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Responsibilities of Graduate Program Directors, Faculty Advisors, Research Supervisors and Graduate Students

Classification number ACD 1523
Framework category Academic
Approving authority Academic Council
Policy owner Dean, Graduate Studies
Approval date February 25, 2020
Review date March 2023
Supersedes Academic Regulations, Graduate Academic Calendar 2019-20


The purpose of this Policy is to outline the duties and responsibilities of Graduate Program Directors, Faculty Advisors, Research Supervisors and graduate students as it pertains to their role in a graduate program.


For the purposes of this Policy the following definitions apply:

“Graduate Program Director” means academic administrators with a Graduate Faculty Appointment within an academic unit and help to ensure the success of the program and its students.

“Faculty Advisor” means a member of the graduate student’s home faculty with a Graduate Faculty Appointment that provides mentoring and advising to the student in all aspects of their program.

“Graduate Faculty Appointment” means a faculty member with an academic appointment at the University who has been approved to participate in a graduate program in one of the three categories: Graduate Faculty, Associate Graduate Faculty or Emeritus/Emerita Graduate Faculty.

“Research Supervisor” means a faculty member with a Graduate Faculty Appointment that oversees a graduate student’s research and academic progress towards successful completion of the student’s program

Scope and authority

This Policy applies to Graduate Program Directors, Faculty Advisors, Research Supervisors and graduate students.

The Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or successor thereof, is the Policy Owner and is responsible for overseeing the implementation, administration and interpretation of this Policy.


The integrity of graduate programs at the University is supported by a number of key stakeholders across the University. Below outlines the roles and responsibilities for the Graduate Program Director, Faculty Advisor, Research Supervisor and graduate students.

All university members involved in graduate studies are expected to be familiar with the University's policies and procedures for graduate studies.

Graduate Program Directors

  1. Each faculty and/or program has a Graduate Program Director. This role is of critical importance to ensuring the success of the program and its students.

  2. Graduate Program Directors should have a strong interest in students and their success, thoroughly understand the University's policies and procedures for graduate studies and be available on a regular basis to assist students seeking advice on issues related to their studies.

  3. The Graduate Program Director is accountable to the dean of the faculty and, with respect to graduate activities, to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

  4. The Graduate Program Director is appointed by the dean of the home faculty, in consultation with the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The duration of the appointment may be two or three years, at the discretion of the home faculty dean, with opportunity for reappointment.

  5. Each Graduate Program Director has a formal role and responsibilities relating to the Graduate Studies Committee of Academic Council, including nominations, supervisory committees, student awards and similar matters.

  6. The main duties of the Graduate Program Director include the following:

    1. Ensure that all graduate studies policies and procedures are administered fairly and correctly and are communicated to students in their program.
    2. Chair the academic committee for the program and make recommendations to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies regarding the admission of applicants.
    3. Approve a program of study for each student and provide advice regarding changes to a student's status or program.
    4. Appoint a Faculty Advisor or Research Supervisor for each student.
    5. Where applicable, work with the student and Research Supervisor to form a supervisory committee and appoint a committee chair.
    6. Recommend master's thesis examiners and doctoral external examiners to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
    7. Consider requests from students to defer an examination.
    8. Consider the approval of changes to a student's grade.
    9. Liaise regularly with the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and, as needed, with the Registrar.
    10. Maintain student records and forward to the appropriate office(s), as required.
    11. Provide advice, as needed, to units and bodies such as the Graduate Studies Committee of Academic Council.
    12. Help ensure that graduate students have the necessary resources, facilities and support.
    13. Co-ordinate financial assistance (including assistantships and fellowships) for graduate students.
    14. Help monitor the research and academic progress of graduate students.
    15. Provide input and assistance, as requested, for the creation and review of graduate programs.
    16. Mediate, as needed, in conflicts or disputes between a graduate student and their Research Supervisor.
    17. Co-ordinate graduate student recruitment activities for the program.

