So you want me to be your research supervisor or referee?

This post is a revised version of an article I wrote around 2017.

These tips may also be useful for other prospective supervisors, and I strongly recommend delving into the references provided at the end. Further, as many organizations mandate 2 or 3 referee reports, it’s essential to have experience working on various projects or classes with multiple (senior) academics from the outset.

Will you be my supervisor?

Following are a few things you should consider before contacting me:

  • I’m willing to consider PhD, MSc, and final-year undergraduate students. I prefer full-time students over part-time or course-based graduate programs.
  • I’m equally interested in basic and applied research, especially ones that could have direct applications.
  • I’m more interested in Distributed Systems (Blockchain, Cloud, and P2P), Computer Security, Software Architecture, Data Engineering, IoT, and Performance Engineering. I’m keen on multi-disciplinary applications that have a connection to these areas. I have realized that areas like image processing, natural language processing, bioinformatics, and UI/UX engineering don’t excite me.

Qualities that I look for:

  • Basic domain knowledge and awareness of current topics.
  • Good analytical and programming skills.
  • Grit, get-go attitude, and professional ethics.
  • Avid reader and curiosity.
  • While good writing and presentation skills are important, eagerness to improve your writing and presentation is even more important.

What to be included in your request message/email:

  • Introduce yourself (2 sentences).
  • Groundwork you have done so far in the area (3-5 sentences).
  • What would you like to work on (7-10 sentences)?
  • Which of my work you are interested in, how to improve them, even why they don’t make sense, and why I should consider your idea (3 – 5 sentences)
  • Your CV and transcript – Know the difference between a CV and a resume.

Will you be my referee?

The decision-makers for your next graduate program or job rely heavily on what your referees have to say, extending beyond the details listed in your CV/resume. Beyond assessing your performance in classes, projects, and professional or volunteer engagements, they are keen on understanding your intellectual ability, creativity, problem-solving skills, capacity to work independently and collaboratively, proficiency in English communication (both spoken and written), and overall attitude. Qualities such as dependability, assertiveness, punctuality, openness to feedback, and honesty are also scrutinized. Some organizations even track the credibility of referees and their recommendations, so a strong recommendation puts the referee’s reputation at stake if the recommended student falls short. To provide an accurate testimony of your achievements and capabilities, I need to genuinely know you. Therefore, I may consent to being listed as a referee or writing a letter of recommendation based on the following considerations:

  1. Have done a project under my supervision (being a panel member isn’t sufficient)?
  2. Have taken at least 2 classes where you have gained an A- or above (at least one class needs to be 25 students or less)?
  3. Have I seen and evaluated your writing, presentations, projects, and other forms of tangible work?
  4. Have you led extracurricular activities of the department/university under my supervision (being a member is insufficient)?
  5. Do you have a demonstrated track record of the ability to work under minimum guidance, teamwork, dependability, ethics, and clear focus which I had an opportunity to witness?
  6. Have you worked with me for 3+ months full-time or 6+ months part-time?

If you could claim at least 3 of the above, send a request message including the following:

  • Introduce yourself (1 sentence). If I have a reason to remember you, 1 sentence should be enough.
  • Response to above 6 items (100 – 200 words).
  • Explain why you are applying for the programme or job (50 – 100 words).
  • If it is for a research programme, attach your research and personal statement.
  • Your CV/resume and transcript you plan to submit to the university/company.