Teaching and Supervising
Understanding the roles, responsibilities and expectations associated with supervision and being a graduate student is important and effective communication is essential to ensuring a shared understanding. The development of strong working relationships helps to promote an excellent graduate experience, ensuring satisfactory progress and achieving success in completing high quality research. The resources below provide best practices, advice and general information to assist in forming and maintaining good student-supervisor relationships.
SGS Graduate Supervision Handbook
This guide is intended to provide graduate students, faculty members, departments and research units with guidelines that encourage and promote an enriched and collegial work environment in which to pursue knowledge and academic inquiry.
You can find a complete pdf* of the Graduate Supervision Handbook (455 KB) here.
Clarifying expectations of the roles and responsibilities of student and supervisor early in the supervisory relationship is valuable and may prevent misunderstandings from building and becoming an obstacle to a productive relationship. The Supervisor-Student Expectations Scale (see page 22) offers one approach to discussing expectations with your student.
The School of Graduate Studies and the Center for Teaching and Learning offers workshops for faculty on graduate supervision. Check the SGS Workshops and Webinars for event details and material.
Health, Counselling & Disability Services has two resources to assist supervisors in fostering a healthy relationship with your student. Supervisors and students shared ideas to produce these booklets.
How to Make the Most out of Your Supervisory Relationship: Advice from Supervisors & Students - Advice for Graduate Students (2.12MB)
Fostering Strong Supervisory Relationships: How Can Supervisors Assist - Advice for New Supervisors(2.5MB)
The Cross-Cultural Advisor at HCDS and can provide advice to faculty, staff and students on cross-cultural transitions. DETAILS
As supervisors and teachers of graduate students, you may encounter students in distress. Health, Counselling and Disabilities Services has provided this valuable list of signs of students in distress:
What to Look for:
• Significant changes in academic performance, including deterioration in quality of work, frequent missed assignments, excessive procrastination, or avoidance of classroom participation
• Increased class absences or tardiness
• Listlessness, lack of energy, or falling asleep in class
• Unusual or bizarre behavior, including unexplained crying, laughing to self, very rapid speech, disorganized thinking, suspiciousness
• High levels of irritability, including angry outbursts or unruly behavior
• Significant weight loss or weight gain
• Complaints about physical symptoms, including nausea, stomach aches,headaches, or problems with eating or sleeping
• Marked changes in personal hygiene or dress
• Direct or indirect references to either suicide or intention to harm or kill another person
• Changes or disturbances in personal relationships
• Visible signs of anxiety or depressed mood
• Talking explicitly about hopelessness or suicide
• Difficulty concentrating, difficulty carrying on normal conversation
• Social isolation, social withdrawal or “excessive” dependency on Dons,Professors, or TA’s
• Excessive sleeping, internet use/gaming
• Significant changes in personal, sexual or cultural identity
If you think that your student is in distress:
1. It’s OK to ask - Provided you are coming from a place of concern, you are likely to get a good response; remember it is better to be embarrassed about the asking or about the response than
be remorseful or regretful about not having asked
2. Pick a good place and time to have the conversation - If you are going to have a conversation, choose to do so when and where the barriers to opening up are fewest. Seek a quiet, private moment to talk to the student.
3. Say what you see - Talk to the student about what you have seen and express concern (“I’ve noticed that you seem to be less interested in eating these days; is everything ok?”) Don’t work on the basis of assumptions about the student’s behaviour or feelings.
4. Be prepared for the possibility of denial of difficulty - Students (like the rest of us) are not always ready to talk about their concerns. If this happens, it means “not now”. Respect that.
5. Trust your instincts - Even if a student denies that there is a difficulty, keep on trusting yourself. You might say “OK, please know that I am concerned about the way that you seem these days”. Let them know that you are concerned and that you want to be of support.
6. “Keep the door open” - If at all possible, the student should leave the interaction feeling it is safe to approach you again in the future.
7. Remember your resources - If you are uncomfortable or uncertain after your interaction with a student, remember there are resources on campus that you can call on. In situations like these please call the Counselling Service (32506) and ask to speak to the Director (Dr. Mike Condra) the Associate Director (Dr. Carol Harris) the Cross-Cultural Advisor (Dr. Arunima Khanna) or the Clinical Psychologist (Dr. Chuck Vetere).
Health, Counselling and Disability Services is located in the Lasalle Building on Stuart Street. The material on this page is taken from the HCDS brochure (105KB) "If you think a Student is in Distress".
