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  • v.17(9); 2021 Sep

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Ten simple rules for choosing a PhD supervisor

Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Catherine Bannon

J. scott p. mccain, introduction.

The PhD beckons. You thought long and hard about why you want to do it, you understand the sacrifices and commitments it entails, and you have decided that it is the right thing for you. Congratulations! Undertaking a doctoral degree can be an extremely rewarding experience, greatly enhancing your personal, intellectual, and professional development. If you are still on the fence about whether or not you want to pursue a PhD, see [ 1 , 2 ] and others to help you decide.

As a PhD student in the making, you will have many important decisions to consider. Several of them will depend on your chosen discipline and research topic, the institution you want to attend, and even the country where you will undertake your degree. However, one of the earliest and most critical decisions you will need to make transcends most other decisions: choosing your PhD thesis supervisor. Your PhD supervisor will strongly influence the success and quality of your degree as well as your general well-being throughout the program. It is therefore vital to choose the right supervisor for you. A wrong choice or poor fit can be disastrous on both a personal and professional levels—something you obviously want to avoid. Unfortunately, however, most PhD students go through the process of choosing a supervisor only once and thus do not get the opportunity to learn from previous experiences. Additionally, many prospective PhD students do not have access to resources and proper guidance to rely on when making important academic decisions such as those involved in choosing a PhD supervisor.

In this short guide, we—a group of PhD students with varied backgrounds, research disciplines, and academic journeys—share our collective experiences with choosing our own PhD supervisors. We provide tips and advice to help prospective students in various disciplines, including computational biology, in their quest to find a suitable PhD supervisor. Despite procedural differences across countries, institutions, and programs, the following rules and discussions should remain helpful for guiding one’s approach to selecting their future PhD supervisor. These guidelines mostly address how to evaluate a potential PhD supervisor and do not include details on how you might find a supervisor. In brief, you can find a supervisor anywhere: seminars, a class you were taught, internet search of interesting research topics, departmental pages, etc. After reading about a group’s research and convincing yourself it seems interesting, get in touch! Make sure to craft an e-mail carefully, demonstrating you have thought about their research and what you might do in their group. After finding one or several supervisors of interest, we hope that the rules bellow will help you choose the right supervisor for you.

Rule 1: Align research interests

You need to make sure that a prospective supervisor studies, or at the very least, has an interest in what you want to study. A good starting point would be to browse their personal and research group websites (though those are often outdated), their publication profile, and their students’ theses, if possible. Keep in mind that the publication process can be slow, so recent publications may not necessarily reflect current research in that group. Pay special attention to publications where the supervisor is senior author—in life sciences, their name would typically be last. This would help you construct a mental map of where the group interests are going, in addition to where they have been.

Be proactive about pursuing your research interests, but also flexible: Your dream research topic might not currently be conducted in a particular group, but perhaps the supervisor is open to exploring new ideas and research avenues with you. Check that the group or institution of interest has the facilities and resources appropriate for your research, and/or be prepared to establish collaborations to access those resources elsewhere. Make sure you like not only the research topic, but also the “grunt work” it requires, as a topic you find interesting may not be suitable for you in terms of day-to-day work. You can look at the “Methods” sections of published papers to get a sense for what this is like—for example, if you do not like resolving cryptic error messages, programming is probably not for you, and you might want to consider a wet lab–based project. Lastly, any research can be made interesting, and interests change. Perhaps your favorite topic today is difficult to work with now, and you might cut your teeth on a different project.

Rule 2: Seek trusted sources

Discussing your plans with experienced and trustworthy people is a great way to learn more about the reputation of potential supervisors, their research group dynamics, and exciting projects in your field of interest. Your current supervisor, if you have one, could be aware of position openings that are compatible with your interests and time frame and is likely to know talented supervisors with good reputations in their fields. Professors you admire, reliable student advisors, and colleagues might also know your prospective supervisor on various professional or personal levels and could have additional insight about working with them. Listen carefully to what these trusted sources have to say, as they can provide a wealth of insider information (e.g., personality, reputation, interpersonal relationships, and supervisory styles) that might not be readily accessible to you.

Rule 3: Expectations, expectations, expectations

A considerable portion of PhD students feel that their program does not meet original expectations [ 3 ]. To avoid being part of this group, we stress the importance of aligning your expectations with the supervisor’s expectations before joining a research group or PhD program. Also, remember that one person’s dream supervisor can be another’s worst nightmare and vice versa—it is about a good fit for you. Identifying what a “good fit” looks like requires a serious self-appraisal of your goals (see Rule 1 ), working style (see Rule 5 ), and what you expect in a mentor (see Rule 4 ). One way to conduct this self-appraisal is to work in a research lab to get experiences similar to a PhD student (if this is possible).

Money!—Many people have been conditioned to avoid the subject of finances at all costs, but setting financial expectations early is crucial for maintaining your well-being inside and outside the lab. Inside the lab, funding will provide chemicals and equipment required for you to do cool research. It is also important to know if there will be sufficient funding for your potential projects to be completed. Outside the lab, you deserve to get paid a reasonable, livable stipend. What is the minimum required take-home stipend, or does that even exist at the institution you are interested in? Are there hard cutoffs for funding once your time runs out, or does the institution have support for students who take longer than anticipated? If the supervisor supplies the funding, do they end up cutting off students when funds run low, or do they have contingency plans? ( Fig 1 ).

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Professional development opportunities—A key aspect of graduate school training is professional development. In some research groups, it is normal for PhD students to mentor undergraduate students or take a semester to work in industry to get more diverse experiences. Other research groups have clear links with government entities, which is helpful for going into policy or government-based research. These opportunities (and others) are critical for your career and next steps. What are the career development opportunities and expectations of a potential supervisor? Is a potential supervisor happy to send students to workshops to learn new skills? Are they supportive of public outreach activities? If you are looking at joining a newer group, these sorts of questions will have to be part of the larger set of conversations about expectations. Ask: “What sort of professional development opportunities are there at the institution?”

Publications—Some PhD programs have minimum requirements for finishing a thesis (i.e., you must publish a certain number of papers prior to defending), while other programs leave it up to the student and supervisor to decide on this. A simple and important topic to discuss is: How many publications are expected from your PhD and when will you publish them? If you are keen to publish in high-impact journals, does your prospective supervisor share that aim? (Although question why you are so keen to do so, see the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment ( www.sfdora.org ) to learn about the pitfalls of journal impact factor.)

