Finding an advisor for your MS/PHD program


Hello everyone!  I'm re-posting an old blog entry today on how students can start the process of looking for an advisor.  Current students should find a permanent advisor by the end of the first semester on campus.  When you've found a permanent advisor, contact Kathy Smith, smith15atillinois [dot] edu, to update your status in our database. 

If you are an applicant, please wait to contact faculty until after you have received an offer of admission.


If you have been offered admission to our program or you are currently a student in our program, you should be actively looking for opportunities to join a faculty member's group.  Many students ask our office for advice on this process. There are a number of ways one can start this process.

It’s important to remember that the faculty member you work with will be investing a lot of time, and possibly a substantial amount of research funding, in you, should he or she offer you a research position. Therefore, you need to sell yourself to that faculty member. Your early interaction with potential advisors will be very much like a job interview. Here’s a few ways to prepare for this.

  • Gather information.
    • What topics are you interested in? Who are the top researchers in those fields?
    • Are there particular courses you’ve taken that you were especially interested in? Consider researching that topic further.  Perhaps you would want to see if the instructor of that course has any vacant research positions.
    • Take additional classes taught by faculty you are interested in working with and/or faculty in a similar field.
    • Attend seminars offered by the department, both in areas you are interested in as well as areas that may be unfamiliar to you. It’s never too early to broaden your horizons!
  • Do your research.
    • Why do you want to work with that particular faculty member?
    • Why should he/she offer you a position in his/her group?
    • What are your educational and career goals? Do you plan on completing a thesis? Do you plan on earning both MS and PhD degrees?
    • What do you want to research in particular? What types of projects are you interested in working on?
  • Contact that faculty member, and ask about openings in the group.
    • Email is generally the best way to initiate contact, but you may also choose to call him/her. Try to set up a meeting with the faculty member, either via Skype or in person.
    • When you contact the faculty member, include some of your research in your message (i.e., why are you interested in his/her group? What can you offer the group?).
    • If there aren’t currently openings in the group, but you’re still very interested in the faculty member, ask whether there will be openings in future semesters. In the meantime,
      • Inquire about the possibility to sit in on group meetings.
      • Ask about opportunities to work on an independent study project.
  • If possible, talk to other students in the research group.
    Many faculty would be happy to put you in touch with their students, especially if they have offered you a position in their group. Talking to other students in the group is a great way to gauge the culture of the group.


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