Principles of Graduate Supervision

The UBC Guide to the Principles of Excellent Graduate Supervision

Supervising graduate students is a complex form of pedagogy, one made even more complicated by the changing nature of the university, the increasing diversity of our students, cross-disciplinary nature of academic research, and development of new knowledge. Within this evolving context, we are committed to supporting the highest quality graduate supervision practices consistent with our world-class research university.

While the vast majority (85%) of our graduate students are satisfied with their supervision at UBC (data from the 2016 Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey), surveys also reveal that many would like more consistent and meaningful interactions with their supervisors. Indeed, a healthy, productive supervisory relationship results not only in a successful academic program and outcomes, but also contributes to students’ wellbeing and to supervisors’ teaching and research excellence.

This guide offers a set of flexible, interrelated and research-informed principles that characterize high quality graduate student supervision. It is adapted from a set of pedagogical principles drawn from an in-depth scholarly review of the supervision literature initiated by the Graduate Supervision Leadership Group. This guide also reflects ongoing conversations about supervision pedagogies and practices with faculty and students across the university.

We offer these principles along with key qualities of supervision associated with each principle and suggested practices for enacting that principle. Throughout the document, we make visible a range of currently available UBC resources for supporting excellent graduate supervision.

We consider this a “living document” that will be revised and improved over time and welcome feedback in any form.

Principles of Graduate Supervision Pedagogy:
Teaching and Learning in the Graduate Supervisory Context

The following principles focus on the individual graduate student, the teaching and learning process, supervisor modeling and reflection, communication, and the importance of the scholarly community. Our intention is to provide a shared understanding of graduate supervision and to engender discussions focused on a renewed commitment to supporting excellent graduate supervision pedagogy and practices across the UBC Vancouver campus and beyond. All quotes are by current or former UBC graduate students, as offered through surveys, #GreatSupervisor week responses, and in nomination letters for Killam Awards for Excellence in Mentoring, except for the quote in Principle 7, which is from a faculty member.

The perspective guiding the development of the principles is:

Learning to be a scholar at the graduate level is a process of interactive, reciprocal, intellectual, and ethical dialogue. It is a process that involves engagement with a community or communities of scholars to support the development of professional judgment and learning to create, transform, and share knowledge.


There will necessarily be variations within and across units and disciplines, which are constantly evolving and shifting.


Ideally, the process of development as a scholar should engender lifelong learning and include various forms of commitment to the public good.

The Seven Principles

Principle 1: Students’ learning benefits from individualized supervisory approaches

Students learn more effectively when supervisors’ interactions with them are responsive to their unique learning preferences, passions, questions, knowledge, abilities, experiences, and long-term/career interests. They also benefit when these interactions reflect an awareness of any personal, cultural, and structural challenges students may face.

Key qualities of supervisory practice:

  • Putting students at the center of the teaching and learning process
  • Actively discovering and building upon students’ unique interests, learning preferences, background, experiences, strengths, and career goals in support of their scholarly development
  • Operating within an ethics of care that emphasizes mutual respect, and awareness of the power imbalances and any personal and structural challenges to students’ academic progress; a willingness to adjust practices as needed

What I appreciated most about my supervisor is that she has been very sensitive to my individual needs, both academically and personally. We've negotiated a style of communication that works for both of us for me to get the most benefit and for her to provide the most guidance. Crucially, what works for us does not work for her relationship with other students. This is really important though, that she's able and willing to customize her approach to work with me as an individual, and that I can respond to her in a similar manner

I have never felt that [my supervisor] was trying to mould me in his image. Rather, he has taken the time to learn who I am, what drives me, and what I aspire to be. His guidance, support and feedback have always been thoughtfully constructed to help me achieve my potential and my ambitions

Example Practice:

Prior to committing to supervision, interview prospective students about their backgrounds, interests, goals and expectations -- and assess how they fit with yours.


Guidelines for what to consider when accepting a new graduate student

Supervising graduate students at UBC, including roles and responsibilities, the working relationship and avoiding common problems

Public Scholar’s Initiative

Ground Rules for Supervising Students

Guide to Supervision and Advising for graduate students

Principle 2. Student learning develops with both dialogue and guidance

Students develop critical thinking abilities, creativity, and adaptability when supervisors listen to, question, challenge, and guide them, prompting students to reflect on and critically examine their thinking and decision-making processes.

