Graduate Studies Guide: Committee composition, supervision and choice of topic

Committee Composition

The GPC encourages students to set up their supervisory committees as soon as possible. To this end, students are provided with the name(s) of faculty who agree to supervise the student’s topic for admission purposes when they enter the graduate program. The student is not obligated to work with these faculty, but this contact is the logical start to the composition of a supervisory committee.

Students are required to submit an Approval of Supervisory Committee form detailing the composition of their supervisory committee by December 1 (for MA students) and March 1 (for PhD students) of the first year, along with a plan of study prepared with this committee indicating the order and the times by which each requirement of the degree program will be completed. These plans of study may be revised as necessary. Copies of individual plans of study, along with any revisions subsequently agreed to by the student and members of their supervisory committee will be provided to the Graduate Program Committee, via the Program Assistant.

For the MA program, the supervisor must always be a full-time research faculty (tenured or tenure-track) member of the department. With the approval of the GPC, other members of the supervisory committee may be from other departments or universities. For the PhD, the Supervisor and at least one committee member must be full-time research faculty members of the department and the supervisor must be in the same disciplinary field (S or A) as the student. Other members of the supervisory committee may be from other departments or universities with the approval of the GPC. Sessional instructors and limited term instructors cannot be thesis committee members.


The relationship between a student and their supervisor is a significant one. Section 1.6 of the Graduate General Regulations’ provides policies governing the composition of supervisory committees. GPS also provides guidelines for a productive supervisor-graduate student relationship. These include regular meetings to discuss the student’s goals and the faculty member’s expectations which respect to how the student will achieve those goals. Meetings should also map out a plan for student financial support during their studies as well as for their professional development.

Occasionally, students find it necessary to change supervisors. Students who believe that they need to seek an alternate supervisor should, as the first step, discuss the situation with the Graduate Program Chair.

Professorial Rank and Supervision

It is normal practice in the department that PhD students have, faculty members who are associate or full professors as their supervisors. However, assistant professors who have had their contracts renewed are eligible to supervise PhD students. MA students may be supervised by research faculty of any rank.

Choice of Topic

Upon application for admission to the department, the student indicated their interest in a specific research topic. Students are not obliged to remain with the topic in which interest was initially expressed, and it is not unusual for students to alter their research topic. The student’s choice of research topic is very important in determining the choice of supervisor, and it must be remembered that admission to the department was contingent on a particular faculty member's ability and willingness to supervise the student’s initial topic. A change of the topic must be agreed to by the supervisory committee. Detailed specification of the thesis topic must be done with the supervisor so that both the student and the supervisor are clear as to the nature of the project.