Students, Supervisor & Supervisory Committees

Success in the IOF graduate program depends on the working relationship between the student and the supervisor(s). With this in mind, all students and supervisors should read the G+PS Handbook of Graduate Supervision provided by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS). Some sections of this Handbook are highlighted here, however the Handbook itself is the most reliable source.

Students should also consult the Intellectual Property Guide for guidelines on intellectual property, plagiarism, and publication.

In addition, at the beginning of the term of study, the supervisor and student should discuss and agree on such things as:

  • Expected work hours, vacation times, etc.
  • Frequency and scheduling of regular meetings between supervisor and student
  • Lab policies and etiquette, sharing of resources, sharing of lab duties
  • Expectations about lab meetings, departmental seminars, journal clubs, etc.
  • Policies about opportunities to attend scientific meetings
  • Policies about authorship on papers and intellectual property
  • Policies about leave (illness, parental, etc.)

The IOF has a letter of agreement that the supervisor and student will review together and sign within the first week of the student’s initiation of graduate studies. This letter describes their respective responsibilities and general University and IOF policies.

The principal role of the supervisor is to help students achieve their academic potential, advise on the research that will form the student’s thesis or dissertation, and to chair the student’s Supervisory Committee. The Supervisor will provide reasonable commitment, accessibility, professionalism, stimulation, guidance, respect and consistent encouragement to the student.

Once established, the supervisor-student relationship is difficult to break. To do so requires the consent of both parties and the willingness of another faculty member to take you on as their student. Because of this, it is crucial that the supervisor and the student stay in close communication and full understanding with each other.

Student Declaration

Upon registering, a student has initiated a contract with the University and is bound by the following declaration:

"I hereby accept and submit myself to the statutes, rules and regulations, and ordinances (including bylaws, codes, and policies) of The University of British Columbia, and of the faculty or faculties in which I am registered, and to any amendments thereto which may be made while I am a student of the University, and I promise to observe the same."

The student declaration is important. It imposes obligations on students and affects rights and privileges including property rights. You must not enrol as a student at the University if you do not agree to become bound by the declaration above. By agreeing to become a student, you make the declaration above and agree to be bound by it.

Graduate Student Responsibilities

As a graduate student, you must accept the rules, procedures and standards in place in the program and at the university and should check the University Calendar for regulations regarding academic and non-academic matters. You are expected to:

  • Show dedicated efforts to gain the background knowledge and skills needed to pursue your research project successfully.
  • With your supervisor, develop a plan and timetable for completion of all stages of your thesis or dissertation project, adhere to the schedule and meet appropriate deadlines.
  • Meet with your supervisor regularly and report fully on progress and results.
  • Maintain continuous registration throughout the program and (for international students) ensure that study permits and (where applicable) employment authorization documents are kept up to date.
  • Keep your supervisor, Graduate Program Officer and Enrolment Services informed about your contact information.
  • Give serious consideration to the advice and criticisms received from your supervisor and other members of your supervisory committee.
  • Keep your work space tidy, safe and healthy; show tolerance and respect for the rights of others.
  • Be thoughtful and reasonably frugal in using resources provided by your supervisor and the University, and assist in obtaining additional resources for your research or for other group members where applicable.
  • Conform to University, Faculty and graduate program requirements, including those related to deadlines, dissertation or thesis style, conflict of interest.
  • When your degree program requirements have been met, terminate your work and clean up your work space.
  • Return borrowed materials to your supervisor, graduate program, library or reading room, etc. when your project has been finished or when return is requested.

The following suggestions can make your life a lot easier:

  • Review the literature regularly and keep your literature survey up-to-date
  • Maintain exemplary records of your experimental/theoretical work (so that others can replicate your results)
  • While your supervisor is required to be reasonably available for consultation, it is your responsibility to keep in touch with your supervisor
  • Make yourself available to your supervisor for regular meetings at mutually acceptable times
  • Follow the university's policy regarding ownership of intellectual property

Academic Honesty and Standards

All work submitted by students (including, without limitation, essays, dissertations, theses, examinations, tests, reports, presentations, problem sets, and tutorial assignments) may be subjected to review by the University for authenticity and originality.

