Graduate Supervision: Guidelines for Best Practices

The following recommendations are designed for graduate students who are starting their education in the department and for their supervisors. It explains the existing procedures with the goal to foster a collegial work environment conducive to the success of graduate studies and research. 

  1. Choosing a supervisor: The department assigns a supervisor(s) from among the department’s faculty to every graduate student, taking into consideration the student’s stated interests and preferences. In cases of co-supervision, at least one of the supervisors will come from the department. In cases when the student’s research interests change significantly in the course of study and it becomes advisable to reassign the primary supervisor, the student should discuss this with the chair of the graduate committee who will, upon consultation, make a decision in the best interests of the student.
  2. Research topic: The primary supervisor should help the student in the selection and the development of a research topic that is original, challenging, at the appropriate level of the degree sought, and can be completed within the expected time frame. The supervisor should make sure that, when necessary, the research proposal for an MA or PhD project is submitted for approval to the university’s ethics research board. The student must pursue the research in accordance with the university’s policies on research integrity, ethical norms, observing copyright, and avoiding plagiarism.          
  3. Contact between student and supervisor: Students are encouraged to take the initiative to call upon their primary supervisors on a regular basis, seeking consultation and advice on any important aspect of their study and/or life as a graduate student.  They should promptly inform their supervisor(s) of any problems or challenges that arise in the course of their studies. Primary supervisors should meet with each of their graduate students at least twice each semester to learn about the student’s progress and to speak together about challenges that may require attention. Students, supervisors, and committee members, should agree on mutually convenient communication practices, whether via email, phone, or in person, and each should make an effort to respond promptly to messages.
  4. Making decisions: Students should make decisions about which courses to take to satisfy the program’s course requirements, about how best to define their thesis topic, research strategies, methods and sources, about which relevant fields to choose for their comprehensive examinations, and about where to seek financial assistance and research support upon consultation with their primary supervisor(s), and in accordance with the department’s rules.
  5. Additional faculty advisors/supervisors: Upon consultation with their primary supervisors, students invite additional faculty members to serve as field examiners, second readers, and/or members of the prospectus and thesis committees. An MA committee typically consists of the primary supervisor and the second reader, whereas PhD committees typically include the primary supervisor plus two or three graduate faculty. The PhD prospectus and the thesis committees often overlap significantly, but do not have to be identical. Faculty from other departments and universities can be invited to serve on the above committees. In the cases when additional faculty are in other departments, the graduate advisor and supervisor follow up with information about departmental procedures. For the dissertation defense, the supervisor recommends outside readers for FoGS’ approval.
  6. Progress to degree: In cases when the student’s progress and achievements fall below what is expected of a graduate student in the UBC History Department, it is the duty of the primary supervisor and the graduate chair to explain the situation to the student and to consider an appropriate action. Grades of A+, A, and A- are indicators of good progress. Grades of B+ are marginal. Grades of B or lower are not acceptable progress.
  7. Meetings with the Graduate Advisor: The chair of the graduate committee meets with each student and the primary supervisor on a semi-annual basis. After the thesis prospectus defense and advance to candidacy, PhD students no longer have to meet regularly with the graduate chair. Every January, the entire committee should confer with the ABD student in person or virtually about their progress and report to the graduate advisor. MA students meet with their supervisors and the graduate advisor semi-annually until they complete their program.
  8. Research leaves: When either the primary supervisor and/or the student are away from campus on leave both parties should make arrangements for maintaining regular contact. It is the responsibility of both parties to be available and stay in contact throughout the entire period of graduate study.
  9. Research and writing: The student should keep the primary supervisor informed about the progress of research and writing and about any serious difficulties hindering the timely completion of the thesis. This includes submitting reports and written drafts for regular examination. The supervisor and members of the thesis committee should read and comment on student’s written work on the thesis in a timely manner (usually within two weeks), providing constructive suggestions for improvement and revision. The thesis supervisor should advise the student on the intellectual content of the thesis but also on the standards for quality and style to which the thesis must conform.
  10. Professional development: The primary supervisor should provide advice on presenting work at conferences and through publications, on career options, on sources of research support, and on other aspects of professional development. The department also organizes an annual series of professional development workshops for graduate students to help them better address the typical challenges of professionalization in the field.      
  11. PhD prospectus: Upon reading and commenting upon the draft(s) of the student’s PhD prospectus, the supervisor makes a decision as to if the student is ready for the prospectus defense and consults with other members of the prospectus committee to establish mutually convenient dates of the defence, within the general limits prescribed by the university and department regulations. The prospectus defense must occur within four months after the comprehensive exams.
  12. Thesis defense: Upon reading and commenting upon the draft(s) of the student’s thesis, the thesis committee makes a decision as to if the student is prepared to stand for the thesis defense. The primary supervisor is responsible for the paperwork necessary to initiate the thesis defense, and, in case of the PhD defense, submits formal recommendations for external examiners and university examiners. 
  13. Please consult the website for additional information and specific guidelines regarding comprehensive exams.