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 and changes of these committees are part of the student’s program requirements in 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 or co-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.

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)**

* An Adjunct (Scholar) may serve on only one committee or co-supervise only one student in total.
** An Adjunct (Scholar) Postdoctoral Researcher 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 No No

* Cross-listing in the non-appointment unit is necessary.
** Adjuncts Retired and FGS must seek an additional appointment as an Adjunct 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 section 1 for membership.

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

All units will maintain supervisory committees for graduate students in thesis programs. All members of supervisory committees are Regular, Adjunct (Retired), Adjunct (FGS), or Adjunct (Scholar) members of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. All thesis candidates shall 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 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. Normally the agreement of all committee members is required before an academic unit brings forward a thesis for examination.

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 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.

In units where students are not normally admitted until their research areas have been identified and faculty members have agreed to supervise them, a potential difficulty should be drawn to the attention of new students: some restriction of students’ freedom to follow their own lines of research may result from dependence upon supervisors’ research grants for a significant portion of their income. When such conflicts of interest arise, the Graduate Coordinator and the candidate’s supervisory committee should play a significant role in overseeing the development of the research.

9.4.2 Responsibilities of Supervisors

When faculty members accept the supervision of graduate students, they assume several responsibilities:

  • 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 draft is in a satisfactory final form or, if it is clear to the supervisor that the thesis cannot be successfully completed, to advise the student accordingly;
  • to know the academic unit and University regulations and standards to which the writer of a thesis is required to conform, 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

When graduate students undertake the writing of a thesis, they assume several 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 University and the academic unit, 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 putting forth 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 — this is always 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 certain responsibilities in supporting and maintaining their graduate programs:

  • to provide necessary facilities and supervision for each student admitted, and not to accept more candidates than can be offered effective supervision; therefore 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 procedures 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 Faculty-level workshops) on research ethics.