Return to: Supervision and Examinations
Departmental Regulations and Responsibilities
Departments are responsible for preparing a set of regulations and guidelines for supervisors and students. Guidelines should deal with the selection and functioning of supervisors and should outline the joint responsibilities of faculty members and graduate students. Options for students to pursue who believe they are receiving unsatisfactory supervision should also be specified.
Every student in a thesis-based program is required to have a supervisor. The department that admits a student to a thesis-based graduate program is responsible for providing supervision within a subject area in which it has competent supervisors, and in which the student has expressed an interest.
Normally there is only one supervisor. Departments may consider the appointment of more than one supervisor for a student.
Implicit in the admission process is the following: on the applicant’s part, that there has been an indication of at least a general area of interest and, preferably, provision of some form of proposal, particularly if the program is at the doctoral level; on the department’s part, that the application has been reviewed, the area of interest examined, academic expectations and potential performance considered, and that the department accepts its obligation to provide appropriate supervision for the applicant in the specified subject area.
It is expected that every effort will be made to arrive at a mutually agreeable arrangement for supervision between the student and the department. Students are normally involved in the process for selecting their supervisor(s) although this process varies from program to program.
The authority for the appointment of supervisors rests with the Dean of the department’s Faculty. Such appointment decisions are final and non-appealable.
Article 7.02.1 of the Faculty Agreement lists the “supervision of graduate students” as a form of “participation in teaching programs”. It is expected that a department will monitor and review the performance of supervisors.
Supervisors on Leave
It is the responsibility of supervisors to make adequate provision for supervision of their graduate students during their leave. Therefore, if a supervisor is to be absent from the University for a period exceeding two months, it is the supervisor’s responsibility to nominate an adequate interim substitute or indicate the means by which supervision will be maintained. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to inform the student and the department in writing at the time the leave is approved.
Supervisors planning to take a sabbatical should follow the requirements found in Appendix E of the Faculty Agreement with respect to adequate advance arrangements for graduate students while a supervisor is on sabbatical.
Each of the following criteria must be met by at least one of the supervisor(s):
- be a tenured, tenure-track, or retired faculty member, or a Faculty Service Officer, of the University of Alberta (current or retired categories A1.1, A1.3, or current category C1.1, as defined in the University’s Recruitment Policy (Appendix A) Definition and Categories of Academic Staff and Colleagues);
- be active in the general subject area of the student’s research;.
- demonstrate continuing scholarly or creative activity of an original nature;
- either hold a degree equivalent to or higher than that for which the student is a candidate, or have a demonstrated record of successfully supervising students for the degree.
If one of conditions (2)-(4) is not satisfied by any of the proposed supervisors, then a departmental justification (with the proposed supervisors’ CV) is put forward to the Dean of the department’s Faculty for approval.
For supervisors from outside the University of Alberta, working with a supervisor at the University of Alberta, the means by which meaningful interaction can be maintained should be specified in writing to the student and the department.
Time Line for the Appointment of Supervisors
Ideally, the supervisor for a thesis-based student, both master’s and doctoral, should be appointed as soon as the student arrives to begin their program of studies. If this is not possible, an interim academic advisor should be appointed by the department. Supervisor(s) must be appointed within the first 12 months of the student’s program following the procedures approved by the Dean of the department’s Faculty and submitted to FGSR.
Every department must develop a list of topics that will be covered during the introductory meetings between a supervisor and a graduate student. These meetings should be held during the term in which a supervisor is first appointed. Topics likely to be listed include program requirements, academic integrity requirements, the role of the supervisor, the composition of the supervisory committee, the preferred means of communication, the availability of funding, and scholarly practices and outputs.
The relationship between students and supervisors is normally close and long-lasting. At times, conflicts may arise between a student and the supervisor. In such cases, the first step should be to try to resolve the misunderstanding or conflict informally. This is more likely to be successful if attended to as early as possible. The supervisor and student should discuss the problem together. The supervisor should document the discussions and keep a record of any agreements made. This document should be shared with the student. In the event of a conflict that cannot be resolved, the graduate coordinator should be consulted as early as possible by the parties involved.
It is the responsibility of the graduate coordinator to arrange for consultation and mediation. The graduate coordinator or the parties involved may request advice and/or mediation assistance from their Faculty, the FGSR, and/or other appropriate services such as the Student Ombudservice. The student and supervisors shall not be required to participate in informal resolution.
If informal resolution is unsuccessful or inappropriate and the graduate coordinator determines that the supervisor-student relationship is beyond repair, the department will attempt in good faith to work with the student to find alternative supervision within the department and will keep the FGSR apprised of these efforts.
Where the supervisor has been providing funding to the student, the funding should continue for a period of at least 30 days from the date on which the graduate coordinator determines that the supervisor-student relationship is beyond repair.
If the best arrangements of the department and the FGSR fail to meet the expectations of the student, the student may choose to withdraw without prejudice. If the student refuses to accept the supervision provided, or if no supervision can be secured, then the student is not fulfilling the academic requirement of having a supervisor and may, on academic grounds, be required to withdraw.
Thesis-based master’s students
It is not a University requirement for master’s students to have a supervisory committee; however, some graduate programs require them. If required by the program, the supervisory committee members are ex-officio members of the master’s final examining committee. Attention should be paid to the qualifications of the committee members as examiners to ensure the composition and size of the examination committee will be appropriate.
Every doctoral student’s program shall be under the direction of a supervisory committee approved by the department.
A doctoral supervisory committee must have at least three members, and must include all the supervisors.
The department should ensure that the members of a supervisory committee are sufficiently competent and experienced to serve at the required level. In forming a supervisory committee, the department should consider the rank and experience of the prospective members, their publications and other demonstrations of competence in the subject area or field of specialization, and the prospective members’ experience in graduate supervision.
Attention should be paid to the qualifications of the committee members as examiners to ensure the composition of the examination committee will be appropriate as they are ex-officio members of doctoral examining committees.
The supervisory committee is chaired by one of the supervisors.
Compliance with the University of Alberta’s Conflict Policy - Conflict of Interest and Commitment, and Institutional Conflict is mandatory.
The supervisor is responsible for ensuring committee meetings are held and making arrangements. The committee shall have a formal regular meeting with the student at least once a year. The department should maintain a record of meetings that have occurred and when students who are not on an approved leave fail to respond to requests to schedule a committee meeting.
For doctoral students, the department shall appoint the supervisory committee well in advance of the candidacy examination.