Rule 4: It takes two to tango

Sooner or later, you will get to meet and interview with a prospective PhD supervisor. This should go both ways: Interview them just as much as they are interviewing you. Prepare questions and pay close attention to how they respond. For example, ask them about their “lab culture,” research interests (especially for the future/long term), and what they are looking for in a graduate student. Do you feel like you need to “put on an act” to go along with the supervisor (beyond just the standard interview mode)? Represent yourself, and not the person you think they are looking for. All of us will have some interviews go badly. Remember that discovering a poor fit during the interview has way fewer consequences than the incompatibility that could arise once you have committed to a position.

To come up with good questions for the prospective supervisor, first ask yourself questions. What are you looking for in a mentor? People differ in their optimal levels of supervision, and there is nothing wrong with wanting more or less than your peers. How much career guidance do you expect and does the potential supervisor respect your interests, particularly if your long-term goals do not include academia? What kind of student might not thrive in this research group?

Treat the PhD position like a partnership: What do you seek to get out of it? Keep in mind that a large portion of research is conducted by PhD students [ 4 ], so you are also an asset. Your supervisor will provide guidance, but the PhD is your work. Make sure you and your mentor are on the same page before committing to what is fundamentally a professional contract akin to an apprenticeship (see “ Rule 3 ”).

Rule 5: Workstyle compatibility

Sharing interests with a supervisor does not necessarily guarantee you would work well together, and just because you enjoyed a course by a certain professor does not mean they are the right PhD supervisor for you. Make sure your expectations for work and work–life approaches are compatible. Do you thrive on structure, or do you need freedom to proceed at your own pace? Do they expect you to be in the lab from 6:00 AM to midnight on a regular basis (red flag!)? Are they comfortable with you working from home when you can? Are they around the lab enough for it to work for you? Are they supportive of alternative work hours if you have other obligations (e.g., childcare, other employment, extracurriculars)? How is the group itself organized? Is there a lab manager or are the logistics shared (fairly?) between the group members? Discuss this before you commit!

Two key attributes of a research group are the supervisor’s career stage and number of people in the group. A supervisor in a later career stage may have more established research connections and protocols. An earlier career stage supervisor comes with more opportunities to shape the research direction of the lab, but less access to academic political power and less certainty in what their supervision style will be (even to themselves). Joining new research groups provides a great opportunity to learn how to build a lab if you are considering that career path but may take away time and energy from your thesis project. Similarly, be aware of pros and cons of different lab sizes. While big labs provide more opportunity for collaborations and learning from fellow lab members, their supervisors generally have less time available for each trainee. Smaller labs tend to have better access to the supervisor but may be more isolating [ 5 , 6 ]. Also note that large research groups tend to be better for developing extant research topics further, while small groups can conduct more disruptive research [ 7 ].

Rule 6: Be sure to meet current students

Meeting with current students is one of the most important steps prior to joining a lab. Current students will give you the most direct and complete sense of what working with a certain supervisor is actually like. They can also give you a valuable sense of departmental culture and nonacademic life. You could also ask to meet with other students in the department to get a broader sense of the latter. However, if current students are not happy with their current supervisor, they are unlikely to tell you directly. Try to ask specific questions: “How often do you meet with your supervisor?”, “What are the typical turnaround times for a paper draft?”, “How would you describe the lab culture?”, “How does your supervisor react to mistakes or unexpected results?”, “How does your supervisor react to interruptions to research from, e.g., personal life?”, and yes, even “What would you say is the biggest weakness of your supervisor?”

Rule 7: But also try to meet past students

While not always possible, meeting with past students can be very informative. Past students give you information on career outcomes (i.e., what are they doing now?) and can provide insight into what the lab was like when they were in it. Previous students will provide a unique perspective because they have gone through the entire process, from start to finish—and, in some cases, no longer feel obligated to speak well of their now former supervisor. It can also be helpful to look at previous students’ experiences by reading the acknowledgement section in their theses.

Rule 8: Consider the entire experience

Your PhD supervisor is only one—albeit large—piece of your PhD puzzle. It is therefore essential to consider your PhD experience as whole when deciding on a supervisor. One important aspect to contemplate is your mental health. Graduate students have disproportionately higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to the general population [ 8 ], so your mental health will be tested greatly throughout your PhD experience. We suggest taking the time to reflect on what factors would enable you to do your best work while maintaining a healthy work–life balance. Does your happiness depend on surfing regularly? Check out coastal areas. Do you despise being cold? Consider being closer to the equator. Do you have a deep-rooted phobia of koalas? Maybe avoid Australia. Consider these potentially even more important questions like: Do you want to be close to your friends and family? Will there be adequate childcare support? Are you comfortable with studying abroad? How does the potential university treat international or underrepresented students? When thinking about your next steps, keep in mind that although obtaining your PhD will come with many challenges, you will be at your most productive when you are well rested, financially stable, nourished, and enjoying your experience.

Rule 9: Trust your gut

You have made it to our most “hand-wavy” rule! As academics, we understand the desire for quantifiable data and some sort of statistic to make logical decisions. If this is more your style, consider every interaction with a prospective supervisor, from the first e-mail onwards, as a piece of data.

However, there is considerable value in trusting gut instincts. One way to trust your gut is to listen to your internal dialogue while making your decision on a PhD supervisor. For example, if your internal dialogue includes such phrases as “it will be different for me,” “I’ll just put my head down and work hard,” or “maybe their students were exaggerating,” you might want to proceed with caution. If you are saying “Wow! How are they so kind and intelligent?” or “I cannot wait to start!”, then you might have found a winner ( Fig 2 ).

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Rule 10: Wash, rinse, repeat

The last piece of advice we give you is to do this lengthy process all over again. Comparing your options is a key step during the search for a PhD supervisor. By screening multiple different groups, you ultimately learn more about what red flags to look for, compatible work styles, your personal expectations, and group atmospheres. Repeat this entire process with another supervisor, another university, or even another country. We suggest you reject the notion that you would be “wasting someone’s time.” You deserve to take your time and inform yourself to choose a PhD supervisor wisely. The time and energy invested in a “failed” supervisor search would still be far less than what is consumed by a bad PhD experience ( Fig 3 ).

