I’ve heard this questions many times, especially from potential PhD applicants who struggled to find the ways of finding a suitable supervisor or establish research contacts that could help them to better choose the research topic and institution. So if you do not know how to find the right people, try to follow some of these tips and see what happens.
1. Establish your direction! This may seem obvious but you need to define clearly your topic of interest or, at least, know the discipline of study and try to identify two or three key-words that could help you in your search for relevant contacts.
2. The best thing to do is to search for the relevant contacts among the personnel of a department/institution/research centre you would like to apply for. Once you´ve found the relevant programme on the PhD portal there is usually a link to the programme website (under the heading "More") where you can find the contact details of programme administrators and professors. These people are the key to providing you with an insight of the potential course. Don't be ashamed or scared to drop them an e-mail. Remember, it is in their interest to get the best possible applicants for their research programmes.
3. It is good practice to contact professors directly to see whether they may be interested in supervising your PhD thesis. The supervisor is a key person for the success of a PhD process, so make sure to contact them even before you start the application process. It may be that you identify early on that your research interests do not match or, on the contrary, that you will make a great team. But you need to have personal communication with them to figure this out. There is no way avoiding this!
4. Read research articles! Reading research articles in your area can help you to identify key people as well as leading institutions in your topic. Journal articles usually provide contact details for the authors. So be smart and drop an email to a potential professor asking about some things in the article. This will help to establish the first contact.
5. Are you on Facebook, Twitter? If not, maybe it's time to join and explore their potential for building research networks. There are thousands of pages and groups that can help you to find relevant people who can share their research experience and give advice. For example, there is an amazing hashtag on Twitter called #phdchat. Following this hashtag, you will not only get to know more PhD candidates in your area but also get a better understanding of what PhD life can be like. Apart from this, check some of the popular scientific social networks such as Research Gate or Academia.edu to see if you can find some contacts there.
6. Join research networks in your area. There are hundreds of research networks in different disciplines all over the world. Again you can do some basic search to see whether there is one in your specific area and see how you can join it or follow its activities.
At all times keep positive, even if people take too long to respond. It will all pay off once you find the PhD programme that is right for you and embark on your exciting learning journey!