Tips for Graduate Students

More often than not most questions or problems have simple solutions if they are dealt with early. The University has a wide range of resources on campus that are here to help you. Take the time and work to build strong connections with other students and faculty in your department. If one day you find yourself in a difficult situation having a strong support network of friends and colleagues can be very helpful. If you don’t have a supervisor yet, or if you have questions your supervisor cannot answer, the Graduate Advisor in your department might be able to point you in the right direction. 

The first place to start is the Graduate General Regulations. These cover all of the polices and reglulations that govern your studies.


Where to turn to next:

  • Your instructor
  • The Graduate Program Chair
  • The Office of the Ombudsperson
  • The Graduate Student Society
  • The Office of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Fellows at Simon Fraser University
  • Health and Counselling
  • The Human Rights Office

Know the rules of the game

As a graduate student you have to balance several roles that might be new to you. You are a student, perhaps a TA, researcher or instructor. It is important that you familiarize yourself with some of the general university policies especially if you are a TA or instructor. You will have various roles to fill as student, researcher and/or instructor. Consult the SFU calendar for general policies and procedures. The Dean of Graduate Studies website is also an excellent resource

Tips for building a relationship with your supervisor

  • Think of your relationship with your supervisor as a partnership and give yourself tools to keep it healthy; always look for ways to keep the lines of communication open
  • Talk to a potential supervisor and to his/her students before starting to work together; get to know the person’s work in the field and his/her working style;
  • Know what your own preferences or needs are in terms of research area, supervision and feedback, what is your potential supervisors style? Is that a good fit?
  • Get to know your department secretaries and treat them with consideration and respect.
  • Think of your relationship with faculty members, especially those you want to continue to work with, as partnerships and take the initiative in keeping these relationships productive.
  • Early in your relationships within the department, meet in person to establish expectations about progress, feedback, and deadlines. Also discuss how and how often you will communicate. It is a good idea not to rely only on e-mail.
  • Establish expectations about the subject matter, progress, feedback, and deadlines; clarify what is flexible and what isn’t
  • Discuss how you will communicate; try to establish regular meetings.
  • Follow in-person meetings with an email or written note to confirm or clarify expectations, deadlines, and agreements
  • Clear up miscommunication right away, don’t let things become bigger problems
  • Keep your emails and keep notes about your meetings
  • Make sure you keep in contact and inform your supervisor of circumstances beyond your control that may affect your performance, for example illness or family emergency.
  • It pays off to resolve things early and constructively!
  • Sometimes things might just not be working out at all even if you use the tips we suggest. In that case get help elsewhere. If it’s that bad, it’s not going to go away by itself, and guess who suffers most when that happens? Two good sources of help: the Graduate Studies Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies and the Office of the Ombudsperson.


Bartlett, A., & Mercer, G. (2001). Postgraduate Research Supervision: Transforming (R)Elations. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Goldsmith, J.A., Komlos, J, & Schine Gold, P. (2001).Your academic career: A portable mentor for scholars from graduate school through tenure. Chicago; The University of Chicago Press.

Morris Heiberger, M., & Miller Vick. J. (2002) The academic job search handbook 2nd ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania

How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students at a Diverse University. Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, University of Michigan

How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty in a Diverse University. Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, University of Michigan

Wergin, J. (2003). Departments that Work: Building and sustaining cultures of excellence in academic programs. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co.