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The more supervisors your interview and the more advice you get from peers, the more apparent these red flags will become.


Pursuing a PhD can be an extremely rewarding endeavor and a time of immense personal growth. The relationship you have with your PhD supervisor can make or break an entire experience, so make this choice carefully. Above, we have outlined some key points to think about while making this decision. Clarifying your own expectations is a particularly important step, as conflicts can arise when there are expectation mismatches. In outlining these topics, we hope to share pieces of advice that sometimes require “insider” knowledge and experience.

After thoroughly evaluating your options, go ahead and tackle the PhD! In our own experiences, carefully choosing a supervisor has led to relationships that morph from mentor to mentee into a collaborative partnership where we can pose new questions and construct novel approaches to answer them. Science is hard enough by itself. If you choose your supervisor well and end up developing a positive relationship with them and their group, you will be better suited for sound and enjoyable science.

Funding Statement

The authors received no specific funding for this work.

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How to choose the right PhD supervisor

4 red flags to be wary of in the search for a good match.

Gemma Conroy

phd supervisor search

Credit: Thomas Barwick/Getty

23 June 2020

phd supervisor search

Thomas Barwick/Getty

A PhD supervisor can make or break a candidate’s progress. It’s estimated that roughly half of all PhD candidates in North America do not complete their doctoral studies due to a lack of support from their supervisor.

“It’s a decision that should be taken very seriously,” says Anna Sverdlik, an educational psychologist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada.

“This is the person you could be working with for several years and it can shape who you are as an academic.”

Below are four tips that can help PhD candidates choose a suitable supervisor , and the red flags to watch out for:

1. Interview the supervisor

While most candidates focus on trying to impress a prospective supervisor, Emma Beckett took the opposite approach when she was choosing between institutions for her PhD.

“I approached each meeting as if I were interviewing the supervisor, and not the other way around,” says Beckett, a molecular nutrition scientist at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia.

“Forget the power dynamic and remember it’s about what’s best for your development.”

Asking the right questions can give students a better sense of whether a supervisor is the best match for them, says Sverdlik, who studies motivation and wellbeing in doctoral students.

“Talk to them and see what kind of person they are,” she says. “Students are often too grateful when someone shows an interest, and this puts them at a disadvantage.”

Red flag: If a potential supervisor is difficult to pin down for a meeting, they are unlikely to treat their students as a priority down the line, says Beckett.

2. Get an outside perspective

Reaching out to former students, collaborators, and lab members can be a good way of forming an accurate view of a supervisor’s reputation, says Gerard Dericks from Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom, who studies PhD student satisfaction.

“You want to do a mini background check, as it’s difficult to tell how honest a researcher is during an interview.”

Speaking with former co-authors can also give candidates a better idea of how collaborative a supervisor is and how well their skills and research interests match, says Dericks.

Paying attention to how colleagues interact with the supervisor can also prevent candidates from entering a toxic situation.

Beckett says she experienced this first-hand at a lab meet-and-greet session when she was searching for a postdoc position. “Multiple students came knocking on the principal investigator’s door in tears,” she recalls. “That’s definitely a bad sign.”

Red flag: If a supervisor seems to prefer working alone or doesn’t include students as co-authors on their papers, it’s unlikely that they will help the candidate build their resumes, says Sverdlik.

3. Look beyond the PhD

Candidates should look for a supervisor who can help them develop the skills they need to progress in their career after completing their PhD, says Beckett.

“Too many students get caught up in the PhD topic or project, but it’s about building skills that can help you pivot into what you want to do next,” she says. “The outcome of a PhD is not about output, but who you are as a scientist.”

Sverdlik says that candidates should discuss professional development opportunities with potential supervisors, such as writing workshops , training in advanced statistics, and research integrity seminars.

Red flag: Too much emphasis on publishing papers can be a sign that the potential supervisor lacks integrity and isn’t focussed on helping their students’ skill development, says Beckett.

4. Consider the supervisor’s working style

Rather than choosing a supervisor for their prestige and research interests, Beckett says candidates should pay attention to the workplace culture and how things run day-to-day.

This can mean discussing expectations before committing to a potential supervisor, such as working hours, meeting frequency, and how the supervisor tracks their candidates’ progress, she says.

“Some students like to be micromanaged, while others prefer to do things in their own time,” says Beckett. “Finding out whether your day-to-day controls and procedures are compatible is a way of understanding their ‘big picture’ ethos without actually asking.”

Red flag: Prospective supervisors who expect candidates to work on weekends or be on-call outside of working hours are likely to be more interested in a student’s productivity than their growth and development, says Beckett.


Top tips for choosing a PhD Supervisor

Özge Özden lays out the pros and cons you need to consider when choosing a supervisor, as well as five key qualities to look out for

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Selecting a PhD supervisor is one of the most crucial – and difficult – decisions a young researcher will have to make. And while there is no failsafe method of choosing one, your decision will undoubtedly be influenced by the subject in which you intend to work, the sort of research you wish to do and your checklist of goals for your PhD.

It is unwise to dismiss the importance of any personality traits that you think may make a relationship with a supervisor difficult. Remember that, when doing research, there will be extreme highs and extreme lows throughout the duration of your PhD studies, so you should try to choose a supervisor with whom you can collaborate effectively during challenging circumstances. There are many supervisors out there, and it is almost always feasible to find someone with whom you can work well and produce a good research project.

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A good PhD supervisor has experience overseeing PhD students through to completion, has a strong publication record, is active in their research field, has enough time to provide adequate supervision, is genuinely interested in your project, can provide mentorship and has a supportive personality.

Numerous PhD students criticise their adviser/s and, due to unstable supervisor-student interactions, end up dropping out. Ineffective and uncooperative supervisors may cause a lot of research students to feel quite uncomfortable. This is doubly important given that 32 per cent of PhD candidates are at risk of developing or already suffer from depression.

The ideas and opinions of your adviser are very important when you choose your doctoral research topic. If a doctoral student works on a subject that always arouses their curiosity and excites them then their discoveries will also often be interesting and they will be more likely to succeed. Of course, if the doctoral supervisor is interested in the subject chosen by their student, then that supervisor will be able to guide their student better.

