In your role as supervisor, you are the key person in your students’ graduate degree program and have considerable influence in helping them achieve their full potential academically, intellectually, and professionally. To be an effective graduate supervisor, you must first recognize the responsibilities that come with this role, and ensure that these are met to the best of your abilities with each graduate student.


Effective Graduate Student-Supervisor Relationship

Graduate student relationships with faculty members are regarded by students as the most important aspect of their graduate education. Good student-supervisor relationships are also associated with higher completion rates and faster times to completion.

Some fundamental elements of successful graduate supervision are:

These elements should be established as soon as the student begins his/her 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.

Ground rules

The best way to initiate an effective relationship with your graduate student is through early meetings in which you discuss and clearly define your roles and expectations. Here is a list of “ground rules” that should be clarified in initial meetings between a graduate student and his/her supervisor:

In addition, University Policy 85 requires that research conditions for all involved in a research team be outlined in a letter from the principal investigator before team members become engaged.

Letters are to cover issues such as compensation, supervision, authorship practices, records of data, ownership and/or use of data, publication rights, and commercialization. The templates provided here should be adapted with information specific to the program.

Communicate Early and Often

Clear and frequent communication with graduate students throughout their program is key to building the trust and mutual respect that form the foundation of the most effective supervisory relationships.

Meetings with graduate students are also good opportunities to discuss any particular needs or deficiencies of the student, as well as their career aspirations. You can then explore with them useful avenues for their development.

The best mentors lead in part by example, and including students as appropriate in your professional life is an effective way to share your knowledge and experience. Openness about the challenges you face or the excitement you feel, and involvement of students in broader dialogues with your peers all help assimilate students into the professional culture and broaden their learning experience.

Maintaining Momentum

Another key role you play as a supervisor is in helping your students maintain good progress through to successful completion of their program. Students can lose momentum at any stage of their program and for a variety of reasons. Frequent and open communication will help you to identify when this occurs and what you can do to help the student get back on track. Clearly defining expected progress and assessing the student’s progress during supervisory committee meetings or your more frequent meetings with the student can help you identify when students are becoming sidetracked or losing momentum. Recognition of a concern should be followed by discussions between you and the student (and perhaps the supervisory committee) to determine the best approach to help the student get back on track.

Preparing for the Future

As supervisor, you have an important role to play in helping your students prepare for their future careers. You can assist your students by discussing their career goals with them early in their program and as they evolve, and working with them to identify potential career-related experiences and professional development opportunities. Oral and written communication are key competencies for which you are well-placed to mentor students by providing thoughtful responses and advice with respect to their written work and oral presentations. Many opportunities for students to gain additional competencies are available through the Graduate Pathways to Success Program offered by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology and other organizations at UBC.

You also have a role to play in helping your students to become established in their early careers by writing effective reference letters, identifying additional mentors to advise them on non-academic professions, and helping them network with prospective colleagues, advisors or employers. Effective mentors of graduate students do not consider their job done until students are successfully launched in the career of their choice.

Constructively Ending the Relationship

Changing circumstances and life events may lead either you or your student to consider ending the working relationship. There are several reasons why a change of supervisors may be the best option for both the graduate student and supervisor:

These situations require you and the student, in conjunction with the Graduate Advisor for the program or Department Head, to make every effort to identify a suitable supervisor and project for the student.

The Supervisory Committee

The supervisory committee will generally consist of yourself and two or three other faculty members. Its role is to provide support to you and your student by broadening and deepening the range of expertise and experience available, and by offering advice about, and assessment of, your student’s work.

The supervisory committee is responsible for guiding the student in selecting any required courses, planning the research, and preparing the thesis.

Graduate students who establish their supervisory committees early in their programs, and who meet with their committees regularly, tend to complete their degree programs successfully, and sooner than students who wait to establish their committees or meet with them infrequently. The student’s progress since the last committee meeting and expectations for progress by the time of the next meeting should be clearly identified during the committee meeting and in the meeting report. This will assist you in determining the degree of intervention needed to ensure that the student makes good progress through completion of their program.

Assembling the Committee

In general, a supervisory committee should be established as soon as you and the student agree on a thesis topic. Generally, the graduate student and supervisor together decide on an appropriate committee structure, based largely on the research interests and areas of expertise of individual professors. You should check UBC Policies and Procedures to ensure that potential members meet all UBC requirements.

The student, supervisor, or graduate advisor approach potential committee members to determine if they are available and interested in serving on a supervisory committee.

Administrative Decisions

Both students and supervisors need to know which individuals and University bodies are responsible for different administrative decisions, since confusion about who does what can lead to missed deadlines and missed opportunities.

Each person or administrative body in the following list has responsibilities in specific areas.

Supervisor Responsibilities

Supervisors should be available to help their graduate students at every stage, from formulation of their research projects through establishing methodologies and discussing results, to presentation and possible publication of dissertations. Graduate supervisors must also ensure that their students’ work meets the standards of the University and the academic discipline.

Specific responsibilities of a graduate supervisor:

Graduate Student Responsibilities

As a supervisor, you have a right to expect substantial effort, initiative, respect and receptiveness to suggestions and criticisms from your graduate student.

Graduate students are expected to:

Resources for Graduate Supervisors

• Hardcopies available from UBC Faculty of Graduate Studies