Key qualities of supervisory practice:

  • Listening to students, assessing their understanding, questioning them, and providing explicit guidance
  • Providing sufficient freedom of exploration to enable students to achieve an independent academic identity
  • Providing opportunities for students to learn to negotiate and challenge intellectual boundaries and to engage in scholarly debate

My supervisor provided frank, insightful dialogue and criticism. There was encouragement of creativity and risk-taking and praise where due.

He was extremely open to new ideas and approaches and always had time for listening to my concepts.

My supervisor let us have the freedom of using our own creativity when discussing different problems…The range of papers we discussed was really broad.

He did not hesitate to offer detailed explanations and recommendations when I was not able to fully understand background concepts or methodology.

Example practice:

Encourage open dialogue and questions, and a challenging of assumptions; model respectful critique and commendation.


Supervising graduate students at UBC

Workshops on supervision pedagogy and practices

Principle 3: Students' multi-faceted growth as scholars is supported by supervisors

Supervisors play an important role in fostering the development of students’ independence, their ability to ask important questions, their professional competencies, and their scholarly identity, which includes the development of habits of heart and mind.

Key qualities of supervisory practice:

  • Recognizing the importance of holistic student development
  • Guiding students as they develop competency in communication, management, leadership, and interpersonal relations
  • Fostering a sensitivity and commitment to the ethical dimension of their broader professional domain
  • Affirming the importance of, and modeling, intellectual humility, collegiality, honesty, and commitment to the greater good
  • Sharing the intellectual history and debates and present state of the scholarly field(s) to help students enter complicated conversations and address key issues and real world problems

[My supervisor] encouraged students to not only consider how particular analytical problems might be solved, but also which questions in the discipline are worth asking

I distinctively recall long practice sessions when [my supervisor] would tirelessly help me perfect my oral presentations…In large part, I credit my written and oral communication skills, for which I have been commended, to his high standards and the time he spent helping me develop them

[My supervisor] has inspired me to go beyond simple declarative knowledge to apply such principles and methods in a broader context…She stimulated students to pursue a deeper understanding and helped them define what it means to be a scientist.

Example Practice:

Encourage students to use Individual Development Plans to help them articulate and accomplish research, academic and career-related goals. Offer to work with your students on these plans.


Individual Development Plan (A step-by-step guide to the UBC graduate degree)

Graduate Pathways to Success

UBC Learning Commons Support for Writing

Principle 4: Students learn from role models

Students gain deep intellectual, ethical, and practical knowledge of their field and of the scholarly profession through exposure to outstanding role models.

Key qualities of supervisory practice:

  • Including students as much as possible in conversations and activities with exemplary individuals
  • Being transparent about one’s activities, thinking, and decision-making processes
  • Working to exemplify the best in scholarship, human interactions, and broader ethical responsibility

[My supervisor’s] ability to show a direct connection between research and [the practices of the discipline in society] convinced me to seek a high level of achievement in this field

[My supervisor] has the highest ethical and moral standards, and strives to play a responsible role in society…I could not find a better “guru” in the field to learn from

He leads by example, and the role model that he has provided to so many is perhaps his most important career achievement….I often find myself thinking, “How would [he] have handled this?” – a true sign of his lasting influence as a great mentor.

Example Practice:

Arrange situations where students can engage with leaders in the field – e.g. with visiting speakers, conferences, social events, etc.


UBC Policy SC6, on Scholarly Integrity (PDF)

Research Ethics: A Guide for Graduate Students

Principle 5: Communication is key to teaching and learning and to relationship-building

The supervisory process and student learning are enhanced when mutual expectations about the process are communicated clearly and regularly; and when all communication is done with sensitivity, empathy and recognition of boundaries.

Key qualities of supervisory practice:

  • Regularly engaging with students about your expectations, as well as theirs
  • Communicating with students respectfully, ethically, and sensitively, and with clear interpersonal boundaries
  • Meeting regularly to ensure lines of communication are open and the student’s academic progress is on track

At the beginning of my project, we both communicated our expectations of one another and signed a document provided by my graduate program. [My supervisor] has been understanding and compassionate with me about my personal needs as well, which I very much appreciate in a supervisor

He is communicative and supportive so I know that I can produce my best work under his guidance. He also looks out for me as a whole human, checking in to make sure that things are going well not only for my dissertation and future career, but also my everyday wellbeing.