In my opinion, the key difficulty with completing a PhD is not so much found academically, rather the process is incredibly difficult psychologically and emotionally. And there is added emotional weight if you are pursuing a PhD in a foreign nation far from your home, family and friends. As a result, selecting a good, friendly PhD supervisor is critical for engendering a healthy, long-term educational programme in which you are supported psychologically and emotionally.

What are the qualities of a good supervisor?

1. Effective communicator

Let’s assume you have a supervisor, but it’s still early days and you still have time to leave his or her domain. If you don’t receive a response to your emails from them within a fair amount of time, you need to discuss this. Always talk first, but if it continues you might seriously think about switching supervisors, because if you end up with one who ignores your emails and/or social media communications, such inactivity will always end up causing you issues, either directly or indirectly. An ideal supervisor should reply to your emails and messages promptly, even those sent via WhatsApp or other messaging apps, and offer helpful criticism.

2. Passionate

An excellent supervisor is passionate about the work of their pupils. They should be someone who is inspiring and uplifting, who helps their students reach new heights. Someone is not a good supervisor if they lack enthusiasm and interest in their role as your mentor and do not offer verbal encouragement.  

3. Knowledgeable

Your supervisor ought to be informed and skilled in your area of study and have top-notch study methods and data analysis skills. If they do not, there is a higher probability you will experience difficulties with your academic studies.

4. Supportive of your career

You should try to choose a supervisor who has a demonstrable history of assisting students in launching their careers. Typically, a good supervisor would introduce pupils to his or her co-workers and let PhD students know about any seminars or conferences that are pertinent to their field of study and future plans. Additionally, a competent supervisor should encourage future partnerships once their student’s PhD studies are finished and make the publishing of their research products easier.

In order to support their academic careers, some faculty members who are not actively engaged in research take on PhD or masters students. How can you determine if they are active or not is the question. For a start, try looking up the potential supervisor’s research articles on Google Scholar, ResearchGate or other academic websites.

One of the most important aspects to consider when it comes to supervisors is their previous track record. Feel free to enquire how many research fellows or PhD students they have previously educated and what those fellows went on to achieve. How many went on to become successful academics? Finally, remember that it is usually helpful to spend some time working with your potential supervisor voluntarily before making your final decision.

Above all, remember that this is a significant choice; you should not make it without careful consideration.

Özge Özden is the dean of the faculty of a griculture at Near East University, North Cyprus, where she has been working since 2012.

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How to Choose a PhD Research Topic

From reading publications, talking to supervisors and using your career plans, read our guidance on choosing the right PhD Research Topic for you.

Gain valuable insight from our collection of exclusive interviews with both current and past PhD students. Learn from their best advice, personal challenges and career path after completing their doctorate.

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How to find a research supervisor

Check that the University can provide a suitable supervisor to support you while you undertake your research.

We recommend that you get in touch informally with your prospective supervisor or, more generally, the relevant school, before you submit a formal application.

Some schools may ask that you submit a research proposal before you formally apply, but others prefer you to submit a formal application at first – you should check the information provided by the school or research institute offering the programme you are interested to find out how they would prefer you to contact them in the first instance.

Research supervisors are either staff members of the University, or based in one of the research units or institutions associated with the University.

Supervisors are in high demand and may not be able to respond to your enquiry immediately, so please be patient. Some may already be supervising the maximum number of PhD students they can, and won’t be able to take on any new students.

To find a potential supervisor:

Find the school or research institute that is most relevant to your area of interest. If your proposed research is interdisciplinary, you may need to look at more than one school  -  List of our schools and departments  

  • Browse through the staff profiles on the school or institute website     
  • Check the procedure for contacting the potential supervisor with your initial enquiry or research proposal    
  • Check the availability of facilities and resources necessary for your research    
  • If you can’t find this information, or if you have further questions, you should contact the school's administrator

Multidisciplinary research

We welcome applications from students with interdisciplinary research interests.

You should contact supervisors in the areas you would like to research. You can discuss the possibility of being supervised collaboratively by people in different academic units.

The University of Edinburgh hosts a number of Global Academies, which facilitate interdisciplinary research across the world.

Global Academies

Research proposals

You will almost certainly need to write a research proposal in order to apply for your PhD.

Talk to your supervisor about whether you need to do this. You should also check the degree finder to see if you are expected to include anything specific in your proposal.

Our guide to writing a research proposal will take you through the process step-by-step:

How to write a research proposal

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Find a supervisor or research project

Graduate researchers at the University of Melbourne need at least two supervisors – one designated as the principal supervisor. Whether you want to join an established project with an assigned supervisory team or find supervisors for your own research project, the questions below may help you determine who is best placed to support your research journey:

  • Do they have expertise relevant to your intended research project?
  • Do they share your passion for your chosen topic?
  • Are they well connected with other researchers?
  • Have they developed skills in people management and mentoring?
  • What is their reputation amongst current and past PhD candidates?
  • Will you work well together? Consider your respective personalities and communication styles.

It’s worth discovering more about their supervision style, availability and accessibility, as well as the value of their feedback. Then search our list of 2500+ experts for research supervision or our list of available research projects.

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Your supervisors’ role

Your supervision team will:.

  • Guide and support you through all stages of your candidature and ensure you have access to necessary  resources and facilities to complete your research project.
  • Assist you to develop your research topic, questions, methodology and milestones for successful completion.
  • Provide constructive feedback on your written work and oral presentations within a reasonable agreed timeframe and provide detailed, specific and constructive feedback on thesis drafts.
  • Mentor you through the research process, providing support as you undertake new  tasks, and ensure that administrative work like ethics applications are completed or responded to in a timely way.
  • Maintain an agreed schedule of regular individual meetings with you.
  • Help you identify appropriate skills training and  professional development opportunities , including academic skills, external engagement (internships, industry mentoring programs), sessional teaching and PhD Program participation.
  • Help you  grow your professional networks by encouraging and supporting you to engage with the research community, both locally and internationally.
  • Be accessible to a reasonable extent via email, online or in person, should support be needed outside of the agreed meeting schedule.
  • Promptly attend to administrative tasks like progress reviews, requests for leave of absence or candidature variations.
  • Be familiar with, introduce you to and provide advice on all relevant University policies, including the  Graduate Research Training Policy and those on the conduct of research, ethical requirements, safe working practices, intellectual property and authorship.
  • Adhere to the  Principles of Respectful Supervisory Relationships , be considerate of wellbeing and, where appropriate, alert you to wellbeing services.
  • Advise on where to seek confidential advice and explain the process of making a formal complaint if difficult situations cannot be resolved, understanding that you may consult other individuals, including the Advisory Committee chair or confidential advisors, if you wish to raise any concerns.
  • Different members of your supervision team will contribute to your supervision in different ways but should work as a team to support you.

