Best Practices in Forming and Utilizing a Supervisory Committee

Graduate General Regulation 1.6 articulates the requirements pertaining to supervisory committees for students doing a thesis or a project. But it is entirely possible to satisfy these requirements while, at the same time, not meeting the supervisory needs of a student. In what follows we provide some best practices for establishing and utilizing a supervisory committee.

  • A student should have a senior supervisor as soon as possible in their studies. GGR 1.6.3 suggests that this should happen sometime in the first semester. If this is not possible an interim supervisor should be appointed.
  • Shortly thereafter, the senior supervisor, in consultation with the student, identify and recruit a supervisory committee. At least one member of this committee, in addition to the senior supervisor, needs to be a faculty member or an adjunct professor or a research associate at Simon Fraser University. This leaves room for specifically qualified people not associated with SFU to be appointed to the supervisory committee. These people can be associated with another academic institution or be working in the field outside of academia. This is a great way to add diversity and specific expertise to the supervisory committee. But it is important to remember that approval by the Faculty GPC as well as DGS is required.
  • Supervisory committee members should anticipate meeting with the student as soon as possible to determine mutually-agreed upon expectations for feedback, timeliness of feedback, as well as how the student may best communicate with members of the supervisory committee.
  • The supervisory committee as a whole should meet a minimum of twice a year together with the student to familiarize themselves with, as well as assess, the student’s progress. It is also a time to provide the guidance necessary to help the student continue to make good progress. One meeting each year should be dedicated to completing an annual progress evaluation (GGR 1.8.1). These are due in the fall, but ideally, the first annual progress report should occur at the end of the spring semester to enable students who are struggling to make the necessary improvements.
  • If there are comprehensive exams, candidacy exams, or thesis proposal exams the supervisory committee, in its entirety, should be involved. This ensures not only that the student gets a broad and diverse supervisory experience, but also ensures that the supervisory committee is fully aware of the student’s progress at key milestones.
  • As the student is completing his or her thesis it is important that the supervisory committee is reading and providing timely feedback on various aspects of the thesis that they are being asked to look at.
  • When it comes time to schedule the examination it is important that every member of the supervisory committee is confident that the thesis is ready to be examined.
  • It is much easier for a faculty member to say no to a student than it is to say no to a colleague. As such, it is best if the senior supervisor take on the responsibility of contacting colleagues for the purposes of scheduling meetings, scheduling a comprehensive exams, candidacy exams, or thesis proposal exams, inviting the internal examiner, as well as scheduling the thesis examination.
  • Keep in mind that the student is not permitted to have any contact with the external examiner. This includes contact for the purposes of scheduling the exam, organizing travel, arranging technology, and sending the thesis (either by email or by regular mail).

Professor Emeritus / Emerita as a Supervisor

Please see Academic Policy A.12-11: Professors Emeriti/ae Policy:
2. Professors Emeriti/ae shall be listed in the University Calendar, shall retain their eligibility to supervise graduate students under normal Senate Regulations, and shall be members of Convocation.