The doctoral students whom you supervise are responsible for submitting a written report at least once per year to you, and/or if applicable the supervisory committee, detailing his or her progress since the last report, and the plan/objectives for the next year. The supervisor and/or supervisory committee provide feedback on the student’s progress and comment as to whether the proposed plan/objectives are reasonable and compatible with timely degree completion. This is also an opportunity to outline how any unanticipated delays in progress can be addressed. The student must be given the opportunity to respond to the supervisor’s and/or supervisory committee’s comments, and all parties must sign the report prior to its submission to the Graduate Coordinator (or delegate) by the annual deadline established by the department/program. If no deadline exists, this report shall be filed with the department/program by the last working day in June each year.
Departments/programs may choose to use the standardized SGS Annual Report or their own annual report. In the latter case, programs should ascertain that their own annual reports includes all the basic elements that the SGS regulation has mandated. Please see Tips for Annual Reports.
Annual Report Template.pdf (17.1kB)
Annual Report Tips (14.1kB)
Regulation Annual Progress Report (14.1kB)
Dissertation Boot Camp - information for students and what to prepare with their supervisors prior to attending.
One of the duties of a supervisor and graduate instructor is the writing of reference letters for students who are applying for research funding or for employment. This document (pdf 114KB) provides some tips on writing effective reference letters.
Consult the Graduate Manual for your Council for the relevant forms and procedures for course additions, revisions and Deletions.
Consult with the Associate Dean about substantial changes to the graduate program and course offerings.
The graduate coordinator or graduate program director plays a pivotal role. The graduate coordinator:
- assists faculty and students in understanding the regulations of the university and the School of Graduate Studies
- provides academic guidance and support supervision (see page 11).
- In addition to their administrative duties, graduate coordinators play an important consultative and information-sharing role. They are the lynch pin between the Graduate Councils in which new policies and initiatives are discussed and reviewed and their department/program. They are responsible for consulting with their programs and bringing this consultation back to the Graduate Councils to inform decision-making.
An orientation for graduate coordinators or program directors is offered annually by the School of Graduate Studies and a webcast from 2012 of this session can be viewed. Alternatively the updated slides from 2013 can be downloaded (322KB)
Additional External Resources
Chronicle of Higher Education - by Leonard Cassuto on "Advising the Struggling Dissertation Student".
Career Pathways for Graduate Students
Pathways Report - from the US Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) on "Pathways through graduate school and into careers". (1563KB)
See the SGS graduate calendar for information about all regulations for example academic integrity, appeals, annual reports, time limits and extensions, medical and parental leaves and funding.
For Supervisors & Administrators: Reasons for Attrition
PhD. Completion and Attrition: Findings from Exit Surveys of Ph.D. Completers. (2009). Council of Graduate Schools PhD Completion Project
Depression Symptoms in Canadian Psychology Graduate Students: Do Research Productivity, Funding, and the Academic Advisory Relationship Play a Role? Canadian Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 2011. Canadian study found that 33% of the 292 psychology graduate students surveyed reported clinically significant symptoms of depression. A good relationship with an advisor was protective against depression.
For Faculty & Administrators: Promoting Student Success
Factors Affecting Timely Completion of a PhD: A Complex Systems Approach - Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, December 2012. Queensland University of Technology study. Four factors considered to most directly influence timely completion were personal aspects, the research environment, the research project, and incoming skills.
Innovation in PhD completion: the Hardy Shall Succeed (and be Happy!) - Higher Education Research & Development, November 2007. An innovative program to reduce self-sabotaging behaviours, including overcommitting, procrastination and perfectionism, helped graduate students feel more positive about their work, but did not affect factors related to the students’ relationship with their supervisor.
PhD Completion Project: Policies and Practices to Promote Student Success. (2010). Council of Graduate Schools PhD Completion Project. Includes the following:
- Promising Practices
- Student Selection and Admissions
- Mentoring and Advising
- Financial Support
- Program Environment: 10 Ways to Keep Graduate Students from Quitting
- Research Experience
- Curricular and Administrative Processes & Procedures
Higher Education Practices that Promote PhD Completion. From the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: emphasizes importance of introductions before finalizing the advisor-student match.
For Supervisors: Responsibilities, Checklists & Milestones
Guiding Principles for Graduate Student Supervision. Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS) 2008
- The Western Guide to Graduate Supervision, which includes a Checklist for Planning First Meetings with Your Graduate Student, Sample Agreement for Supervision/Mentorship, Expectations Worksheet for Mentors/Graduate Supervisors
- Supervisor Responsibilities, Graduate Student Responsibilities and an Expectations document for both parties to review and complete
Keeping Students on Track. McGill’s web site for graduate supervisors that includes
Milestone Agreement Form to be implemented by the University of Texas System in Fall 2013 as part of an effort to shorten PhD completion times. For students to complete with their advisor reviewing PhD degree academic milestones and their expected completion date.