Advisory committee

Your supervision team is supported by your Advisory Committee , which should comprise of at least three people, including the advisory committee chair and your supervisors, which will be established at commencement.

The committee has a formal role in monitoring the progress of your research project and an informal role in providing you with support and advice.

If you are experiencing issues or have matters you feel you cannot raise with your supervisors, you should consult an advisory committee member in the first instance.The roles and responsibilities of supervisors and advisory committee members are also outlined in the Graduate Research Training Policy .

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Research Tips and Infromation

A Guide to Changing Your PhD Supervisor

Changing your PhD Supervisor

Embarking on the challenging yet rewarding journey of a PhD is a commitment that extends beyond the confines of research papers and scholarly pursuits. Central to this academic odyssey is the relationship forged with a guiding force—the PhD supervisor. A symbiotic connection that shapes the trajectory of research, personal growth, and the overall PhD experience.

However, as the academic landscape evolves, students may find themselves at a crossroads, contemplating a decision that could reshape the course of their doctoral pursuit—changing their PhD supervisor. In this exploration, we delve into the intricate fabric of this decision-making process, dissecting the reasons behind such contemplation and weighing the nuanced pros and cons associated with altering the academic compass.

Join us on this reflective journey as we navigate the delicate terrain of academic mentorship, dissecting the potential for alignment or misalignment of research interests, the dynamics of mentorship and support, and the profound impact of diverse perspectives. Yet, with change comes disruption—weighing the cost of potential setbacks in research progress, administrative hurdles, and the intricate dance of managing relationships within the academic ecosystem.

In this discourse, we aim to unravel the layers of complexity surrounding the decision to change a PhD supervisor. Through anecdotes, insights, and careful analysis, we seek to equip Ph.D. candidates with the tools needed to make informed decisions, fostering an environment where academic and personal growth can thrive.

Embark with us on this intellectual exploration, where the nuances of change intersect with the pursuit of knowledge, and the delicate dance of transition unfolds in the pursuit of academic excellence.


Pros of changing your phd supervisor, cons of changing your phd supervisor, how to convey my supervisor regarding change of supervisor decision, download the template here.

The foundation of any successful PhD journey lies in the dynamic between the student and their supervisor. This relationship extends beyond the academic realm, shaping not only the trajectory of research but also influencing personal and professional development. A supportive and symbiotic connection with a supervisor fosters an environment where ideas flourish, guidance is paramount, and the doctoral candidate gains invaluable insights from a seasoned mentor. This relationship becomes a cornerstone, influencing the overall satisfaction and success of the Ph.D. experience.

Despite the significance of the supervisor-student relationship, there are instances when students find themselves contemplating a change. This may arise from a variety of factors such as misaligned research interests, challenges in communication, evolving career aspirations, or even shifts in personal circumstances. A brief exploration of these reasons sets the stage for understanding the complexities that prompt candidates to reassess and, potentially, redefine this pivotal connection.

At the heart of this blog post is the examination of a decision that carries both weight and consequence—the choice to change one’s PhD supervisor. The thesis of our exploration is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons associated with such a decision.

We also delve into the delicate process of communicating this decision, recognizing the sensitivity and significance of such conversations. Just as a change in academic direction requires thoughtful consideration, conveying this decision to a supervisor demands a careful blend of professionalism, gratitude, and clarity. As we navigate through the nuances of this academic crossroads, we aim to provide insights, tips, and a sample script to assist students in approaching this conversation with respect, transparency, and a focus on the academic journey ahead.

A. Alignment of Research Interests

  • Examples and Anecdotes: Picture yourself passionate about unravelling the mysteries of renewable energy sources, only to find your initial supervisor specializes in historical architecture. By making the courageous decision to change supervisors, you align yourself with an expert in sustainable energy. This shift not only reignites your enthusiasm but also establishes a connection between your passion and your research, turning your academic journey into a fulfilling exploration.
  • Impact on Research Productivity and Satisfaction: The impact of this alignment on research productivity and satisfaction cannot be overstated. Your newfound synergy with a supervisor who shares your research interests streamlines the process. Meetings become more fruitful, discussions more engaging, and the satisfaction derived from your work transforms from a mere academic obligation to a genuine intellectual pursuit.

B. Better Mentorship and Support

  • Illustrative Cases: Consider the case of Sarah, who initially struggled with a lack of communication and mentorship in her first year. Changing supervisors led her to Dr. Rodriguez, known for her hands-on mentoring approach. This shift not only transformed Sarah’s academic journey but also instilled a sense of confidence and direction, illustrating the profound impact of effective mentorship.
  • Personal and Academic Development: The metamorphosis brought about by improved mentorship extends beyond academic realms. Dr. Rodriguez’s investment in Sarah’s personal and academic growth not only refined her research skills but also nurtured her self-confidence. Sarah emerged from this mentorship with a more profound understanding of her strengths and a fortified sense of academic purpose.

C. Diverse Perspectives

  • Experiences of Gaining Different Perspectives: Enter the world of Alex, who transitioned from a supervisor entrenched in qualitative research to one with a robust quantitative background. This shift opened avenues for Alex to integrate diverse methodologies, leading to a more comprehensive and nuanced research approach. The amalgamation of these perspectives not only enriched the research process but also broadened Alex’s intellectual horizons.
  • Enrichment of Research and Academic Growth: The exposure to diverse perspectives became the catalyst for academic growth. Engaging with varied viewpoints became a cornerstone of Alex’s intellectual development. This enrichment not only strengthened the quality of the research but also equipped Alex with a versatile set of skills crucial for navigating the intricate landscape of academia.

D. Career Opportunities

  • Stories of Enhanced Opportunities: Meet James, who, through a change in supervisor, found himself immersed in collaborative projects and international conferences. This shift not only enhanced his academic portfolio but also created avenues for industry collaborations. The diverse experiences gained under the new supervision became stepping stones for James’s future career opportunities.
  • Broadening Professional Networks: Changing supervisors often means entering new academic circles. In Lily’s case, this shift broadened her professional networks, exposing her to different conferences, workshops, and collaborative opportunities. The ripple effect of these connections extended beyond the academic realm, positioning Lily for a more expansive and interconnected professional journey.

