IX. Thesis Supervisors and Supervisory Committees

All thesis students must have a supervisor (or two co-supervisors) and a supervisory committee. In many academic units, the appointment of a supervisor is a pre-requisite for admission into the program. All graduate research projects must have an advisor who supervises the project work and thus acts as an effective supervisor. In some academic units, graduate research projects also require an advisory or guiding committee.

The membership of supervisory committees must be kept up to date as part of students' program requirements in the Graduate Student Information System (GSIS).

9.1 Qualifications of the Supervisor

A thesis supervisor or co-supervisor must be a member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Regular members and Adjunct (Retired) members may solely supervise students. Adjuncts in all other categories may only co-supervise students. Regular members wishing to supervise/co-supervise students in units other than their unit of appointment may do so by seeking a cross-listing with the other academic unit. Cross-listing is not required for members to serve on graduate committees in other units. Adjunct (Retired) and Adjunct (FGS) members wishing to supervise or co-supervise students in another academic unit must seek an adjunct appointment through that unit. Adjunct (Retired) and Adjunct (FGS) members may serve on supervisory and/or examination committees in that unit without an adjunct appointment in that unit.

See the following tables for specific details:

Serving on a Supervisory Committee (Unit of Appointment)

Appointment Type of Committee Supervisor Co-supervisor Serve on Committee
Regular Member PhD Yes Yes Yes
  Master’s Yes Yes Yes
Adjunct (Retired) PhD Yes Yes Yes
  Master's Yes Yes Yes
Adjunct (FGS) PhD No Yes Yes
  Master’s No Yes Yes
Adjunct (Scholar) PhD No No Yes (one only)*
  Master’s No Yes (one only)* Yes (one only)*
Adjunct (Scholar) Postdoctoral PhD No No Yes**
Adjunct (Scholar) Postdoctoral Master's No Yes** Yes**

* An Adjunct (Scholar) may serve on only one committee or co-supervise only one student in total.
** An Adjunct (Scholar) Postdoctoral Researcher may co-supervise Master's students and serve on supervisory and examining committees. They may not serve on the supervisory or examining committees of their supervisor’s students. Only one Adjunct (Scholar) Postdoctoral Researcher may serve on a given Master’s or PhD supervisory or examining committee.

Serving on a Supervisory Committee (Non-Appointment Unit)

Appointment Type of Committee Supervisor Co-supervisor Serve on Committee
Regular Member PhD Needs Cross* Needs Cross* Cross-listing not required
  Master’s Needs Cross* Needs Cross* Cross-listing not required
Adjunct (Retired)  PhD Need Adjunct** Need Adjunct** Adjunct not required
   Master's Need Adjunct** Need Adjunct** Adjunct not required
Adjunct (FGS) PhD No Need Adjunct** Adjunct not required
  Master’s No Need Adjunct** Adjunct not required
Adjunct (Scholar) PhD No No No
  Master’s No No No
Adjunct (Scholar) Postdoctoral PhD No No No
  Master's No Need Adjunct Adjunct not required

* Cross-listing in the non-appointment unit is necessary.
** Adjunct (Retired) and Adjunct (FGS) members must seek an additional appointment in the non-appointment unit.

Depending on the unit, experience on supervisory or examining committees, teaching graduate courses, or acting as a co-supervisor may be necessary before undertaking the role of thesis or project supervisor. Most natural science and engineering departments require faculty research funding as a criterion for supervision. All programs must maintain a copy of their criteria for supervision.

A Doctoral student must be supervised by a faculty member with a PhD or its equivalent, and a Master’s student must be supervised by a faculty member with at least a Master’s degree or its equivalent. Equivalency must be based on a faculty member’s record of research activity and supervisory experience. In the case of co-supervision of a Doctoral student, at least one of the supervisors must have a PhD or its equivalent (or in the case of a Master’s thesis, a Master’s degree or its equivalent). See the FGS website for membership details.

