Selection is a key component in graduate student retention. The key question is: How do we ensure that we are recruiting students who are most likely to flourish in a graduate program, to be successful and to enhance our research programs and knowledge base?

Studies in recruitment, assessment and admission demonstrate that personal interaction remains the best way to gauge suitability. Some strategies emerge as most successful:

  • Recruiting our own undergraduates, using the Undergraduate Student Research program is a great way to assess the research potential of your 3rd and 4th year students, as are RAships funded by your research grant or through the Work Study program
  • Attending undergraduate / graduate conferences puts you in contact with promising students and allows you to see them operate in a professional setting
  • Conducting a phone, Skype or in-person interview with a prospective student helps to see beyond the student’s file to assess their suitability for your lab, your academic unit, your research program and the profession

All of these are important ways to assess interpersonal and communication skills, critical-thinking, self-awareness and self-appraisal, integrity and potential collegiality. Having the prospective student meet with some of your colleagues will help you see beyond your own bias.

Can you support a graduate student?

Assessing your own availability and resources is crucial. Ask yourself:

  • How many graduate students do my colleagues supervise (and at what stages are their graduate students)?
  • How many students do I have time for?
  • In what subfields do I have sufficient mastery to truly mentor a graduate student?
  • Do I have research funds to support their work?
  • What do I hope students will contribute to my research program? Will this student be able to make that contribution? 

Is this the right student?

As you assess application files: start with your own set of criteria:

  • What do you want in a student?
  • What role will they play in your research program, your lab and in your academic unit?
  • What specific skills do you require?
  • What are the skills and capabilities currently required for successful job placement either inside or out of academe?

Add to these the criteria set by your academic unit and/or profession. Remember that students who enter with less than a 3.5 CGPA will not be eligible for Tri-Council scholarships so you will need to provide funding for these students either in the form of Teaching Assistantships or in the form of Research Assistantships from your research grant.


What does it cost to be a grad student at SFU?

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has determined that the Living Wage for Families in Metro Vancouver is 19.62/hour.

International Students
Remember that International students cannot receive Tri-Council funds except under the highly competitive Vanier program. International students, therefore, rely more heavily on their supervisors to provide funding.

SFU’s expectations of graduate supervisors & students.

Reviewing this text, consider whether you and the student you are considering recruiting can meet these expectations. You may wish to use this handy PDF as conversation starter with your prospective graduate student.

The list below represents a minimum standard:


From SFU Policy Gazette, Understand the Code of Faculty Ethics and Responsibilities, A30.01, and Research Policies, the R30 and R60 groups

From the Academic Calendar, the General Graduate Regulations

  • Attend a supervisory skills workshop
  • Practice ethical behavior at all times
  • Accept an appropriate number of graduate students to ensure that the supervisory load is manageable
  • Prepare for the appropriate time and energy commitment for supervision
  • Be familiar with the field and be willing to gain familiarity where necessary to provide clear expectations and guidance in research and standards of performance
  • Be familiar with the current university regulations pertaining to graduate student supervision and student progress, assist the student in completing forms if required
  • Model professional behavior
  • Assist the student in selecting the supervisory committee
  • Provide mentorship/training for thesis research and for post-graduate opportunities
  • Schedule regular meetings (at least once a month) and be accessible for consultation; express expectations regarding frequency of meetings, preferred mode of communication
  • Provide timely, constructive feedback, evaluation and assessment
  • Maintain a respectful tone in all correspondence
  • Assist the student in assimilating supervisory committee feedback
  • Mentor the student in professional and translational skills development including applying for funding, conferences, networking, publishing, project management and other career development
  • Set out guidelines regarding authorship, co-publication and intellectual property
  • Wherever possible and appropriate, provide funding from faculty research grants and assist in fellowship and other funding applications
  • With reasonable notice, provide support (notification, editing, letters of reference) for student applications for funding, to conferences, post-graduate opportunities
  • Meet deadlines associated with student progress as set by the relevant academic unit and / or in relation to funding supports (letters of reference etc.)
  • Permit student to have a reasonable amount of vacation time
  • Discuss unexpected delays in student progress as soon as they ariseBe willing to modify research goals if necessitated by factors outside of the student’s control
  • Ensure the continuity of supervision, accessibility during your absence or provision of a replacement during absences longer than 2 months.
  • Use issue-based problem solving when issues arise that cannot be resolved informally: As a reference, go to alis.alberta/let's talk: a guide to resolving workplace conflicts
  • As early as possible, inform your program chair/director of any serious difficulties, such as professional or academic disagreements, interpersonal conflicts, potential conflict of interest situations
  • Ensure a safe work environment by complying with university regulations and/or the applicable regulations of the and/or the applicable regulations of outside agencies
  • As much as possible, ensure that the workplace is free from harassment, discrimination and conflict


From SFU Policy Gazette, Understand the Student Academic Honesty and Conduct Policies, S10.01 to S10.05

From the Academic Calendar, the General Graduate Regulations

  • Attend a workshop on the supervisory relationship
  • Practice ethical behavior at all times
  • Choose a supervisor wisely by determining their availability, interest
  • and expertise in your subject area and willingness to supervise
  • Consult with your supervisor regarding the selection of your supervisory committee
  •  Become familiar with the policies, procedures, timelines and expectations for timely completion of the degree
  • Set goals, discuss goals with supervisor and set achievable timelines
  • Clarify your supervisor’s expectations regarding standards of performance
  • Prepare to commit time and energy to gain the knowledge and skills needed to conduct advanced research and to complete an advanced academic program
  • Express expectations to your supervisor regarding the frequency of meetings, mode of communication.
  •  Participate in training related to academic integrity, ethics, and animal care (as available)
  • Plan to meet regularly with your supervisor /supervisory committee and establish a schedule for progress through the program
  • Apply for funding
  • Gain professional experience; attend and present at conferences; publish in scholarly venues
  • Participate in professional and translational skills training
  • Clarify expectations and guidelines regarding authorship on publications and ownership of IP (patents and licenses)
  • Make a provision for any absences from graduate program/laboratory work
  • As early as possible, inform your supervisor of any serious difficulties, such as professional academic disagreements, interpersonal conflicts, or potential conflict of interest situations
  • Attend supervisory skills workshops
  • Use issue-based problem solving when issues arise that cannot be resolved informally with your supervisor: As a reference, go to alis.alberta/let's talk: a guide to resolving workplace conflicts
  • Be pro-active and take responsibility for communicating with your supervisor

Carrying forward the conversation: Download this handout to further the conversation about recruitment.