E. Personal Growth

  • Adapting to New Challenges: Imagine the story of Mark, who faced unforeseen challenges upon changing supervisors. The adjustment period, though daunting, became a testament to Mark’s adaptability. This ability to navigate uncharted waters not only demonstrated resilience but also contributed to Mark’s personal growth, reinforcing his capacity to thrive amidst academic uncertainties.
  • Building Resilience and Adaptability: Mark’s journey highlights that personal growth extends beyond the realm of academia. The challenges faced during the transition nurtured not only resilience but also adaptability. These qualities, now ingrained in Mark’s academic persona, serve as invaluable assets not just for his PhD journey but for his future professional endeavours.

A. Disruption in Progress

  • Impact on Research Timeline: Consider the case of Emily, who, midway through her PhD, changed supervisors due to a shift in research focus. This transition resulted in a temporary disruption in her research timeline as she needed to recalibrate her methodologies and refine her research questions. The adjustments, while necessary for alignment, extended the overall duration of her Ph.D. project.
  • Strategies for Minimizing Disruptions: To minimize disruptions, Emily proactively engaged in regular communication with both her previous and new supervisors. This strategic approach allowed for a smoother transition, as she could carry forward valuable insights from her initial work while incorporating the guidance of her new supervisor. Open and transparent communication became the cornerstone for mitigating the impact on her research timeline.

B. Administrative Hassles

  • Navigating University Procedures: John’s decision to change his supervisor involved navigating complex university procedures. From obtaining approvals to filling out paperwork, the administrative process proved to be a bureaucratic challenge. The intricacies of university protocols can be time-consuming and stressful, adding an administrative layer to an already nuanced decision.
  • Addressing Logistical Challenges: John tackled administrative hassles by seeking guidance from academic advisors and administrative staff. Proactive planning and careful adherence to university guidelines helped streamline the administrative process. By addressing logistical challenges promptly, John mitigated the bureaucratic hurdles associated with changing supervisors.

C. Limited Options

  • Challenges in Finding a Suitable Alternative: Amy faced the challenge of limited options when searching for an alternative supervisor. The specialized nature of her research narrowed the pool of available academics with expertise in her field. This limitation created a dilemma, as finding a suitable alternative proved to be a meticulous process requiring careful consideration of academic compatibility.
  • Exploring Available Options within the Institution: Amy expanded her search by exploring potential supervisors within her institution who had overlapping interests. Collaborating with academic advisors and department heads, she identified alternative mentors who could provide the necessary guidance. While challenging, this exploration within the institution allowed Amy to make a well-informed choice, considering both expertise and compatibility.

D. Potential for Miscommunication

  • Addressing Communication Challenges During the Transition: Michael encountered communication challenges when transitioning to a new supervisor, leading to misunderstandings regarding research expectations. The potential for miscommunication became apparent during the initial stages of the transition, affecting the clarity of project goals and timelines.
  • Strategies for Clear Communication: Recognizing the importance of clear communication, Michael initiated regular meetings with the new supervisor. Setting clear expectations, discussing project milestones, and seeking feedback became integral components of their communication strategy. By addressing potential miscommunication head-on, Michael established a foundation for a more effective working relationship.

E. Impact on Relationships

  • Navigating Interpersonal Dynamics with the Previous Supervisor and Colleagues: When Emma changed supervisors, she faced the delicate task of navigating interpersonal dynamics with her previous supervisor and colleagues. This transition required tact and diplomacy, as maintaining positive relationships with the academic community was crucial for a harmonious academic environment.
  • Maintaining a Positive Academic Environment: Emma proactively engaged in open and honest conversations with her previous supervisor, expressing gratitude for the mentorship received. She also communicated transparently with colleagues about her decision, emphasizing that the change was driven by research alignment. By approaching the transition with professionalism and respect, Emma succeeded in maintaining a positive academic environment, fostering goodwill among her peers.

1. Choose the Right Time and Setting:

  • Schedule a meeting with your current supervisor in a private and comfortable setting.
  • Ensure that you have enough time for a thorough discussion without interruptions.

2. Be Prepared:

  • Reflect on your decision and be clear about your reasons for wanting to change supervisors.
  • Consider preparing a brief outline or notes to help you articulate your thoughts during the conversation.

3. Start Positively:

  • Begin the conversation on a positive note by expressing your appreciation for the guidance and support you have received so far.
  • Acknowledge the contributions of your current supervisor to your academic journey.

4. Be Honest and Direct:

  • Clearly state your decision to change supervisors. Use straightforward language to avoid any ambiguity.
  • If applicable, briefly explain the reasons behind your decision. Focus on academic or research-related factors rather than personal issues.

5. Highlight Your Goals:

  • Emphasize that your decision is driven by your academic and research goals. Highlight the importance of aligning your research interests with your supervisor to ensure a more productive collaboration.

6. Express Gratitude:

  • Express gratitude for the time and effort your current supervisor has invested in your academic development.
  • Reinforce that your decision is about finding the best possible fit for your research objectives.

7. Offer Solutions:

  • If applicable, suggest potential solutions or ways to ease the transition. This could include a plan for completing any ongoing projects or assisting in the search for a replacement.

8. Be Open to Discussion:

  • Encourage an open dialogue. Allow your supervisor to express their thoughts and ask questions.
  • Be receptive to feedback and be willing to discuss any concerns your supervisor may have.

9. Follow Up in Writing:

  • After the meeting, send a follow-up email reiterating your decision and expressing gratitude.
  • Include any agreed-upon next steps or arrangements for a smooth transition.

10. Maintain Professionalism:

  • Throughout the conversation, maintain a professional and respectful tone.
  • Avoid placing blame or speaking negatively about your current supervisor.

Sample Script:

“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I want to express my sincere appreciation for your guidance and support during our collaboration. After careful consideration, I have made the decision to change supervisors. This decision is driven by a desire to align my research interests more closely with my academic goals. I believe this change will contribute positively to my academic journey. I am committed to ensuring a smooth transition and am open to discussing any concerns or suggestions you may have. I value the time we’ve spent working together and appreciate your understanding.”

