Supervising Graduate Students

Over the past year, the Learning and Teaching Office has been developing a number of supports for faculty in terms of graduate supervision. These supports have included workshops on graduate supervision and a section of the website that provides guidance on designing and teaching graduate courses as well as supervising graduate research.

At this year’s Faculty Conference, the LTO, in conjunction with the Yeates School of Graduate Studies, organized and presented a session entitled “Supervising Graduate Students: Perspectives from Award-Winning Faculty.” At this session, recipients of inaugural Outstanding Contribution to Graduate Educations Awards provided their insights on graduate supervision to an audience of approximately 40 people.

Below is a description of this session as well as a summary of remarks made by panelists and the question and answer session that followed.

Faculty Conference

Supervising Graduate Students: Perspectives from Award-Winning Faculty

Learning and Teaching Office and Yeates School of Graduate Studies, Ryerson University

Date: May 16, 2013

Description: Graduate student supervision can be a challenging experience. Oftentimes faculty find themselves at a loss as to how to proceed when faced with unfamiliar situations. Most often, effective graduate supervision is informed by the faculty member’s own graduate school experience and not through training or any form of systematic preparation for this supervisory role. This year, the Yeates School of Graduate Studies awarded the inaugural Outstanding Contribution to Graduate Educations Awards. These awards recognize faculty excellence in the complex process of mentoring graduate students to prepare them for productive careers. Awards were presented to one faculty member in each of Ryerson’s six faculties. At this session, recipients of this award will be on hand to present their perspective on effective graduate supervision. Each award-winning faculty member will speak from their own experience and from the perspective of their faculty. Following opening remarks from the Dean of YSGS, Dr. Jennifer Mactavish, and a short presentation from each award-winner, attendees will be given an opportunity to put questions to the presenters. This session will provide participants with the tools to address any issues they may be facing with respect to graduate supervision and continue the ongoing dialogue around graduate student supervision at Ryerson University.

Dale Carl, Ted Rogers School of Management
Janet Lum, Faculty of Arts
Ravi Ravindran, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science


Ravi Ravindran – Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science

• Important to cultivate relationships as early as possible. Most of graduate students come from relationships developed when students were in their undergraduate program.
• Help Ryerson students represent Ryerson, it increases their visibility. Encourage them to present at conferences, competitions, etc. By increasing exposure it markets Ryerson well and is a good recruitment opportunity.
• Keep track of your graduates.
• Pick your PhD students carefully.
• Sow the seed of leadership in your students.
• Encourage exchange visits and international opportunities.
• ‘Wall of Fame’ to highlight student and departmental achievements.

Janet Lum – Faculty of Arts

• Set clear expectations and timelines and start early. This is especially important with larger items such as MRPs, theses, dissertations, etc.
• Emphasize that the student/supervisor relationship is a team effort.
• Utilize as many resources as you can. Alumni are an exceptionally useful resource to help and mentor current graduate students.
• Stay in touch with alumni.
• Encourage your graduate students to have a balanced approach towards their time at Ryerson.
• In some programs most graduate students go on to work in government or NGOs, therefore it is important to encourage current graduate students to network with alumni, and people from these types of organizations.
• Also remind students that it is their responsibility to also take advantage of the resources provided to them.
• As a graduate supervisor, need to balance the needs of the students who are not progressing as well in the program, with the needs of the program and other students.
• It is important to have a unified rate of funding for RAs, especially if some departments have different rates.
• Ensure your program website is updated (annually), is user friendly, full of testimonials about funding, faculty, and the program, and include information and examples of placements if applicable.
• Cultivate loyalty to Ryerson and YSGS and the program by word of mouth and social media.
• Review and send out offers of admissions as soon as possible.
• Respond to email as soon as possible.
• Follow up email with a phone call if necessary.
• Be sure to know what advantages your program has over other similar programs at other institutions. Must be able to sell the program to prospective students.
• Have some key alumni contact information handy that you can provide to prospective students.
• High energy and be proactive.

Dale Carl – Ted Rogers School of Management

• If dealing with a large volume of students, or students with a diverse background, process becomes very important.
• Meet, set, and manage expectations very early because student levels vary greatly.
• Help them connect their paper with their graduation goals. Especially important in the MBA program.
• Work with them to help them structure their paper, which is especially important for students not used to writing academically.
• Talk them through this process to get their ‘buy in’. Email is fine, but face-to-face meetings are important and often more effective.
• If, as a supervisor, you are not the subject matter expert, try and find a second reader who is. This helps in the long run.
• Google Scholar a good resource to get a student started, and to help you become familiar with a topic if it is in an area you are not an expert in.
• Help them frame their paper, for example with a flow chart with a clear start/end and deliverables to help them manage their progress and meet deadlines.
• Insist on a timeline.
• Ensure that the ethics review process is timed properly, especially if the student is going overseas to collect data.
• Maintain communication with student especially if they are no longer in class. Should connect at least once per week, in person or Skype is better than email. This also helps increase rapport.
• Ensure they are aware of all the library resources available to them and introduce them to these recourses in person.
• Select the examining committee carefully and appropriately. Choose people who are supportive and are not adversarial with each other.

Audience questions

Q. In selecting examining committee, how would you know who are adversaries?
A. Could ask Dean or your mentor.
Also want to ensure that there are not theoretical biases or personality biases.
Also note that good examining committee members makes for a good referees.

Q. What is the role of the second reader?
A. Currently there is no policy with regards to a second reader.
Second readers need to review the paper so that there are no surprises at the defense.
Should give the second reader adequate time to review the paper. They should also be given the entire draft, that way if there are any issues, they can be addressed at that time.
A second reader should also not be identical to the primary reviewer. Want to get a different perspective so can get a more in depth review.

Q. How do you manage a student if I am not a subject matter expert?
A. It is a steep learning curve. Look at it as an opportunity to learn along with the student. As a supervisor you must be motivated and not leave it entirely for the student to figure out on his/her own.

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