research. My GPA is 86% and my TOEFL iBT is 100.

My current research project for my master’s program is in canola breeding for fungus disease resistance and I have just submitted a co-authored article which was accepted by XXX. I have attached a brief research interest statement with more details. I was reading about recent work in genetically modified wheat on the website and it looks very interesting. I am interested in building upon my master’s experience and expanding my research into related areas. I have attached a copy of my C.V. for your review.

I wish to begin MS in XX in September YYYY and would be very interested in working under your supervision. I would appreciate if you could review the attached documents and let me know what the possibilities might be.  

Yours Sincerely,

Related Articles:

4 Common Mistakes to Avoid While Applying to US and Canada for MS Programs

How to Contact Potential Supervisors for PhD in STEM fields

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

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