Remember that communication is key in these situations, and approaching the conversation with professionalism and clarity will contribute to a more constructive dialogue.

Email Template to Convey Your Decision to Change Supervisor

Subject: Request for a Meeting to Discuss Research Direction

Dear [Supervisor’s Name],

I trust this message finds you well. I appreciate the support and guidance you have provided throughout our collaboration. Your insights have been invaluable to my academic journey.

After careful consideration and reflection, I have come to the decision to explore a change in my supervisory arrangement. This decision is rooted in my commitment to align my research interests more closely with my academic goals, and I believe that a different supervisory dynamic may better support the direction I intend to take with my research.

I would like to request a meeting to discuss this matter further. I believe that an open and honest conversation will allow us to explore the best path forward. I am committed to ensuring a smooth transition and would like to discuss any concerns or suggestions you may have. Your feedback is important to me, and I want to ensure that this decision is made with the utmost professionalism and consideration.

I propose we schedule a meeting at your earliest convenience. Please let me know a time that works for you, and I will make the necessary arrangements.

Thank you once again for your support, and I look forward to discussing this matter with you.

Best regards,

[Your Full Name]

[Your Program/Department]

[Your Contact Information]

Read my article on ” Can you do a PhD without a supervisor” . This article will guide you on how one can do PhD without a research supervisor.

In the intricate tapestry of a Ph.D. journey, the decision to change supervisor stands as a pivotal crossroads, demanding careful contemplation and strategic navigation. As we explored the myriad facets of this complex choice, it became evident that the pros and cons are as diverse as the academic landscapes each student traverses.

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phd supervisor search

New era begins at Moscow City Hall

Monday’s Moscow City Council meeting ushered in a new era as three new city councilmembers, a new city supervisor and new mayor were sworn into office.

Mayor Art Bettge took the oath of office, Julia Parker, Hailey Lewis and Gina Taruscio were sworn onto City Council and Bill Belknap took his position as the new city supervisor.

Much of the meeting was devoted to sharing kind words for outgoing mayor Bill Lambert, outgoing city supervisor Gary Riedner and outgoing city council member Brandy Sullivan.

Riedner is leaving after 26 years.

“Gary embodies the complex multifaceted character trait of understanding,” city attorney Mia Bautista said.

Deputy city supervisor Tyler Palmer said Riedner practiced “selfless service” and his work to oversee Moscow’s city services affected every citizen.

Deputy city supervisor Jen Pfiffner said Riedner has worked through every hard decision with an empathetic approach and is a “living example of ethical management.”

Riedner then took to the podium to share his brief remarks.

“I don’t know who you folks were describing tonight,” he joked. “He sounds like a heck of a guy.”

Riedner thanked city staff for doing their jobs with the “heart of a servant” and said he was grateful to work with the mayor, council and the community.

“The community means a lot to me,” he said.

As a parting gift, he was allowed to keep a wooden duck decoy that was part of Moscow’s public art collection and on Riedner’s wall since 2004.

As Lambert gave his final remarks, he thanked the 170 people who work for the city as well as the many who volunteer on the city’s commissions.

“That’s what makes our city great is the volunteerism,” he said.

He credited the council for being steadfast in their actions, including when it came to making decisions in response to COVID-19. He said they did what they thought was right for the community and did not let politics interfere with their decision making.

Lambert has served the city of Moscow for 21 years as a member of the planning and zoning commission, board of adjustment, city council and as mayor.

“I never took it for granted ever,” he said.

As Parker, Lewis and Taruscio were sworn in, it began what is likely the first term in Moscow’s history with a council of all women.

Sullivan chose not to run for re-election this year and former council member Bettge now takes his post as mayor.

Sullivan thanked residents for being involved in city government by attending meetings and joining commissions. She credited the council for being respectful of each other and approaching issues with an open mind.

“You all play a big part in why this has been a positive experience for me,” she said.

Want an electric vehicle? Better keep our hydropower

As we embark on a second "Great Electrification," in an effort to decarbonize our economy, it’s worth remembering the first one that occurred 80 years ago.

Moscow, Idaho

Mayor Lambert Appoints Bill Belknap

Under the direction of the Mayor, the City Supervisor has responsibilities to plan, organize, coordinate and administer the functions and activities of city government and assuring implementation of City Council-established goals and objectives.

Belknap currently serves as Moscow Deputy City Supervisor, Community Planning & Design, and is responsible for administration of land use management, building construction, engineering services and capital construction, and grant and economic development programs for the City. Since 2015, he has also served as the Executive Director of the Moscow Urban Renewal Agency.

Belknap is a graduate of Moscow High School and the University of Idaho and has over 20 years of experience in local, county and state government. Prior to being appointed to the position of Deputy City Supervisor in 2019, Belknap’s professional career included service as Assistant City Supervisor, Community Development Director, and Assistant Community Development Director for the City of Moscow; Associate Planner for Latah County; and Water Quality Analyst with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Belknap has also served on the governing boards of the Idaho City Management Association, Idaho Chapter of the American Planning Association, and the Redevelopment Association of Idaho.

“Bill Belknap is in a unique position to serve as Moscow’s next City Supervisor”, said Lambert. “He has held several key administrative positions for our City and the Moscow Urban Renewal Agency, and has done an excellent job in each. His nearly 20 years of experience will be invaluable to our community. Bill has worked directly with Gary since his second year with the City, and he is very familiar with the demands and expectations of the position. I have every confidence that he will do a fine job as our next City Supervisor.”

Lambert will forward Belknap’s name to the Moscow City Council for confirmation at its July 19 meeting. If confirmed, Belknap will take the position on January 7, 2022 and will be Moscow’s third City Supervisor since the position was created by the City Council in 1977. William A. Smith was City Supervisor for 18 years, and Riedner has served in the position for 27 years.

Moscow Fire Chief Declares Severe Fire Threat and Bans All Fireworks

Executive summary: economic contributions of vandal athletics, change location, find awesome listings near you.


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  1. Choosing a PhD Supervisor

    The ideal PhD supervisor will be an expert in their academic field, with a wealth of publications, articles, chapters and books. They'll also have a background in organising and presenting at conference events. It's also important that their expertise is up-to-date. You should look for evidence that they're currently active in your ...

