Supervision Guidelines for Faculty – Section 1: Introduction

Photo: Johnny Guatto

How Can These Guidelines Help You?

The goal of these best practice guidelines is to assist you in creating a rewarding graduate experience for both your students and yourself.

As one of the most research-intensive universities in the world, the University of Toronto prides itself on providing graduate students with the opportunity for a deep engagement with scholarly work within their given discipline. Most research-stream doctoral students have a requirement to produce original research, complete a written thesis, and defend it at a Final Oral Examination. Similarly, research-stream master’s students normally have to write and defend a thesis based on original research. Additionally, a number of professional doctoral and master’s programs require that their students be engaged in scholarly activities under the supervision of a faculty member.

Fundamental to the idea of “supervision” is that a graduate faculty member (or occasionally more than one) takes primary responsibility for assisting a student in learning the science and art of the scientific or scholarly investigative process as well as guiding them through the processes necessary for successful completion of the degree. In addition, a good supervisor will not only provide research guidance, but also act as a mentor for the student, helping them explore career opportunities, introducing them to the scholarly and professional culture in their discipline, helping them navigate the University, and pointing them to the many resources available at the University to assist students during their program, especially if and when they encounter obstacles that may affect their academic work.

Supervision can take many forms, depending on, for instance, the program the student is enrolled in, the nature of the research or scholarly project, the faculty member’s personal supervision style, the student’s personal needs and their learning style, the standards of the discipline, and more. These guidelines are intended to help supervisors better understand their roles within this process and to ensure that the supervision of graduate students at the University of Toronto is of the highest quality.

SGS honours active faculty members who, over at
least 15 years, have demonstrated excellence in graduate supervision.

Learn about the JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award

While these guidelines are written primarily for faculty members supervising graduate students in research-stream programs, many of these guidelines can also be applied to those advising students in graduate professional programs. Indeed, most of the principles underlying best practices in supervision apply to all faculty working with students on scholarly projects.

In addition to these general guidelines, we recognize that there may also be discipline-specific best practices, and both supervisors and graduate units should identify and adopt those as well.


These guidelines are based on the 2012 publication entitled, “Graduate Supervision: Guidelines for Students, Faculty, and Administrators.” The existing guidelines were reviewed and revised by a working group at the School of Graduate Studies (SGS), which involved representatives from across the University, including SGS, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre, Accessibility Services, First Nations House, and faculty members and students from various disciplines. Additionally, many sections within this document have benefitted significantly from the input and comments obtained from various experts across the University.

A companion publication provides guidelines for graduate students. Together, these guidelines outline the best practices for graduate supervision at the University of Toronto and assist all participants in the supervisory process to have a clear understanding of responsibilities and expectations in order to optimize the graduate experience and prevent potential problems or conflicts.

Our special thanks also go to Megan McIntosh and Caroline Cormier, without whose expert research, writing, and editorial skills the preparation of these documents would not have been possible.


  1. Adapted from School of Graduate Studies, “Graduate Supervision Guidelines: Student Edition,” University of Toronto, 2016. Retrieved from:, 1.
  2. Ibid., 3-4.


Section 2: Supervision and Mentoring
Key topics: Defining key terms; General characteristics of good supervisory practice; Effective supervision and mentorship strategies

Section 3: Supervisory Styles
Key topics: How do supervisory styles differ across grad units and disciplines? What characteristics do students of all disciplines value in a supervisor?

Section 4: Effective Supervision in Practice: From the Initial Stage to Finishing Up
Key topics: Agreeing to Supervise a Student; Setting up a Committee; Program Timelines, Good Progress, and Academic Standing; Funding; and Submitting the thesis for the Final Oral Examination

Section 5: Supporting Students to Completion and Beyond
Key topics: Guiding principles that may help your student through the final stages of their PhD; Graduate Professional Development and career preparation

Section 6: Creating Equality and Equity When Working with Students
Key topics: Defining “equality” and “equity”; How experiences of grad school differ among students; Considering students’ backgrounds (e.g., students with family responsibilities, First Nations students, international students, students with mental health issues, students with writing support needs, etc.)

Section 7: When a Student May Need Accommodations
Key topics: Accommodations vs. time-limited academic adjustments; Defining “accommodations”; Disclosure and Confidentiality; Available resources

Section 8: When Problems Arise
Key topics: Identifying potential sources of problems in the student/supervisor relationship; Who can you talk to?; Vignettes

Section 9: Appendix 1 – Resources

Section 10: Appendix 2 – Checklist for Supervisors