Tips on finding a supervisor

Getting the BCB430Y project of your dreams is quite similar to any application for a position.

1. Research the landscape:
You are free to do your BCB430 project with any laboratory at U of T (not just those supervisors listed on our supervisor list), in the hospitals, in the research institutes, in industry, and even abroad. The only requirement is that you have to convince the BCB program director that your project is academically valuable and fits the goals of the course. Don’t let this freedom overwhelm you – take it as an opportunity to figure out what you enjoy about the field, and how you can pursue it. Click here to see where former and current students have done their research.

2. Figure out what the research is about and what life in your chosen lab is like:
Once you have narrowed it down to a handful of target projects, find out more about the lab. Read their publications. Read the publications of their competitors. Try your best to understand the high-level goals of the work and how the lab approaches it. Explain it to a good friend, to make sure you understand.

Then try to get in touch with a graduate student, postdoc, or TA in the lab, and figure out what life there is like. Treat them to a coffee and chat. Are there regular lab-meetings? When? (You need to attend, otherwise you are working in an unhealthy vacuum. You should at least have regular meetings with the PI…) What programming languages do they use? (If you don’t speak R, Python, C++ or whatever, you’ll need a plan how to catch up.) What technologies (Not familiar with what AWS, Docker, Github are … time to catch up.) Get a feeling of whether work with this group will be fun. And see whether they have advice about alternatives if your application don’t work out.

3. Write a specific application:
Only then is it worth your time to write an application. Contact the PI (Principal investigator) and state your goals clearly. What would you like to learn, what motivates you to work in their laboratory? Be humble – don’t assume you will be able to make a significant contribution to their work, but emphasize your motivation to learn. Do mention what you can bring to the project, from prior exposure, and how you plan to address any deficiencies of preparation and blemishes on your transcript.

Finally …

4. Ask for an interview, not a position:
It would be premature to expect someone to take you aboard as a team member based on an email application. So the next step will be an interview. Likely, the PI you are applying to will find it easier to grant you half an hour to discuss how your plans fit with the lab, than to make an immediate decision whether your application should go ahead.