The University may use software tools and third party services including Internet-based services such as Turnitin. By submitting work, you consent to your work undergoing such review and being retained in a database for comparison with other work submitted by students. Please see the Policies and Procedures section of the G+PS website for details.

The G+PS Handbook of Graduate Supervision has more information on the student responsibilities.

Your supervisor is the key person in your graduate degree program. Supervisors are there to help their graduate students at every stage, from formulation of their research projects, through establishing methodologies and discussing results, to presentation and possible publication of dissertations. Graduate supervisors also ensure that their students’ work meets the standards of the University.

Some specific responsibilities of a graduate supervisor


  • assists the student with the selection and planning of a suitable, and manageable, research topic.
  • is sufficiently familiar with the field of research to provide guidance and/or has a willingness to gain that familiarity before agreeing to act as a supervisor.
  • acknowledges appropriately the contributions of the student in presentations and in published material, in many cases via joint authorship.


  • is accessible to the student for consultation and discussion of the student’s academic progress and research. The frequency of meetings varies depending on the discipline, stage of work, nature of the project, independence of the student, full- or part-time status, etc. For many, weekly meetings are essential; for others, monthly meetings are satisfactory. In no case should interaction be less frequent than once per term.
  • establishes (with input from the student and colleagues where appropriate) a supervisory committee, and convenes a meeting, at least annually, to evaluate the student’s progress.
  • responds in a timely and thorough manner to written work submitted by the student, with constructive suggestions for improvement and continuation. The turnaround time for comments on written work should not normally exceed three weeks.
  • makes arrangements to ensure continuity of supervision when the supervisor will be absent for extended periods, e.g. a month or longer, when necessary, assists the student in gaining access to facilities or research materials.


  • assists the student in being aware of current graduate program requirements, deadlines, sources of funding, etc.
  • encourages the student to make presentations of research results within the University and to outside scholarly or professional bodies as appropriate.
  • encourages the student to finish up when it would not be in the student’s best interests to extend the program of studies
  • ensures that recommendations for external examiners of doctoral dissertations are made to the Graduate Program Officer and forwarded to G+PS in a timely manner.
  • assists the student to comply with any changes that need to be made to the thesis or dissertation after the thesis or dissertation defence.


  • ensures that the research environment is safe, healthy and free from harassment, discrimination and conflict. When there is a conflict in advice or when there are different expectations on the part of co-supervisors or members of the supervisory committee, the supervisor is expected to endeavour to achieve consensus and resolve the differences.

The G+PS Handbook of Graduate Supervision has more information on the roles and responsibilities of supervisors.

Who can be a supervisor

Any faculty member who is a member of G+PS is eligible to serve as a graduate student supervisor.

For complete information, see Policies and Procedures / Supervision.

The UBC Calendar has the full Senate policy on membership in G+PS.


Supervision of a student can be shared by two co-supervisors. At least one co-supervisor must meet the criteria above. Other appropriately qualified individuals may be approved to serve as co-supervisors.

In all cases where G+PS must approve a supervisory role for a non-member, the request must be made when the committee is formed.

All graduate students are required to have a Supervisory Committee. Generally, it is the student’s responsibility to organize the committee meetings.

Supervisory committees are to be composed primarily of research faculty members from the IOF who hold tenure stream professorial board appointments. Non-IOF committee members and/or a member who does not have a research, tenure stream professorial board appointment at UBC, requires the approval of the Graduate Advisor and G+PS. More details are available in the IOF's 2022/3 Graduate Student Handbook.

Supervisory committees should be formed within the first academic term. Graduate students who establish their supervisory committees early in their programs, and who meet with their committees regularly, tend to complete their degree programs successfully, and more quickly, than students who wait to establish their committees. The supervisory committee, whether master’s or doctoral, must meet at least once a year to monitor and direct the student’s progress.

