Revised Feb. 14, 2013


Fundamental to a satisfactory relationship between a supervisor and a student are mutual respect and a high level of professional integrity. What follows are guidelines to assist in the functioning of that relationship. These are necessarily rather general since it is recognized that different Faculties and disciplines have different requirements and expectations which will supplement or give specificity to these general statements.

In those disciplines that do not assign a supervisor on admission, the student should understand that, while the department (the term includes school and institute) will make every attempt to assign the supervisor of choice, the supervisorial relationship has to be consensual and determined primarily by competence in the field of the proposed thesis topic, and the availability of the supervisor.

Students should understand that while the department and the university will make every reasonable effort to find a suitable supervisor for the student, there might be rare occasions where it proves impossible to do so. In cases where a suitable supervisor cannot be found, the student may be required to withdraw from the program in good standing.

Furthermore, students in laboratory-based disciplines should understand that their lines of research may encounter some change due to dependence upon the research direction of the supervisor who accepts them into the laboratory and provides a significant portion of their income out of his/her research grant.

When a supervisor-student relationship is established, the parties should understand that they assume the following responsibilities and can have the following expectations:

Responsibilities of Supervisors: (these apply to co-supervisors and sole supervisors alike)

To be familiar with the regulations and standards of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, and the department, especially as they pertain to the conduct of research and the production of the thesis, and to ensure that the student is aware of these regulations and standards.

To be aware of and abide by the university’s policies on conflict of interest, sexual harassment, and research ethics.

To assist the student in identifying a suitable research topic and (where appropriate) setting up a program of study.

To assist the student in the interpretation of research materials.

To be available for regular and timely consultations with students and to provide notification of lengthy absences and the support mechanisms available under these circumstances.

To convene meetings of the advisory committee as agreed with the student.

To agree to continue supervision when on sabbatical or other type of leave, or to assist the student in making arrangements for supervision during the period of the leave. To assist students in seeking financial support, especially in writing letters of good quality in support of scholarship and fellowship applications (e.g. well-written, informative, typed, on university letterhead), and to inform a student if a supportive letter cannot be written.

To agree with the student on a reasonable schedule for the completion of each portion of the research and thesis.

To read in a timely fashion portions submitted by the student

To provide constructive suggestions especially vis-a-vis difficulties or deficiencies perceived in the draft.

To indicate clearly when a draft thesis is in acceptable condition for examination or, if it is clear that the thesis will not be examinable, to advise the student in a timely fashion. In the case of disagreement between the supervisor and the student as to whether the thesis should move to defence, the student does have the right to proceed to examination without the supervisor’s support.

To complete the supervisor’s section of the annual audit form required by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs .

To discuss with the student as early as feasible, any potential joint authorships or joint ownership of data or patents which might arise, provide a written version of any understandings reached on these matters, and also ensure that student contributions to publications are adequately acknowledged. (Granting agencies and major journals have guidelines which cover some or all of these items.)

To discuss with the student any potential copyright issues related to external material reproduced in the thesis.

To maintain regular communication with the student.

Responsibilities of Students

To choose, with the supervisor’s help, a research topic which the supervisor considers to be suitable and which he/she is competent to supervise.

To work systematically and within agreed deadlines, as far as possible, in order to meet the program deadlines specified by the regulations of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs.

To be well prepared for meetings with the supervisor.

To agree with the supervisor on a reasonable schedule for the completion of each portion of the research and thesis.

To submit to the supervisor all research materials, as requested, and, at the agreed times, drafts of parts of the thesis for comment.

To give serious attention to the advice and direction of the supervisor.

To realize that the supervisor has duties and commitments that may delay access at short notice or slow down the return of a draft.

To acknowledge direct assistance of material drawn from other scholars and researchers.

To produce a thesis which meets the specifications and standards of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs and the department.

To submit the thesis to the judgment of the department via the examination procedures specified and to abide by the judgment of the examiners, subject to any appeal on grounds of procedural irregularities.

To respect copyright regulations when reproducing external material in the thesis.

To maintain regular communication with the supervisor.

This array of responsibilities imparts certain expectations on the part of both the supervisor and student.

Expectations of the Supervisor

To expect the student to pursue the agreed research topic, unless a change has been mutually agreed upon.

To expect the student to give serious attention to advice concerning perceived deficiencies in the research and the thesis, and to receive a reasonable explanation when this advice is not followed.

To terminate supervision if the student is not displaying a reasonable effort, if he/she fails to heed advice on changes deemed essential, or if the student changes the agreed thesis topic without consent.

To have his/her contribution to the thesis appropriately and clearly acknowledged.

To have permission from the author of the thesis for the research set out in the thesis to be used as part of the larger project, when the student has produced the research as a research assistant employed on the larger project (with the understanding that the student will retain scholarly credit).

Expectations of the Student

To be assisted by the supervisor in developing a clear and feasible research topic and in solving problems and assessing progress as the work develops.

To be assisted to a clear understanding of the substantive and formal requirements of a thesis (e.g., length; methodology; validation of topic; degree of originality, especially in masters theses).

To receive within a reasonable time frame a fair and thorough assessment of both the drafts and the completed thesis, and clear explanations of negative comments.

To be permitted to seek a new supervisor if it can be clearly shown that the supervisory relationship has broken down or if the student and supervisor cannot agree on a suitable research topic (however, it is understood that a department and the university cannot guarantee a suitable replacement).

To be protected from arbitrary changes in research direction which are detrimental to the timely completion of the thesis.

To have his/her contribution to the thesis fairly reflected in the attribution of authorship of publications and of patents.

To be permitted to submit a thesis for examination even if the supervisor is not satisfied, providing the work conforms to the guidelines and regulations laid down by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs and the department.

Honorary Faculty Appointments with Approved Supervision Status

For students seeking information about graduate supervision status, please contact your department directly.

For Carleton Faculty/Staff: You can access the up-to-date list of honorary ranks in Banner. If you do not have access to this list, please email