Monitoring Doctoral Progress

Guidelines for Graduate Units in Monitoring the Progress of Doctoral Students (“Monitoring Guidelines”)

The “Monitoring Guidelines” are intended to be a companion document to the “Supervision Guidelines”. The goal of the “Monitoring Guidelines” is to provide general recommendations for graduate units on creating structures and processes to support doctoral student success by ensuring that students can make timely progression through their programs. There is likely to be considerable variance in the implementation of some of the recommended procedures, depending, for example, on the nature of the scholarly discipline and the research environment (including the size of graduate unit), or the degree to which research is conducted independently. Graduate units are encouraged to implement the guidelines in a manner appropriate to their discipline and program as well as communicate the relevant procedures in a clear and transparent manner to graduate students and faculty.

SGS strongly recommends that all graduate units adopt procedures for the continuous monitoring of doctoral student progress toward completion of degree requirements (e.g., coursework, comprehensive exam, achieving candidacy, etc.). These procedures should be clearly outlined in the Graduate Handbook and disseminated to graduate students at the beginning of each academic year. The procedures should support the following aims:

  1. Student – supervisor engagement
  2. Supervisory committee engagement
  3. Graduate unit support and oversight of student progress

Student – Supervisor Engagement

The foundation of a successful graduate experience is the continuous engagement of the student and the supervisor in the development and execution of an academic and research program that is tailored to achieve their shared goals.  Due to the timelines associated with doctoral programs (e.g., program length; time limit to achieve candidacy; time limit to constitute a supervisory committee; maximum period of registration; and eligible years of funding), program curricula should be optimised and planning and engagement regarding research activities should occur as early in the program as possible.

  • Graduate units should ensure that the selection of thesis topics or research areas and the approval of supervisors occur as early as possible in the program so that students can select courses that will support thesis development and the research process.
  • It is also recommended that graduate units establish procedures for students and potential supervisors to meet and discuss research interests and fit prior to or after the admissions process, depending on the program. These procedures should provide a framework for students to take an active role in making an informed choice when seeking a strong fit for supervision.
  • Graduate units must provide an updated list (usually on the website) of members of the graduate faculty, with relevant information concerning their research interests and fields of expertise.

Supervisors are responsible for closely monitoring student progress and for identifying any issues and challenges as early as possible; to this end, they are required to make themselves available for regular meetings with their students. The frequency of meetings has been linked to timely milestone and program completion, as well as to student satisfaction with supervision.

  • Each graduate unit should develop and communicate clear and transparent expectations for supervisor – student engagement with respect to the requirements of their graduate program.
  • Each graduate unit should set minimum standards for the frequency of meetings (ideally, weekly or biweekly, and no less than once a month, depending on the field’s practices) and encourage an increase in the frequency of meetings, both when students need more support and around the time of critical program milestones.

Supervisors are also required to provide supportive and timely feedback on relevant written materials, including but not limited to research proposals, manuscripts, grant and funding applications, and conference submissions.

Supervisory Committee Engagement

Supervisory committees ensure that the student is achieving, in a timely manner, the level of academic excellence and technical/ methodological skill expected of a doctoral graduate from the University of Toronto. The committees play a crucial evaluative role, both by holding regular meetings to provide a fair and timely assessment of student performance and by offering feedback on students’ academic work. In addition, committee members are expected to engage the student, individually or as a group, in discussing student’s academic and professional development. They must also advise students on identifying appropriate professional development and networking opportunities.

Committees consists of the supervisor chosen from among the graduate faculty members of a student’s graduate unit, and at least two graduate faculty members with appropriate and complementary academic expertise and SGS-approved Graduate Faculty Memberships. Supervisory committees are required to meet with their students annually – at minimum – to assess their progress in the program and to provide input on their research projects.

  • SGS strongly recommends that graduate units require committee meetings to be held more frequently (e.g., twice per year), if possible. Regular engagement with the committee offers more opportunity for expert advice and constructive feedback, timely identification of issues related to progress, and provision of support to both students and supervisors.
  • The specific format of each meeting should be designed by the individual student and the supervisor/ supervisory committee to suit the student’s needs as they progress through the program. In some cases, these meetings can mimic the format of the final oral examination to allow the student an opportunity to practice presenting in this format. In other cases, they may be structured in the form of a conference or job talk.

At each meeting, committees prepare a report that constitutes the primary assessment of student progress in research, detailing observations of the student’s progress and the committee’s recommendations. 

  • Designed by each graduate unit, the committee progress reports should provide a clear judgement (on a numerical or descriptive scale) of the student’s progress in key areas linked to degree-level expectations, the research program’s learning objectives (e.g., knowledge related to research, methodological skills, technical skills, oral and written communication skills) and an overall evaluation (e.g., satisfactory/unsatisfactory/ probationary = “neither satisfactory or unsatisfactory”). Written comments included in the reports should be explicit about whether the student’s research progress and development as a researcher are appropriate for the current stage of the program.