Student Supervision

  1. Graduate student supervision is performed by university members with a Graduate Faculty Appointment in the program.
    1. Each master's and doctoral student has a Faculty Advisor or Research Supervisor to provide guidance throughout the program.
    2. In programs that do not require a thesis, project or major paper, the student is guided by a Faculty Advisor throughout the program.
    3. A student registered in a program that requires a thesis, project or major paper may initially have a Faculty Advisor but will be assigned a Research Supervisor when the student begins their research.
    4. In some cases, a student may have co-supervisors, with the terms established through an agreement for co-supervision and made clear at the outset to all involved.
  2. Faculty Advisors
    1. The Graduate Program Director is responsible for assigning Faculty Advisors.
    2. The Faculty Advisor is a member of the student's home faculty and holds a Graduate Faculty Appointment.
    3. The main responsibilities of the Faculty Advisor include the following:
      • Consult with the student, recommend a program of study and submit it to the Graduate Program Director for approval.
      • Help the student choose an appropriate area of research, if applicable.
      • Ensure that the student understands all degree requirements and regulations, as well as applicable policies.
      • Be knowledgeable about, and inform the student of, key deadlines and related information.
      • Be reasonably available to the student to discuss the program of study, as well as any academic concerns.
      • If requested, advise the student on academic or personal student services or resources.
      • Monitor the student's academic progress.
  3. Research Supervisors
    1. The relationship between the student and the Research Supervisor is most important to the student's successful completion of a graduate degree.
    2. The Graduate Program Director will seek input from the student before assigning a Research Supervisor(s).
    3. All Research Supervisors must hold a Graduate, Associate Graduate or Emeritus/Emerita Graduate Faculty Appointment to the program in which they are supervising.
    4. Faculty members with a Graduate Faculty Appointment may sole-supervise, whereas those with an Associate or Emeritus/Emerita Graduate Faculty Appointment may only co-supervise.
    5. All research supervisory appointments must be approved by the dean of the home faculty in which the student is registered.
    6. Before approving the appointment of a Research Supervisor, the dean should give careful consideration to the faculty member's research activities, supervisory experience and training, previous performance in graduate student supervision, the number of graduate students already being supervised, any imminence of leave (i.e., research, maternity or administrative) or retirement and any other relevant factors.
    7. In extraordinary circumstances, research supervisory appointments may be approved on an individual basis by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
    8. Specific responsibilities of the Research Supervisor include the following:
      • Be sufficiently familiar with the field of research to provide guidance and/or be willing to gain that familiarity before agreeing to act as a Research Supervisor.
      • Be accessible to the student for consultation and discussion of the student's academic progress and research.
      • Help the student select and plan a suitable, timely and manageable research topic.
      • Co-operate with the student and Graduate Program Director to establish a supervisory committee to convene meetings, normally at least once annually, to evaluate the student's progress.
      • Respond in a timely, consistent and thorough manner to written work submitted by the student, with constructive and well-informed suggestions for improvement and continuation.
      • Provide a research environment that is safe, healthy, tolerant and free from harassment, discrimination and conflict.
      • Within the norms appropriate to the discipline, provide financial support and/or help the student obtain financial support from all reasonable sources.
      • Endeavour to achieve consensus and resolve differences in the best interests of all involved when there is conflicting advice, or when there are different expectations on the part of co-supervisors or members of a student's supervisory committee.
      • Appropriately acknowledge the contributions of the student in presentations and published material, in many cases via joint authorship.
      • Be sensitive to cultural factors which may influence the individual student's learning and research behaviour and experience.
      • Make arrangements for continuity of the student's supervision before beginning an extended leave of absence.
  4. Graduate Students
    1. Students have the following responsibilities:
      • Familiarize themselves with the general information, rules and regulations contained in the calendar, in the university's policy library, and with the specific information, rules and regulations of the faculty or faculties in which they are registered or enrolled or seek registration or enrolment, as well as the specific requirements of each degree sought.
      • To ensure that the courses they choose are consistent with program requirements.
      • Make a commitment and show substantial effort, initiative and dedication to gain the background knowledge and skills needed to pursue the research project successfully.
      • Work with their Research Supervisor to develop a plan and a timetable for completion of all stages of the research project and work assiduously to adhere to a schedule and to meet appropriate deadlines.
      • Meet regularly with their Research Supervisor and report fully and regularly on progress and results.
      • Keep their Graduate Program Director fully informed regarding any matter relevant to their status in the program and seek advice from their Research Supervisor, as appropriate.
      • Meet agreed-upon performance standards and deadlines of funding organizations to the extent possible when financing has been provided by the University, funding agency or through a contract or grant.
      • Adhere to the standards of research ethics, health and safety, and respect the requirements of academic integrity, honesty and professionalism. This includes, but is not limited to, acknowledging and crediting any source of ideas, assistance, materials and/or data provided by others.
  5. Change in Supervisor
    1. Since continuity of supervision is important in all graduate work, a change of Research Supervisor may be made only for strong reasons and after extensive consultation with all involved.
    2. A request for a change may come from the student, the Research Supervisor, the Graduate Program Director or the dean.
    3. It should normally be sent, in writing, to the Graduate Program Director accompanied by the reasons for the proposed change.
    4. If the home faculty dean concurs with the request, the recommendation for change should be sent to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for final approval.
  6. Conflicts Between Students and Faculty Advisor or Research Supervisor
    1. It is the responsibility of the University and its faculties to ensure that all graduate students receive appropriate and fair supervision.
    2. Due to the nature of the relationship between the student and Research Supervisor, conflicts may arise.
    3. In such instances, the first step must be to attempt to resolve the conflict informally between the student and Research Supervisor.
    4. It is the responsibility of the Graduate Program Director to act as a mediator.
    5. A student who believes the conflict has not been resolved should contact the dean of the student's home faculty.
    6. If the conflict persists, the student may pursue appropriate resolution through the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
  7. Conflict of Interest in Supervision
    1. The University's conflict of interest in research policy states: "Conflict of interest may take various forms and may arise in various contexts. Broadly speaking, a conflict of interest will exist whenever a university member has an interest that adversely affects or provides an incentive to affect the member's conduct of [their] university activities."
    2. When a faculty member chooses to supervise a graduate student, they should be aware of the University's conflict of interest in research policy and must disclose any conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
    3. The conflict of interest in research policy can be found in the University's policy library.

Monitoring and review

This Policy will be reviewed as necessary and at least every three years. The Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or successor thereof, is responsible to monitor and review this Policy.

Relevant legislation

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Related policies, procedures & documents

Conflict of Interest in Research Policy
Graduate Faculty Appointments Policy
Graduate Academic Calendar