Student-Supervisor Relationships

Supervision Overview
Supervisory Committees
Concerns about your supervisor?

Policies You Can Turn To: Graduate General Regulations (GGRs) 

“SFU needs to further enhance the learning community by embracing diversity and ensuring all students have the support they need to succeed. This includes the highest standards of undergraduate and graduate advising, supervision, mentoring and tutoring in both curricular and co-curricular activities, all in a welcoming, inclusive, respectful and safe learning environment. This support must anticipate the changing and future expectations of students and society.” (SFU Academic Plan 2019-2024, p. 7)

The relationship you have with your supervisor and committee is one of the most important in your graduate experience. Graduate education and support through your committee should be your opportunity for not only professional growth in academia, but also personal development. 

Like any relationship, there is a balance of rights and responsibilities. Your supervisor and committee have many responsibilities to ensure your success including guidance in choosing courses, support in finding funding, providing positive reference letters, signing documents related to immigration or permanent residency, planning research, preparation of required writing, and productive communication among many others. You have the right to expect that all of these considerations will be communicated in a respectful and supportive manner. It also should be noted that your supervisor is not your boss – they are there to support you in achieving your research goals. 

It is recommended that all conversations regarding work plans, expectations, leaves, funding, IP, authorship or recognition of scholarly contributions, grades, and responsibilities be documented to ensure a shared understanding between yourself and your supervisor. Furthermore, you have the right to document or request in writing any decision regarding your academic process, research project, and options to ensure accountability of discussions. This could be done by sending notes to confirm what was discussed through email. 

How is a committee decided on?

You have the right, as a part of a quality education at SFU, to a supervisor who is supportive of your project, methods, and overall goals. Such a relationship is built on supervisors and students clearly communicating at the beginning of the supervisory relationship to discuss and clarify expectations of the student and the Department, the reasons behind them and the degree of flexibility. The most important ones should be written in the form of a contract, whether a formal signed document or an email summary shared by both. 

Such conversations are a part of building your committee, which should be a collaborative process between all parties. You have the right to be informed about any real or perceived conflict of interest regarding suggested appointees (ie. if their suggestion is a former graduate student of theirs, etc). If you have concerns about who has been appointed or the proposal of an appointee, you have the right to question this.  

Committees should be formed for students when they have confirmed their research focus in order to provide students with as much academic support and mentorship as possible.

Some programs that do not require committees (Refer to GGR 1.6.4).

Do my committee members have to be in my Department?

You have the right to choose a committee that will support your research and goals. This includes seeking out committee members outside of your Department. There are also mechanisms set up to include committee members that are professors from other institutions or community members from outside the academy who are experts in your field of your research. 

What do I do if I am experiencing challenges with my supervisor?

The best way to handle a dispute between student and supervisor is to identify it while it is small and manageable and to collaborate openly and candidly on finding a solution. It is the hope that any student concern will be handled as close to the source of the concerns as possible. To this end, mediations to address concerns between students and supervisors have many steps.

If speaking to your supervisor directly does not resolve your concern, other members of the supervisory committee may be asked to help mediate or resolve the dispute. If resolution cannot be reached within your committee, the Chair of the Department will be contacted. If this does not lead to a resolution, the Dean of Graduate Studies, and subsequently, the SFU Ombudsperson may be contacted for assistance.

As with all policies and processes, you have the right to a support person or advocate. 

It is also highly suggested that notes of these meetings are taken and shared between parties. 

Please see the Appendix for resources on navigating conflict management and relationships between graduate students and supervisors

What if my supervisor goes on leave?

Any leaves a potential supervisor may be going on must be declared before entering into the relationship. Should your supervisor go on leave for longer than three months, you have the right to be informed and receive support in finding proper supervision. 

What happens if I need to switch supervisors or committee members?

As stated in the GGR 1.6, continuity of supervision is important in all graduate work. Because of this, a change in your supervisory committee, especially a change in senior supervisor, must have careful consideration – but is your right to do this. It is highly suggested that you seek support through the GSS Advocacy and the Graduate Program Committee before undertaking this process with your supervisor to better ensure your goals and objectives are met in this change.

A request for a change in the supervisory committee may come from the student or any member of the supervisory committee. This request is sent to the GPC accompanied by the reasons, in writing, for the proposed change. If the graduate program committee concurs in the request, it shall be sent to the Dean of Graduate Studies for final approval.

You have a right to be aware of how this will affect your funding. If your funding is attached to your supervisor and is not guaranteed, this can be a discussion with a potential new supervisor.

Will I be kicked out of the program if I do not have a supervisor?

Your enrollment is not dependent on your supervisor. 

If your supervisor chooses to stop supervising you or that person has to go on leave, you have the right to the support of the Graduate Chair and Graduate Program Committee to assist in finding you proper supervision. These individuals must act in good faith to find appropriate supervision.  

If you should have an interim supervisor, you have the right to expect that this will not be a passive role. This means that the supervisor will perform all the duties of supervision including processing of documents and supporting your academic progress.