Supervision Policies

Guidelines

Selection of a Senior Supervisor

Selection of a Senior Supervisor is extremely important and should be a well-informed decision. University Regulations require that the committee be formed within the first year in program; there are a few exceptions to this: some part-time programs allow a longer period and some departments require immediate selection of a Supervisory Committee.

  1. Departments where a committee is not immediately selected should develop a system in which incoming graduate students are assigned an interim advisor for the first two semesters of their program. In the absence of this, the departmental Graduate Program Chair supervises and counsels the student.
  2. Departments should prepare and provide information packages on potential Senior Supervisors including, for example, a mini-curriculum vitae, research interests, grant record, availability to supervise and summaries of annual and exit evaluations, if available. This is especially important in large departments. Ideally, these will be placed on a web site and updated regularly.
  3. Departments should formulate a sample "list of questions" for use by incoming graduate students in interviews with prospective Senior Supervisors.
  4. Faculty members should take on only as many graduate students as they can adequately supervise.
  5. Selection of a Senior Supervisor and other members of the Supervisory Committee should occur as early as possible in a student's program, consistent with a clear definition of the student's research interests and an informed decision.

Sample Templates

  1. Sample agreement between supervisor and student (PDF)
  2. Sample timetable for student (PDF)

Expectations

Expectations that are clear, explicit and mutually-accepted are the basis of a good supervisory relationship. These expectations should be discussed and agreed upon very early in the relationship. Expectations include the degree of formality that is needed to express all other expectations; the degree of desirability of expressing the plan of study and other aspects of the program as a written agreement which will vary considerably between programs.

  1. With the participation of the Supervisory Committee, Senior Supervisors and students should, at the start of the supervisory relationship, agree on a plan of study for the student's degree program with clear 'milestones' denoting progress. The plan may be expressed in writing. In all cases, there should be an explicit understanding that it may be changed in light of future developments. Departments may wish to consider establishment of a general written agreement, stipulating the minimum requirements, rights and responsibilities of the student, Senior Supervisor and department, which could be revised to meet individual student/supervisor needs (see download link above). 
  2. Students must be made aware of evaluation criteria for all work before work commences. If ambiguities remain, students should discuss them with the faculty member and resolve them before proceeding.
  3. Senior Supervisors and members of Supervisory Committees should inform graduate students of their disciplinary orientation and views on controversial topics in the field and state their expectations of graduate students in relation to these.
  4. It is the responsibility of Senior Supervisors to inform students in advance of evaluation procedures, the outcome(s) of those procedures (in written form) and the means available to students to respond to evaluation outcomes.
  5. Whenever research is being planned, faculty members and graduate students should reach agreement on the ownership of any intellectual property that may result. This will include patents, licenses and the authorship of any publications which may arise from the research. The principle that all students who participate in research that leads to publication (or profit) should receive appropriate credit should be maintained. It is recommended that a written agreement be concluded (see 1. above). Similar discussions should occur between instructors and students in courses in which new data and ideas may be generated. In all cases, the agreements reached must be consistent with University policies on intellectual property.

Progression

Progression through the graduate program presents several areas where guidelines are helpful. These relate to academic and personal aspects of the relationship.

Advice, Resources and Evaluation

Faculty members should be familiar with department and University policies and procedures, and with sources of information on graduate student support. Similarly, students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the University Calendar, the Graduate Studies Handbook and official written departmental and University documentation pertaining to graduate education.

The essence of graduate education is development of research skill/professional competence. Senior Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that a student has access to intellectual resources and to research opportunities. Other members of the Supervisory Committee and the department share in these responsibilities. Graduate students are expected to take advantage of the resources and opportunities that are provided and to pursue actively support for their research and themselves.

To the extent possible, the Senior Supervisor should provide financial support for the student's research and for the student.

Faculty members should be available for regular consultation with students. Senior Supervisors, other committee members and course instructors should be available to students on a schedule appropriate to the needs of both parties.

Students should meet with their Senior Supervisors and/or full Supervisory Committees on a regular basis to set both short- and long-term goals (which may be modified from time to time) and to ensure continuation of common expectations. Normally, students should arrange the meetings (but see point 7 below).

The Senior Supervisor and the student share the responsibility of ensuring that examinations such as minor fields, qualifying or comprehensive examinations are arranged in a timely way.