[My supervisor’s] approach is gentle, pairing high expectations with patience…she challenges her students to be rigorous as learners, as researchers and as emerging academic writers, both as individuals as well as within a community of colleagues.

Example Practice:

Early on in the relationship, share mutual expectations related to developing a research topic, forming a committee, frequency and nature of meetings, timelines, intellectual property and funding; revisit as needed.


Student/Supervisor Expectations (Word Document), including guidelines for communication, resources and support, intellectual property, work and teaching commitments, time frame for completion, outside commitments, supervisory committee roles, program requirements, etc.

Human Resources Respectful Environment Statement

UBC Equity Office

International Student Development Office

First Nations House of Learning

Principle 6: Scholarly and other communities are central to students’ development

Outstanding supervision incorporates, and is supported by, strong communities that assist in shaping students’ scholarly identities, model scholarly integrity, and share the norms of fields, in addition to promoting diversity, inclusivity, intercultural understanding, and equity.

Key qualities of supervisory practice:

  • Encouraging students to engage with multiple mentors in a strong, vibrant intellectual community
  • Engaging with issues of equity, inclusivity, diversity, and intercultural understanding in the larger community of scholars
  • Supporting and encouraging students in their engagement with services and opportunities that enhance their development

She consistently used her stature as an eminent [researcher] as a platform to promote me, to help me develop strong networks and networking skills, and to advertise my work.

She made a point of introducing me to everyone she knew. She would always ask if there was someone in particular I wished to meet and if she did not know them, she would approach them in order to introduce me.

[My supervisor] always manages to give his students new experiences and opportunities. He encourages us to attend conferences, talk with people from academia and industry, and he introduces us to experts in the field.

Example Practice:

Support students to present their work at conferences and other scholarly venues; encourage communication and engagement with the public.


UBC Policy SC6, on Scholarly Integrity (PDF)

Research Ethics: A Guide for Graduate Students

Public Scholars Intitiative

Graduate Pathways to Success

UBC Learning Commons

UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology

University of Western Ontario’s Guide to Mentoring Graduate Students Across Cultures 

Principle 7: Reflection makes one a better supervisor

Reflecting on and clearly articulating one’s own supervisory and scholarly beliefs and practices can strengthen supervisory abilities

Key qualities of supervisory practice:

  • Observing and reflecting on how different students have developed as scholars, and how one’s interactions with them have affected them
  • Asking students what has been valuable, or not valuable, in your supervisory style
  • Conversing with other supervisors to learn about their experiences, beliefs, and practices
  • Using resources on supervision pedagogy and practice

Some key elements of my pedagogy of supervision include emphasizing student strengths, stimulating interest and curiosity, keeping an eye on the goal, and creating a research community. Stimulating interest and curiosity in the field is of great importance to me, as I believe these are key ingredients of success in academic as well as professional work. I also bring real life challenges to students through my teaching, in informal discussions with students, and in my guiding of research. And I hold monthly meetings to provide students with training and experience in conducting research, and to foster a sense of community and collegiality among students and professionals by working cooperatively on various research projects.

Example Practice:

Formulate a statement on your approach to mentoring graduate students (including your supervision pedagogies and practices) to share with prospective students and with colleagues.


Consider using these principles as a resource to guide the development of a statement on your supervision pedagogies and practices.


*The Principles of Supervision document was initiated during an International Faculty Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISoTL) leadership program (Hubball, Clark & Poole, 2010) that included a cohort of faculty members from across the UBC Vancouver campus. The cohort was supported by deans from a number of faculties as well as the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. This group, subsequently referred to as the Graduate Supervision Leadership Group, included additional faculty members, representatives from the GSS, the Ombuds Office and Wellbeing at UBC, and was funded in part by a Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant. The group was focused on improving graduate supervision. In addition to developing these principles, it planned seminars, developed new resources, and created new initiatives and policies to renew our commitment to excellent mentoring at the University of British Columbia.