Supervisory committee members should be available for help at every stage of the student’s program, from selection of coursework to formulation of the research proposal by establishing the methodology and discussing the results, to presentation and publication of the thesis or dissertation.

It is the responsibility of the supervisory committee to provide constructive criticism and assessment of the student’s ideas as the program develops, thereby broadening and deepening the range of expertise and experience of the graduate student. The committee is required to approve the final thesis or dissertation before examination.

Master's supervisory committees

OCF M.Sc. students must have a minimum of three faculty members on their committee (including the supervisor). Committee members are usually UBC faculty members of the IOF holding the rank of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor. Two committee members can be either an adjunct member of the IOF or some other UBC academic unit or a non-IOF UBC research faculty with a tenure stream professorial board appointment.

Doctoral supervisory committees

OCF Ph.D. students must have a minimum of four faculty members on their committee (including the supervisor). Committee members are usually UBC faculty members of the IOF holding the rank of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor. Two committee members can be either an adjunct member or honorary professor of the IOF or some other UBC academic unit or a non-IOF UBC research faculty with a tenure stream professorial board appointment.

If there are changes to the composition or distribution of roles on a doctoral student's supervisory committee after candidacy, G+PS must be notified so that the committee can be re-confirmed. Requested changes to supervision should follow the policies laid out by G+PS.

Annual Committee meetings

G+PS requires that graduate students meet with their full committee at least once a year. Students who have not had a supervisory committee meeting within the previous 12 months are not eligible for awards, and their supervisors who have not attempted to schedule a committee meeting once every 12 months are not eligible to accept new graduate students. All new students are encouraged to meet with their committee within the first six months of starting the program.

Prior to the supervisory committee meeting, students will provide the members of the committee with a brief progress report of 1-2 pages. If the first meeting of the supervisory committee occurs within six months of the program state date, the student can provide a brief introduction and training history with a general plan for research. For Ph.D. supervisory committee meetings that also serve as the proposal defense, the student will provide the full dissertation proposal instead of the brief progress report. For all other supervisory committee meetings, the short progress report should include the following content:

  1. date the student started in the program,
  2. list of course taken and grades,
  3. summary of research conducted so far,
  4. research plan for the future,
  5. sources of funding, and
  6. papers published or in preparation.

Supervisory committee meetings should normally last one hour in length. Students should prepare a brief presentation on research progress and future planning. Approximately half of the meeting time (~20-30 minutes) should be for open discussion. Annual committee meetings can be organized via teleconferencing.

After each supervisory committee meeting, the Committee Meeting Form and the Student Progress Report must be submitted to the Graduate Program Officer.

The G+PS Handbook of Graduate Supervision has more information about working effectively with your supervisory committee.


Even with the best intentions and efforts, conflicts may arise in the working relationship between a supervisor and a student, or within the supervisory committee.

Despite all efforts, sometimes the working relationship between a supervisor and a student breaks down. In such situations, either the student or the supervisor can initiate a meeting with the IOF Graduate Program Officer, who will attempt to help resolve the situation. The Graduate Advisor will keep the Director informed of significant supervisor-student problems that occur. If needed, the IOF Director will step in to help with the situation.

Should serious problems between the supervisor and student be irreconcilable, it may be necessary for the student to change supervisors. If the student has not already found a new supervisor, the original supervisor should provide assistance in this process. The new supervisor will take responsibility for guiding the graduate student’s academic program. Issues of financial support should be resolved among the parties in reasonable ways to best support the student.

If a student is unable to build and maintain a successful working relationship with any of the available supervisors, then that student may be asked to leave the program.

If no resolution can be achieved, the problem may ultimately be taken to the Dean of G+PS. The Dean of G+PS will check to ensure that each previous level of problem resolution has been explored to the fullest extent before proceeding further.

G+PS Guidelines on Ending the Supervisory Relationship

When there is a conflict in advice or when there are different expectations on the part of co-supervisors or members of the supervisory committee, the primary supervisor is expected to help resolve the differences.

If there continues to be difficulty within the committee, the student should bring the issues to the Graduate Program Officer.