Committees are expected to openly discuss the committee report with their students. The students must be given an opportunity to respond to all committee comments and should be encouraged to include their own comments or append comments to the report. All parties must then sign the report and forward it to the unit’s administrator.

  • The graduate unit’s representative (e.g., graduate chair / coordinator or unit administrator) must review the committee report, sign it, and keep a copy in the student’s file. As well, the graduate unit must record committee meeting dates and supervisory committee membership on ROSI and update this information as necessary. Additionally, the graduate unit must report the outcome of this meeting, and in cases of unsatisfactory progress alert the graduate chair / coordinator.

Graduate units should provide the student with adequate warning of concerns regarding progress and give them an opportunity to address the concerns raised in a reasonable amount of time. Every effort should be made to identify problems with achieving academic and research milestones early in a student’s program to avoid termination of registration or voluntary withdrawal late in the program.

If a student receives an unsatisfactory progress report from their supervisory committee, a process for remediation should be available. This may include the creation of a research and academic plan to support the achievement of academic milestones and re-evaluation within a defined interval (e.g., three months) and engagement of relevant support services.

  • Graduate units may engage with Student Progress and Support, Student Life Programs and Services in cases of significant challenges and delays.

If insufficient academic progress is recorded in two consecutive supervisory committee reports, the graduate chair/ coordinator should consult the office of Vice Dean, Students, SGS on the potential recommendation for termination. Reasons for termination must be clearly documented prior to initiation of termination.

  • The SGS termination of a student’s registration guidelines should be clearly outlined in the Graduate Handbook.

Departmental Support and Oversight of Student Progress

In relevant documents such as the SGS Calendar entry, Graduate Handbook and program website, all graduate units should clearly describe program requirements, other curricular milestones (e.g., coursework, proposal defense, departmental examination, final oral examination) and anticipated timelines for the program. All graduate programs should undergo periodic curriculum review and updates, which should be aligned with UTQAP requirements.

The office of the Vice Dean, Research & Program Innovation at SGS is available for consultation on graduate curriculum and curriculum updates at any time.

In many graduate units, graduate chairs / coordinators are responsible for tracking student progress, with the support of the graduate administrator. The student tracking / review should be performed regularly (e.g., twice per year) so that graduate units are aware of delays and individual circumstances and are able to provide proactive support to graduate students and supervisors.

  • To facilitate this monitoring, SGS strongly recommends that each graduate unit forms a committee (e.g., Graduate Committee on Academic Standing) to provide oversight and advise graduate chairs /coordinators on specific cases related to program delays/lack of academic progress, program extensions, and terminations. This committee can, for example, play a role in reviewing all program extensions or recommendations for termination of registration.
  •  Graduate units should clearly define and outline in the SGS Calendar entry and Graduate Handbook what constitutes “good academic standing” within the academic program and what constitutes unsatisfactory progress.
  • Graduate units should ensure the academic standing and progress of all students is clearly and regularly documented relative to the program requirements.
  • Graduate units should endeavour to support students living with disability or experiencing health, disability and / or medical emergency. Support may ultimately take the form of, or require, a referral to available Health and Wellness and Accessibility Services. In these cases, units might also work with a supervisor and student on building some flexibility into a student’s program of study subject to SGS and unit policy and guidelines on completion of program milestones (e.g., time to candidacy, coursework extensions, time in funded cohort etc.)
  • Graduate units should be aware of the requirements to support students seeking or receiving academic accommodations due to circumstances related to health and / or disability. A graduate unit’s responsibilities may include working with a student and / or supervisor to assist with the referral process to Accessibility Services and / or development, implementation, and monitoring of accommodation outcomes subject to the policies and procedures followed and enacted by the University of Toronto and Accessibility Services (i.e., confidentiality, non-disclosure of clinical circumstances, etc.).
  • In cases where students are responsible for identifying their supervisors, graduate units should be prepared to support students with disabilities if they require a transition to a new supervisor. This may also include identifying / assigning supervisors in cases of emergencies (e.g., personal reasons / faculty medical leave / death).
  • Graduate units should encourage and support graduate faculty to engage in supervisor training, (e.g., through providing mentorship to early career faculty and recommending professional development opportunities at the University).
  •  Graduate units should provide their students with a well-defined process for appealing academic decisions in a context of graduate coursework, supervisory committee evaluations, comprehensive / qualifying / transfer examinations etc. at the Graduate Departmental Academic Appeal Committee (GDAAC). This process must be clearly outlined in the Graduate Student Handbook and on unit’s website.
  • Graduate units should be aware of, and appropriately apply, SGS Calendar regulations, SGS policies and guidelines including:

Graduate units can reach out to the office of Vice-Dean, Students at SGS for consultation when complex issues arise and broad access to University services and supports is needed.


Graduate units and their academic administrators and staff play a central role in creating a culture of care for all members of the graduate community.  For graduate students and supervisors, their graduate units are their first link to the University and its resources, as well as their primary source of information and support. SGS is available to meet with each department’s leadership to discuss and identify strategies and best practices suitable to their specific needs and focused on improving overall student experience.