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Queen's University

Centre for Teaching and Learning

Graduate Supervision Frequently Asked Questions

If you have questions regarding graduate supervision, please forward them to the CTL.


What steps should I follow in initially selecting a graduate student who has cleared all the administrative and academic performance hurdles (so as to be accepted by SGSR and the department) in order to minimize chances of problems later on?

Meet with the student and find out/confirm their research interests, rationale for pursuing degree, career goals and self assessment of work habits or anything else that’s important for you to know. Communicate your expectations and your approach.

How do I recruit graduate students?  Where do I go to find them? Do I need money to fund them?  How do I make graduate students interested?

Market your research (web, conferences, undergraduate classes) and make it clear you are willing to supervise. If you have $$, of course that helps considerably but departments do have discretionary QGA funds to distribute to graduate students – speak with your Grad Coordinator.

I am in an inter-disciplinary department where it would not be obvious to look for me or someone with my research interests.  What strategies can you recommend for graduate student recruitment?

See above. You may also try recruiting through an appropriate listserv.


How do I make sure student is ‘on-track’, monitor progress?

Establish realistic timelines early on; perhaps start with relatively “small” milestones as an indicator of how student works and that they meet deadlines. Progress reports should be submitted annually and check with the grad coordinator about what is the expected time of completion of, for example coursework, comprehensives, proposal, completion of data collection,…

How can I gauge if I’m giving too much or too little work to my students?

Ask the student how they are managing, are deadlines being met? If unclear about the scope of the thesis consult with other members of the department, grad coordinator and thesis advisory committee.

Time to completion.  How to assist a student to finish on time (and make the Department Head happy)?

Establish realistic timelines, monitor progress regularly, evaluate causes of delays and consider how best to deal with them, and have realistic expectations about the research work to be done given the program requirements and desired completion times (doctoral- 4 years; Master’s 2).   


How do you achieve a balance between being a boss and being a mentor?

Essentially you’re a mentor whether acting as a boss (e.g. in the case of a RA or TA) or thesis supervisor. As a boss - ensuring that the RA contract or TA agreement clearly spell out the student’s responsibilities will save time and enable the student to manage their job (it also gives a basis for assessing performance). Mentorship is ongoing, usually more time consuming early on then less so as students gain independence, confidence and access other resources. Set ground rules as needed to manage your own time (e.g weekly 1 hr meetings).

How much time do I invest in being a mentor?

It varies, but it is generally the case that time spent guiding the student and training them to be self-sufficient, resourceful and skilled trouble shooters is a good investment. The guidance you provide can result in a highly productive relationship – if you have other trainees working with you they too can provide mentorship.

Research Issues

Some students do not give credits to other researchers (or their supervisors) when they come up with similar ideas/results.  (It was not effective to reason with them.  Or when I force them to do so, they may not be happy about it…)  How should I handle this?

Credit should always be given where credit is due though it can’t be assumed that students will know what is expected of them. Be proactive; discuss with the student early on the importance of acknowledge the work/ideas of others. In its most serious form – academic dishonesty and plagiarism the consequences can be severe.

How do you motivate graduate students about doing research? 

If your student seems unmotivated first ask if things are ok (i.e. is it the research or something else). Also confirm if they’re genuinely interested in the topic. If all seems fine then try setting short term goals – a few successes might build some enthusiasm. Inquire as to why the student is pursuing a graduate degree.  What are their goals? Explain how they can be achieved through their research.

I’ve had graduate students tell me that they have been told they cannot publish the research from their theses without approval of their supervisor or including their supervisor’s name on it.  This seems unfair to the student and not completely right, what would be an appropriate response to the students? 

This is certainly the case in the life sciences and many other departments in which  the supervisor (and perhaps others) contributes to the research in a significant way (intellectually, methodologically, etc…) and often has acquired the grant that funds much of the work. As such authorship is warranted. This may not be the case in departments where the student develops an idea/concept and develops the thesis largely independently, seeking advice on specific aspects as needed. Supervisors are encouraged to discuss authorship early in the graduate training to avoid misunderstandings later on.

Working within a Committee Structure

How do you handle conflict among members of the supervisory committee?  Here’s a couple of examples: A) you fail a student on a comprehensive examination. The other committee members pass the student.  The graduate coordinators agree with you and the student re-writes the exam.  One month after the re-take the student requests you leave the committee.  B) The student wants 2 professors on the committee but both professors recognise that their philosophies are not compatible and will likely cause conflict further down the road.  What should you do?  C) A student wants you to be on the committee but she tells you that their supervisor picks the committee not the students.

The process and procedures for the comprehensive examination (including the membership) should be very clearly laid out including the possible outcomes. This document should be available to all parties involved. The outcome is an academic decision and if the student wishes to appeal they follow the policies and procedures set out for appealing an academic decision. It is not up to the student to decide who sits on the committee – this is generally determined by the supervisor, graduate coordinator and/or the department head. If the process is spelled out and available to students and faculty then the transparency should avoid the kinds of issues you have raised. 

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