Building an Effective Graduate Student-Supervisor Relationship

Graduate student relationships with faculty members are regarded by students as the most important aspect of their graduate education. Good student-supervisor relationships are also associated with higher completion rates and faster times to completion.


Some fundamental elements of successful graduate supervision are:

  • Clear and frequent communication
  • Agreement on mutual expectations
  • Mentoring tailored to the needs, attributes and aspirations of each student

These elements should be established as soon as the student begins his/her program, and continue for its duration. Clear communication of expectations and responsibilities is especially important for graduate students and supervisors from different cultures, for whom there may be unspoken assumptions about responsibilities which are not shared.

We have developed these resources for you to establish expectations:

  • Sample interview questions for new students
    We highly recommend an interview whenever possible before accepting a new graduate students. Questions you might ask yourself before making a decision are:

    1. Do I have the time, resources and knowledge to supervise this student?
    2. Does this student have adequate academic background and experience to be successful?
    3. Are the student’s goals and expectations consistent with expected outcomes?
    4. Will I be able to work with well with this student? Do we have compatible communication styles? How might I address any personal, cultural or structural challenges this student may face?
    5. Are there adequate programmatic resources to support this student in terms of colleagues who can serve on a committee and opportunities to participate in research, teaching, extracurricular activities, and engagement in a community of scholars?
  • Template letter: intended to offer you a tool to support your communication with your graduate students. It offers some key points you might want to share but you can also add to the template or tailor it in whatever ways you wish.
  • Graduate student/supervisor expectations document