  2. Ten simple rules for choosing a PhD supervisor

    Comparing your options is a key step during the search for a PhD supervisor. By screening multiple different groups, you ultimately learn more about what red flags to look for, compatible work styles, your personal expectations, and group atmospheres. Repeat this entire process with another supervisor, another university, or even another country.

  3. How to Find an Institution and Supervisor for Your PhD

    When you start your search for PhD programmes, you often have a vague idea about the institution or the potential supervisor for your research. But you should know that your research subject can help you identify leading institutions and/or experts in the specific area. ... and contact them to ask about their experience with the supervisor ...

  4. 5 Simple Ways to Find a Potential PhD Supervisor

    Check the latest research in your field. An easy way to locate potential supervisors is to see who's currently active in your research field. Check the latest publications, board members of funded projects, or even references in your past essays. Then, make a note of names that crop up. With just a quick search you can find out if they're ...

  5. PhD Search

    If you would like to receive the latest information on postgraduate studentships and PhD opportunities direct to your inbox, please click the button below to sign up, and also find out more about our £5,000 postgraduate scholarship. Find out more. Find a PhD is a comprehensive guide to PhD studentships and postgraduate research degrees.

  6. How to find a PhD supervisor

    One key tip on how to find a PhD supervisor is to be transparent about your work and progress. Do not hide any inadvertent errors you may have made in your experiment or analyses. Always keep your supervisor "in the loop"! Honesty in every aspect of your work and working relationship will help build trust. Be realistic.

  7. What Makes A Good PhD Supervisor?

    4. Is a Good Mentor with a Supportive Personality. A good PhD supervisor should be supportive and willing to listen. A PhD project is an exercise in independently producing a substantial body of research work; the primary role of your supervisor should be to provide mentoring to help you achieve this.

  8. How to choose the right PhD supervisor

    4 red flags to be wary of in the search for a good match. 23 June 2020. Gemma Conroy. Thomas Barwick/Getty. A PhD supervisor can make or break a candidate's progress.

  9. Find Your Perfect PhD

    In fact, a noticeable percentage of past and current PhD students came into their PhD programme because of being recommended by their undergraduate supervisor. Your supervisor will be well-connected - make sure you take advantage of these opportunities. Tip: Don't just limit your discussion to your own personal supervisor.

  10. Top tips for choosing a PhD Supervisor

    Passionate. An excellent supervisor is passionate about the work of their pupils. They should be someone who is inspiring and uplifting, who helps their students reach new heights. Someone is not a good supervisor if they lack enthusiasm and interest in their role as your mentor and do not offer verbal encouragement. 3.

  11. Finding a PhD

    Gain valuable insight from our collection of exclusive interviews with both current and past PhD students. Learn from their best advice, personal challenges and career path after completing their doctorate. Discover the best places to search for your PhD, learn what you should look for and how to approach a potential supervisor for enquires.

  12. How to Find Your Ideal PhD Supervisor Using Google Scholar

    Step 3: Identify papers of interest. You'll find that the papers returned in this search will be on topics related to your subject of interest, or not. Identify the ones that appear to overlap with the research you would like to do. If you find yourself drawn to a particular sub-topic within the papers returned, you can also re-do your search ...

  13. How to Find the Right Research Supervisor for Your Research

    Look for faculty members who have focused expertise in your research field and whose research interests align with your own. An ideal PhD supervisor must be someone who has authored a good number of articles, chapters, and books. This indicates that your supervisor is up-to-date on recent developments in your field and can provide you with the ...

  14. What to Expect from your PhD Supervisor

    Other universities may leave more of the details to the student and supervisor themselves. In either case, the following are some of the basic expectations a PhD supervisor should fulfil: Expertise in your subject area. Regular supervisory meetings. Feedback on work in progress.

  15. How to find a research supervisor

    To find a potential supervisor: Find the school or research institute that is most relevant to your area of interest. If your proposed research is interdisciplinary, you may need to look at more than one school - List of our schools and departments. Browse through the staff profiles on the school or institute website.

  16. Find a supervisor

    Alternatively, you can find a supervisor using the Monash Find a Researcher tool. Please do not send a bulk email to a number of researchers. If a researcher agrees to supervise your research project, keep a copy of the email confirming this arrangement, as you will need it for your application. Information for Indigenous Australians.

  17. Find a supervisor

    Find a supervisor or research project. Graduate researchers at the University of Melbourne need at least two supervisors - one designated as the principal supervisor. Whether you want to join an established project with an assigned supervisory team or find supervisors for your own research project, the questions below may help you determine ...

  18. A Guide to Changing Your PhD Supervisor in 2024

    Focus on academic or research-related factors rather than personal issues. 5. Highlight Your Goals: Emphasize that your decision is driven by your academic and research goals. Highlight the importance of aligning your research interests with your supervisor to ensure a more productive collaboration. 6.

  19. Ten simple rules for choosing a PhD supervisor

    Rule 8: Consider the entire experience. Your PhD supervisor is only one—albeit large—piece of your PhD puzzle. It is therefore essen-tial to consider your PhD experience as whole when deciding on a supervisor. One important aspect to contemplate is your mental health.

  20. Doctoral School of Economics

    The Economics PhD programme is designed to prepare professionals in economic research and education of the highest academic calibre in Russia, as well as the global academia. The Doctoral School of Economics offers training in the following fields: Economic Theory. Mathematical, Statistical and Instrumental Methods of Economics.

  21. Moscow City Jobs, Employment in Moscow, ID

    Pullman is a city of 36,000 people located in the beautiful rolling wheat fields of eastern Washington about 70 miles south of Spokane, Washington. Pullman is home to Washington State University and is 7 miles away from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. Job Type: Full-time. Pay: $23.00 - $28.00 per hour. Benefits: 401 (k) 401 (k) matching.

  22. New era begins at Moscow City Hall

    Monday's Moscow City Council meeting ushered in a new era as three new city councilmembers, a new city supervisor and new mayor were sworn into office. Mayor Art Bettge took the oath of office ...

  23. Mayor Lambert Appoints Bill Belknap

    Lambert will forward Belknap's name to the Moscow City Council for confirmation at its July 19 meeting. If confirmed, Belknap will take the position on January 7, 2022 and will be Moscow's third City Supervisor since the position was created by the City Council in 1977. William A. Smith was City Supervisor for 18 years, and Riedner has ...