Department of Medicine

The Role of the Supervisor

The moment a faculty member agrees to supervise a graduate student, he/she assumes significant responsibilities for the student’s education, training and career plans. (See the appropriate section of the University of Alberta Calendar in the preamble to the section for the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research). As such, the supervisor should treat the student as a junior colleague.

Although a major part of supervision involves the student’s research project, this is by no means the supervisor’s only role, as is documented below. Furthermore, the supervisor should be aware that (a) the student has the right to request to change his/her supervisor, and (b) the membership of the student’s supervisory committee must be agreed to by both the student and the supervisor. Finally, although the supervisor’s and supervisory committee’s recommendations are the largest factor in deciding a student’s program, it is the Department’s Research Training Committee and the FGSR with whom the final program decisions rest.

Supervising a graduate student involves a commitment of time; a faculty member should be prepared to give the time required for supervision before agreeing to do so. The supervisor must have a record of previous successful graduate student supervision. If supervisory experience is lacking or if, in the opinion of the Research Training Committee, the previous supervisory performance was problematic, they will require an experienced person to act as a co-supervisor.

The Supervisor’s Responsibilities

Establish, with input from the student, a supervisory committee within 6 months after the commencement of the program and ensure that the committee maintains contact. Responsibilities of the supervisory committee are outlined in this document.

  1. Provide a yearly progress report to the Chair of the Research Training Committee
  2. Recommend sufficient and appropriate course work to ensure that the student has a broad knowledge base around the topic of his/her research project and see that the student takes full advantage of the opportunity to learn in areas which may be important later in his/her career.
  3. Assist the student in preparing a thesis proposal, arrange a meeting(s) of the supervisory committee, and obtain the signatures of the supervisory committee members to confirm that the proposal is of adequate substance to guide the student in his/her research.
  4. Encourage the student to take a statistics course if he/she has not already.
  5. Ensure that the student learns, through a combination of course work and supervision, the ethics of research, the principles of the scientific method, the principles and alternatives in research design and data analysis, and an approach to scientific work that is logically critical.
  6. Provide a collegial environment for the student that is conducive to research, and in which the student can grow intellectually.
  7. Ensure adequate computer and software access for the student.
  8. At the beginning of the student’s program, discuss with the student the “rules” of authorship of any published material arising from the student’s research. Intellectual Property Guidelines for graduate students and supervisors are available on the FGSR website.
  9. Regularly monitor the student’s course work and research progress. Ideally, regularly scheduled meetings (e.g., weekly) should take place between the student and supervisor.
  10. Ensure that the student has a formal meeting with his/her supervisory committee at least once a year to evaluate the student’s progress and to make recommended changes (to course work or research), if necessary. It is NOT the responsibility of the student to set up or take minutes of these meetings. That is the responsibility of the supervisor.
  11. Inform and communicate to the Graduate Coordinator(s), student and supervisory committee members of all meetings, examinations and any circumstances that arise with regard to the student’s graduate program.
  12. Complete all relevant forms, including signatures, and submit them to the Graduate Education Advisor.
  13. Ensure that there are always sufficient funds to support the student’s research project and ensure that appropriate financial support for the student’s stipend is in place, or that sources of funding are available for the student to apply.
  14. Ensure that the student is aware of his/her responsibilities and, when necessary, assist the student in meeting them.
  15. Provide appropriate guidance to the student on the nature of the research and on the standards expected.
  16. Maintains open communication with the student concerning any problem and, in the event of a conflict in the supervisor-student relationship, discusses the issues with the student and Chair of the Research Training Committee.
  17. When going on leave or an extended period of absence, ensure that the student is adequately supervised by the provision of an acting supervisor. Often this would be a member of the supervisory committee.
  18. With the student, establish a realistic timetable for completion of various phases of the program.
  19. Supervisors should be aware that students can work for income outside the graduate research project for no more than 12 hours per week.
  20. Read the student’s thesis carefully and be satisfied that it is of sufficient quality for the student to defend before the Examination Committee. Ensure that the student is well prepared to defend his/her thesis. Regulations and Guide for the Preparation of Theses and Examination Procedures for Candidacy Examinations and Final Oral Examinations.
  21. Arrange for the Chair of the Final Examination Committee who will normally be the Chair of the Research Training Committee or, in his/her absence a member of the Research Training Committee.
  22. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to set the date, time, and place of the final oral examination, and invite all examiners. The Department does not have funding for external examiners – this is the responsibility of the supervisor. The FGSR has limited funding available for external examiners if graduate coordinators provide a compelling rationale why it would be particularly important to have an examiner in attendance by completing and submitting a “request for funds for external examiner travel form”. It is also the supervisor’s responsibility to arrange for refreshments if desired (although it is not required to provide refreshments)