9.2 Co-supervision

The Faculty of Graduate Studies recognizes four types of co-supervision:

  1. that dictated by regulation 9.1 above where a co-supervisor is added because the other supervisor does not have an appropriate academic qualification (e.g., a PhD or equivalent);
  2. that which arises from the desire of a student to draw equally upon the expertise of two individuals, or where an interdisciplinary project may require the equal expertise of two supervisors from different disciplines;
  3. that which introduces a new faculty member to the standards of the academic unit by providing an opportunity to work with an experienced supervisor; and
  4. that which conforms to the Faculty of Graduate Studies membership requirements. Adjunct (FGS) and Adjunct (Scholar) members may be the academic co-supervisor of a Dalhousie student provided the student also has an internal co-supervisor who is a Regular member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

9.3 Supervisory Committees

Graduate students in thesis programs must have a supervisory committee. All members of supervisory committees are Regular, Adjunct (Retired), Adjunct (FGS), or Adjunct (Scholar) members of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Thesis candidates should have one supervisor or two co-supervisors and at least two additional members, at least one of whom is from the student’s graduate academic unit. Regular members should constitute no less than 50% of the membership of a supervisory committee. The tables given in section 9.1, define explicitly the permission to serve on supervisory committees. Supervisory committees are selected by the supervisor in consultation with the student. A supervisory committee should complement the expertise available to the student in completing their research program. The membership of all supervisory committees must be recorded in the Graduate Student Informatin System (GSIS), and changes to membership must be submitted on the student’s program update form and recorded by the department in GSIS.

Supervisory committees should meet at least twice a year during the thesis research period and more often in the writing stages of a student's program. Before an academic unit brings forward a thesis for examination, the work must be reviewed in detail and, in the opinion of the supervisor(s) and the committee, has reached the stage at which it is appropriate that it be put forward for examination. Agreement that a thesis may be submitted should not be viewed as a prejudgment on the outcome of the defence.

9.4 Guidelines for the Supervision of Graduate Students

The responsibilities and rights of students, supervisors and academic units outlined in the sections below have been developed for students in thesis programs; however, where appropriate, units are encouraged to adopt these practices for project students and their supervisors.

9.4.1 Selection of Supervisor

In many disciplines, a faculty member must agree to supervise a student before the student can be accepted into the program. In disciplines that do not assign supervisors at the time of admission, the selection of a supervisor should be based primarily upon competence in the field of the proposed thesis topic. Within this restriction, the academic unit should seek to accommodate the student’s choice of supervisor, although it is not obliged to guarantee the choice. Academic units are expected to maintain guidelines for determining the number of thesis supervisions a faculty member can concurrently undertake.

9.4.2 Responsibilities of Supervisors

Supervisors have the following responsibilities:

  • to be clear in their expectations for students and to update the expectations, as appropriate, as the student moves through the program;
  • to provide reasonable access to their student(s) and to be available for consultation at relatively short notice;
  • to be as helpful as possible in suggesting research topics and in assisting students to define their theses;
  • to tell students approximately how long it will be before written work, such as drafts of chapters, can be returned with comments;
  • to be thorough in their examination of thesis chapters, supplying, where appropriate, detailed comments on such matters as literary form, structure, use of evidence, relation of the thesis to published work on the subject, footnoting, and bibliographical techniques, and making constructive suggestions for rewriting and improving the draft;
  • to indicate clearly when a thesis draft is in a satisfactory final form and ready for defence, or, if it is clear to the supervisor that the thesis cannot be successfully completed, to advise the student accordingly;
  • to be knowledgeable of the regulations and standards of both the academic unit and the University, especially those related to the ethical conduct of research, and to make sure that the student is aware of them;
  • to continue supervision when on leave, possibly with arrangements also being made for members of the supervisory committee to assist the student for the leave period;
  • to advise and help the student to approach other faculty members for assistance with specific problems or even to request the reading of a chapter or section of the thesis;
  • to see that all ethics and animal care approvals, as appropriate, are secured.

