Ending the Relationship

Changing circumstances and life events may lead either you or your supervisor to consider ending the working relationship. This section will give you some guidelines.

Why Change Supervisors

There are several reasons why a change of supervisors may be the best option for both the graduate student and supervisor:

  • Supervisor leaves the university: The supervisor retires, leaves the university to work somewhere else or is on sick leave for more than a year. If the student has almost completed his or her thesis this may not be an issue, as long as the supervisor is still available for support. However there must still be someone in place with a formal link to UBC who can look after the academic and administrative aspects of completion of the student’s degree program. If the student is still early in their program, and the supervisor is no longer willing to supervise the student, the program has the responsibility to make their best effort to help the student find a new supervisor.
  • Incompatibility of graduate student and supervisor: Sometimes two individuals simply don’t get along and it interferes with their academic activities.
  • Funding: Sometimes funds designated for a student’s stipend do not materialize and other funds are not available. Sometimes research funds run out.
  • Student changes area of interest: Sometimes, a student’s research focus changes or shifts to such an extent that the supervisor feels he or she no longer has the appropriate background to supervise the research. Also, a student may lose interest completely in his or her research and wish to change fields entirely.

Before Doing Anything Drastic

Changing supervisors is a big step. It can be stressful and take time that you might otherwise spend on your work. Before you take this step, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you discussed the problem or conflict with your supervisor?
  • Have your conversations about the problem been sufficiently clear that both you and your supervisor agree on the problem?
  • Have you and your supervisor attempted to remedy the problem?
  • Have you involved the supervisory committee members in your discussions and sought their advice?
  • Have you followed the procedures outlined in the Problem Resolution section?
  • Have you and your supervisor explored the implications of changing supervisors?
  • Have you considered whether there is anyone else in your graduate program who might have the knowledge, experience, time and interest to supervise you?

Supervisor on Sabbatical Leave

There are two types of sabbatical, and each one has a different impact on the graduate student/supervisor relationship:

  • Local sabbatical: When a supervisor takes a sabbatical in his or her own lab (i.e. locally), graduate students are usually able to spend much more productive time with the supervisor.
  • Distant sabbatical: When a supervisor takes a sabbatical away from the university for a significant period of time, contact between graduate student and supervisor is dramatically reduced.

Generally, only distant sabbaticals pose challenges for graduate students and supervisors. supervisors are responsible for ensuring their graduate students have adequate supervision for the sabbatical period. Supervisors should:

  • Appoint an interim supervisor who is knowledgeable in the graduate student's area of research.
  • Stay in close contact with the Supervisory Committee and follow the progress of the research.
  • Set up regular meeting times through telephone or web conferencing.
  • Stay in regular contact with the student through e-mail.

Procedure for Change

The procedure for changing supervisors is specific to individual programs at UBC and the Faculty of Graduate Studies has no formal role in the process. Programs are primarily responsible for ensuring that each graduate student has a supervisor. However, there may be times when the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral studies is consulted and can play a supporting role.

If the supervisor leaves the university due to retirement, resignation, sabbatical or extended leave, the program has a responsibility to make their best effort to appoint a replacement. If the graduate student is considering changing supervisors, he or she should:
  • Discuss this with the Graduate Advisor for the program, unit or Faculty.
  • Attempt to resolve the issue through discussion with the Graduate Advisor and the original supervisor.
  • Ensure that both "old" and "new" supervisors are part of the decision, and consult with the full committee when appropriate.
  • Ensure that the Program approves the change. As appropriate, the program then informs Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.