Before You Apply to Graduate School

SFU has two types of graduate programs: research-based and professional programs.

Most specialty professional programs such as the Executive MBA or many Education master's programs are based on course work, projects and/or examinations and do not require you to have a senior supervisor.

If you're planning to apply to a research-based graduate program, we recommend that you research your target program and contact a potential supervisor before you begin the application process.

In addition, most Faculty of Science graduate programs (with the exception of Statistics and Actuarial Science, and Mathematics) require that you have a "sponsoring" faculty member before beginning your application to graduate school at SFU.

Looking for a Supervisor
Here are a few tips for how to start looking for a potential supervisor.

  • Look at through SFU's graduate programs and find the research program that best matches your skills and qualifications.
    • Click through to the department's website. Most departmental websites will have a list of faculty members and their research areas, labs and contact information.
    • Read through the faculty list and find out if there is a faculty member at SFU who is doing research related to your area. (Some departmental websites, like Psychology, will tell you which faculty members are accepting new graduate students.)
    • Do a web search on the faculty member's name. Many of our faculty members are frequently consulted by the media, and you can get a more well-rounded picture of their research interests.
    • Read their publications. Do their theoretical, conceptual or methodological approaches interest you?
  • Look through SFU's Directory of Experts.
  • Search the Public Affairs and Media Relations website for the faculty member's name or for the subject area of your research. (For example, you may find that your interest in "emerging technologies" may bring up faculty members in Computer Science, the School for Interactive Arts and Technology or Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology, among many others.)

Contacting Potential Supervisors
Once you've identified one or two potential supervisors, you should contact them by email. Here are some items to include in your initial brief contact email.

  • Your name
  • Academic background (your GPA must be over 3.0, or equivalent)
  • Academic awards or highlights
  • Research experience
  • Why you wish to enter graduate studies
  • Why the faculty member's area of research will match with your research goals (cite the faculty member's publications if relevant)
  • Make it clear that you are familiar with their work and how their research interests mesh with your own (if there is a research idea in one of their papers that you would like to explore in your work, explain that briefly)
  • A research proposal, if appropriate
  • Ask them specifically if they are accepting new graduate students for the coming academic year.

Tips for the First Contact Note

  • Do not send form letters as most faculty members will recognize and delete those without responding.
  • Do address your letter carefully. For example, if you are sending a letter to "Susan Smith, PhD", address as "Dear Dr. Smith" or "Dear Professor Smith." (Salutations such as "Respected sir" or "Dear Mr. Smith" will demonstrate that you haven't done enough research to find out her gender or professorial rank.)
  • Do customize the letter as much as possible to begin building a relationship between yourself and your prospective supervisor.
  • Do keep it as brief as possible. For example, in your first contact, you probably don't need to include your transcript, but do mention your GPA.
  • Do proofread your letter and have someone else proofread it for you. If you're new to this process, consider this your first academic proposal. Poor grammar and spelling errors will reveal quite a bit about your academic abilities and attention to detail.

Your relationship with your supervisor forms the foundation of your graduate school experience. It's best to start building it even before you begin the application process.

Building a relationship
After you have contacted the prospective supervisor, you may wish to learn more about where you'll be spending your time over the next few years.

  • Ask politely if you can contact the supervisor's current graduate students.
  • Find out more about the supervisor's graduated students: What types of careers are they in? Is that what you'd like to be doing in a few years after you've completed your graduate program?
  • Consider travelling to speak in person with the potential supervisor and tour the university.

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