Developing productive relationships with your research supervisor and supervisory committee is one of the most important and rewarding aspects of being a graduate student.
Finding a supervisor
For prospective students, finding a supervisor is crucial. See Finding a Supervisor for guidance on locating a Faculty member who may be an appropriate supervisor for you.
One of the most important aspects of any relationship is to have clear expectations. Please carefully read the expectations document:
Roles and responsibilities
Addressing complex challenges with your supervisor
Though it is rare, there are a variety of circumstances and events that might lead a faculty member and/or a research graduate student to consider ending their supervisory relationship. Given the potential for substantial ramifications for both parties, it is critical to carefully consider the decision before taking action.
Importantly, students are expected to have consistent supervision throughout their degree and are not permitted to be without a supervisor for an indefinite or prolonged period.
In cases where a supervisory relationship ends and the option to continue in the program is available (i.e. there is no recommendation for withdrawal), a maximum of six weeks is normally allowed to identify a new supervisor, with short extensions possible if concrete progress is being made on the search. If a new supervisor is not secured, the student will be provided with the option to withdraw voluntarily, or will be required to withdraw from the program.
If a graduate student finds themselves in this situation, they should contact their Graduate Advisor and/or G+PS immediately.
Visit the Conflict Resolution section for further information for students.
Information for Students
For situations involving conflict and/or unmet expectations, it is critical to have clearly established expectations for the working relationship, ideally agreed upon as soon as the relationship is established. These can be revisited as necessary. If your program does not have a template for this, consider using the G+PS Student/Supervisor Expectations document. If these expectations remain unmet, additional or alternative steps can be considered (see below).
The decision to end the supervisory relationship should not be taken lightly. As noted above, students are not permitted to continue in a program without a supervisor, and will be required to withdraw from the program if they are not able to find an alternative supervisory arrangement within a short period of time, normally a maximum of six weeks. Short extensions may be possible if concrete progress is being made on the search within the initially allowed period.
If a student is going to end the supervisory relationship, they should do so in a professional manner and, if appropriate, be open to compromise in terms of timing or the future relationship. This would be particularly important if the supervisor is dependent on the student to reach a particular research milestone.
Before deciding on ending the supervisory relationship:
- Consider an alternative or modified approach. If the current project is not a good fit, could you reach a milestone with it before stepping away? Would a co-supervisor or change in the supervisory committee help?
- A co-supervisor should always play a meaningful academic role, but can also bring a new interpersonal dynamic and perspective to the supervisory relationship. If applicable, familiarize yourself with the policy regarding co-supervision within and outside of the department.
- Seek consultation and support. Speak with your program’s Graduate Advisor, G+PS (Associate Director, Student Academic Support), or other members of your committee. You may also wish to speak with the Ombuds Office, Equity & Inclusion, International Student Advising (if applicable), and/or the Graduate Student Society.
- Be aware of the potential consequences. If you do not already have a new supervisor willing to work with you, you will normally have a maximum of six weeks to secure arrangement. If a new supervisor is not secured within that time, you will have to either withdraw from your program voluntarily or be required to withdraw. This has the potential to impact your academic, professional, personal, and financial circumstances, as well as your international student status (if applicable).
- Understand your responsibility. Ultimately it is a student’s responsibility to secure a new supervisor, though the Graduate Advisor is expected to make their best efforts to support the process. Reasonable support may include meetings to discuss potential supervisors to approach, reviewing a portfolio of work to present to potential supervisors, facilitating introductions, and advising on applicable policies.