9.4.3 Responsibilities of Students

Graduate students in thesis programs have the following responsibilities:

  • to choose a topic (with the supervisor’s aid and advice) and to produce a thesis that is essentially their own work;
  • to produce a thesis that meets the standards of scholarship required by the academic unit and University, including demonstration of their capacity for independent scholarship and research in their field;
  • to acknowledge direct assistance or borrowed material from other scholars or researchers;
  • to realize that the supervisor has undergraduate or other duties which may, at times, delay the student’s access to the supervisor;
  • to give serious and considered attention to advice and direction from the supervisor;
  • to submit their work to the judgment of the academic unit and to abide by its decision when any rights of appeal, if exercised, have been exhausted;
  • to know the academic unit and University regulations and standards to which the writer of a thesis is required to conform;
  • to comply with all ethics and animal care requirements.

9.4.4 Rights of Supervisors

Supervisors have the following rights:

  • to expect students to give serious and considered attention to their advice concerning what they regard as essential changes in the research and thesis;
  • to terminate supervision and advise the student to find another supervisor where evidence shows the student does not heed advice and ignores recommendations for changes in the research and thesis, or if the student is not making a reasonable effort;
  • to have their thesis supervision properly credited by the academic unit as an intrinsic part of their workload so that, in the assignment of duties, they are not overburdened to the point of having their effectiveness impaired as supervisors;
  • to have the student acknowledge, by footnoting, all portions of the supervisor’s own research over which the supervisor wants to retain future rights of authorship;
  • to retain the right to use the results of research carried out under their supervision for the benefit of a larger project — with the understanding that students will retain scholarly credit for their own work and be given acknowledgment of their contribution to the larger project.

9.4.5 Rights of Students

Students have the following rights:

  • to have a clear understanding of what is expected in thesis writing (expected length, acceptable methodology, validity of topic, notification of progress);
  • to expect help from their supervisor in establishing a feasible topic, in solving problems and assessing progress as the thesis is being written;
  • to receive a fair assessment of the completed thesis and explanations of negative criticism;
  • to be allowed to have a new supervisor when they can offer convincing reasons to the academic unit for the change and the change can be reasonably accommodated by the academic unit;
  • to be protected from exploitation by their supervisor or other faculty members if the latter should:
    a) intrude upon the student’s right of authorship or fail to give a student authorship credit for team research (where applicable, the academic unit’s protocols on authorship should be provided to students before they embark on research), or
    b) divert the student’s efforts from the timely completion of the thesis;
  • to submit a thesis even if the supervisor is not satisfied, although such action should be taken only in extreme cases and after full consultation with the academic unit.

9.4.6 Responsibilities of the Academic Unit

Academic units have the following responsibilities:

  • to provide necessary facilities and supervision for each student admitted, and not to accept more candidates than can be offered effective supervision. Academic units should consider carefully such matters as faculty retirements, sabbatical leaves, teaching loads, and library resources before admitting each student with a declared research interest. When, as is often the case in many disciplines, applicants are unable to choose a field of research until they have had some experience in graduate study or in a particular academic unit, the academic unit should still regulate admissions according to the number of faculty members available for supervision;
  • to uphold a high academic standard for theses;
  • to provide adequate supervision at all times, so that, when a supervisor leaves the University for another permanent position, substitute arrangements are made as soon as possible;
  • to allow students to change supervisors if their research interests shift or develop in a new direction if the change can be reasonably accommodated by the academic unit;
  • to provide processes which assist and encourage students to complete the thesis, such as early review and approval of topic and methodology, guidelines on access and appeals, oversight of the students’ schedule, and a clearly stated system of thesis review and evaluation;
  • to regard supervision of graduate students as a major consideration in making replacement appointments for faculty;
  • to encourage students to give papers as they proceed, so that they can test their ideas on a wider audience than the supervisory committee;
  • to ensure that the Graduate Coordinator acts as a general overseer of student progress;
  • to instruct all students or see that they attend workshops on research ethics.