The Senior Supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the student's progress is assessed on at least an annual basis as described in [1.8.1]. This will often entail formal meetings of the Supervisory Committee (which may or may not include all members of the committee) and the student. The resultant report on the student's progress may be either written by the Senior Supervisor or drafted by the student and endorsed — possibly in modified form — by the Senior Supervisor. The Senior Supervisor is responsible for transmitting the report to the chair of the departmental Graduate Program Committee, with a copy to the student.

Senior Supervisors must inform their students of planned absences well in advance and make arrangements for an acting supervisor, who would normally be a member of the Supervisory Committee; see [1.6.3]. Similarly, students should inform their Senior Supervisors of planned absences in advance. In cases of unplanned absences, notification should be as soon as possible.

The purposes of evaluation of students are to improve academic skills in research, writing, critical thinking, analysis, etc. and to assess the progress of the student toward the degree. Evaluation should be fair, sensitive and provided in a timely fashion. Criticism should be specific and constructively presented. Evaluation should include specific suggestions for improvement, when indicated. Students have the obligation to respond in a timely way to criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Faculty members who feel they cannot or can no longer, evaluate a student's work in an unbiased way should arrange to have another qualified person evaluate the work. Evaluation of the student's work in one area should not be affected by evaluation in another area.

Students who feel their work is not being evaluated fairly should notify the Graduate Program Chair in their department and seek resolution. If satisfactory resolution cannot be reached at this level, the Graduate Appeal Procedures may be applicable. (See also the Unsatisfactory Performance Appeal form.)

Interpersonal and Other Conflicts of Interest

The relationship between supervisors and students must be purely an academic one. Any deviations from this require cessation of any evaluative role for the supervisor.

Romantic, intimate relationships (including but not limited to sexual intimacy) are unacceptable between faculty members and graduate students because of the increased potential for coercion, favouritism and harassment and so should be avoided. The societal view of "consenting adults" does not apply in the faculty member-graduate student case, because of pre-existing imbalances in power. Faculty members are responsible for drawing a clear line of separation between their professional and their personal lives.

A faculty member who enters into an intimate or close personal relationship with a graduate student who is, or will be, subject to the faculty member for any evaluation, supervision or employment should terminate or decline the evaluative/supervisory/employment role(s) and take all necessary steps to avoid any suggestion of bias, including informing the department chair of the situation.

Faculty members who are in a financial relationship with a student shall not be involved in any evaluative role with respect to the student. Such relationships may include business partnership or an employee-employer relationship outside the normal scope of research or teaching assistantships, but normally exclude situations where both faculty member and student are co-holders of the rights to intellectual property.

Faculty members who play more than one role with respect to the student should not take unfair advantage of this situation. One example is serving as both Senior Supervisor and course instructor in a course where the student is employed as a teaching assistant, which could result in undue pressure on the student to perform work beyond that specified under the TA terms of employment.

Faculty members must not permit personal conflict with a graduate student to impinge on that student's relationship with other faculty members. Similarly, faculty members should not allow personal animosities among colleagues to influence graduate students' relationships with those colleagues.

External examiners should also be free of potential conflicts of interest. Please consult the Conflict of Interest and Potential Examiners memo (pdf).

Ethics

Senior Supervisors and students should discuss academic dishonesty and its consequences, with regard to both thesis and course work. Neither party should assume that what constitutes academic dishonesty is "self-evident." Consult Policy R60.01.

Supervisors and students should become familiar with and govern their behaviour by the University Harassment Policy, which covers a range of harassment and discrimination issues, including sexual harassment. Consult Policy GP 18.

Neither a graduate student nor a faculty member may present the work of the other as if it is his/her own work.

Faculty members should be sensitive to cultural differences regarding standard academic practice related to academic dishonesty and make every effort to inform and explain Canadian definitions.

All research that involves human subjects in any way (including use of personal information on humans), whether funded or not, must be directed for review and prior approval to the University Ethics Review Committee. Consult Policy R20.01.

Changes of Committee

Change in membership of the Supervisory Committee may be initiated by the student, any member of the Supervisory Committee or any member of the departmental Graduate Program Committee, as described in [1.6.5].

