Graduate Student-Supervisor Expectations


The rapport between a research graduate student and their supervisor is one of the most important factors in graduate student satisfaction. Healthy student-supervisor interactions are also associated with higher completion rates and faster times to completion.

The following are the fundamental elements of successful graduate supervision:

  • Clear and frequent communication
  • Agreement on mutual expectations
  • Mentoring tailored to the needs, attributes and aspirations of each student

These elements should be established as soon as the student begins their program, and continue for its duration. Clear communication of expectations and responsibilities is especially important for graduate students and supervisors from different cultures, for whom there may be unspoken assumptions about responsibilities which are not shared.

Graduate students hold the primary responsibility for the completion of their degree. Graduate study requires independent learning, as well as constant collaboration between the student and the supervisor.

In accepting admission to a graduate program, the student is agreeing to pursue studies and scholarly work on a full-time basis (if registered full-time), under the supervision of a faculty member, to meet the regulated deadlines established by the College of Graduate Studies, and to maintain open communication with the supervisor. The student must actively seek to expand their knowledge and is expected to solve problems independently, to pursue opportunities to learn specific skills and to become familiar with a body of knowledge. The ultimate goal is to produce and defend a thesis/dissertation.

The supervisor must be available for mentoring, and to provide guidance, advice and educational opportunities. The supervisor is expected to provide feedback and minor editing of the student’s work on the thesis, scholarship applications, grant proposals, abstracts and manuscripts for publication. The intellectual property that is expected to result from, or is necessary for, the student’s thesis work should be discussed in advance and agreed upon between the student and the supervisor.

Checklist of Expectations for Graduate Student and Supervisor

The College of Graduate Studies encourages graduate students and graduate supervisors to openly discuss student-supervisor expectations.

To assist in defining the expectations and responsibilities of the graduate student and the supervisor, please use the College of Graduate Studies’ Checklist of Expectations for Graduate Student and Supervisor.

The student and the supervisor are expected to go over the items listed within the checklist, and to check each box as that item is dealt with. The College of Graduate Studies strongly advises that this document is completed within the first two months after a student begins their program.

Best Practices for Supervisors

Best practices can help ensure the student-supervisor partnership is productive and beneficial for everyone. Best practices include but are not limited to:

  • use of effective communication;
  • development of a relationship conducive to research and intellectual growth;
  • providing resources and timely feedback

For a list and full descriptions of best practices, please see the College of Graduate Studies’ Best Practices for Supervisors.

Conflict Resolution

When conflict arises, students should attempt first to resolve problems with their supervisor by talking to the supervisor. The co-supervisor (if applicable) or a supervisory committee member may be able to give helpful advice in this situation. Problems that are not resolved in this fashion should be discussed with the Graduate Program Coordinator, and then the Department Head or equivalent.

Procedures in the Event of Problems between Graduate Students and their Supervisors

If a solution cannot be reached, the student and/or the Graduate Program Coordinator may consult the College of Graduate Studies for advice about a resolution to the issue. Below is a chart that details the process in the event of problems between graduate students and their supervisors.

Student-Supervisor Workshops

The College of Graduate Studies offers two workshop opportunities related to building effective student-supervisor  partnerships. The Building Effective Supervisory Relationships workshop provides students with the basics in learning how to communicate effectively with a supervisor while overcoming conflict and problems that the student may be experiencing. The Best Practices in Graduate Supervision workshop is offered to faculty who provide guidance and mentorship to graduate students with a focus on best practices for student supervision.