  1. A graduate student may wish to change his or her Senior Supervisor and/or committee member(s) for any number of valid reasons. These reasons include, but are not limited to, change in direction of research, change of interests and irreconcilable academic or personal conflicts.
  2. Intellectual debate is an important part of university activity. Occasionally, fundamental differences in substance, style or philosophy may render debate counter-productive. Every effort should be made by faculty members and graduate students to address such difficulties. Departments are encouraged to establish mechanisms to mediate or otherwise resolve such differences before they become irreconcilable. If it becomes apparent to either party that intellectual differences have become irreconcilable and that debate between them has become more negative than constructive, each has a responsibility to reconsider working together.
  3. Students should be able to change Senior Supervisors without subsequent negative consequences. This involves faculty members disavowing proprietary attitudes regarding graduate students and ensuring that past conflicts do not color future relations with the student. If the faculty member is unable to detach him/herself, then he or she should remove him/herself from any further formal and informal evaluative functions regarding the student. See the section above under Supervisory Committee for further guidance about changes in committee.

Conclusions of the Program

Expectations that are clear, explicit and mutually-accepted are the basis of a good supervisory relationship. These expectations should be discussed and agreed upon very early in the relationship. Expectations include the degree of formality that is needed to express all other expectations; the degree of desirability of expressing the plan of study and other aspects of the program as a written agreement which will vary considerably between programs.

  1. Well in advance of University deadlines, the Supervisory Committee and student should consult to prepare for the culminating event. Time lines and procedures should be agreed upon for completion and approval of the thesis and for its examination. The same considerations apply to the writing of a final examination.
  2. In most master's programs, there is one examiner to be selected; in doctoral programs, there are an external examiner and an 'internal' examiner. The choice of examiners should be made in consultation with the graduate student, who should be informed about the qualifications of the examiner(s).
  3. The same considerations related to conflict of interest as affect the Senior Supervisor (see section C above) are relevant to selection of examiners: examiners should have no personal, financial or professional relationship with the student that would lead to any conflict of interest.
  4. Normally, the thesis is not sent to examiner(s) until it has the approval of the full Supervisory Committee.
  5. Prior to the defence, all participants should acquaint themselves with the possible outcomes specified in [GGR 1.10.2].
  6. The relationship between the Senior Supervisor and the student does not end upon degree completion. The Senior Supervisor, and other faculty members as appropriate, should be available to write letters of reference for the student and submit them in a timely fashion.

Student Progress

All students and supervisors should have as their goal the expeditious completion of the degree program, consistent of course with the necessary high academic standards.

Progress toward completion of the degree should be monitored closely and students advised promptly if their progress is found to be less than satisfactory.

As noted under Guidelines for Supervisors (above) the establishment of a realistic timetable for the program is highly advisable. This provides the context in which progress can be evaluated.

Sample Checklist

The following is a useful list of topics that should be discussed regularly, and could form the agenda for the student's annual progress report.

Every semester

  • there is a regular meeting schedule established; it is understood what the student will report on, and areas where supervision is most likely to be needed
  • the goals for the semester have been established (e.g. courses, research, writing etc.)
  • plans for professional development (e.g. conferences, learning new techniques) are known and have been allotted sufficient time
  • the student has a plan for financial support
  • is ethics approval required for research on humans or animals? Have safety approvals (e.g. biohazards, radiation) been obtained?

At least once a year

  • the student and the entire supervisory committee have met and discussed plans for the year
  • there is a written statement of the goals, and a timeline for achieving them
  • progress from the previous year has been assessed in writing
  • plans for financial support have been discussed
  • major absences of committee members and/or student are known
  • the long-term plan for completion of the degree has been reviewed; the current year's plan is consistent with the long-term plan; the student has the Library's thesis template
  • there is a plan to publish research results, and the rules for co-authorship have been discussed
  • the plan includes time for family, recreation and vacations
  • the student has consulted with the supervisory committee about career goals following graduation

Supervisory Skills Workshop

The Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies offers Supervisory Skills workshops on a semesterly basis. Please email gradstudies@sfu.ca for upcoming workshop dates.

Supervisory Practices

The following links all contain useful advice about good supervisory practices, but note that policies vary from one university to another.

Canadian university web pages which are widely referenced:

Websites which have long lists of useful resources:

Other Canadian university web pages with useful information: