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Graduate Student Guides

Working with a Supervisor

To ensure a successful relationship between you and your graduate supervisor, clearly communicate and set expectations with each other early on. Establish:

  • Meeting frequency, format, and approximate length
  • Preferred method of communication—email, face-to-face, video conference, etc.
  • When to expect responses to various items—questions, drafts requiring feedback, etc.
  • How the student works best—with structure, independently, etc. 
  • How the supervisor works best—hands-on or off, as a mentor, colleague, manager, etc. 
  • What other commitments the student has—jobs, dependents, etc.
    • How best to manage time between graduate work and other commitments
  • Expectations around funding
    • Is the student required to apply for funding? How will the supervisor help? 
  • The student’s immediate and long-term academic and professional goals
    • How might the supervisor help achieve these? 

Set a timeline together for all graduate work so the student can set goals to meet deadlines, and the supervisor can schedule when they will provide feedback. 


Keep in touch regularly, and communicate about any updates, changes, or progress. 

  • Are there any opportunities the supervisor can help the student with? 
    • Ex. teaching, publications, conferences, etc.
  • Check-in on progress and the status of graduate work
    • The student should communicate if they’re struggling with to meet deadlines so the supervisor can offer assistance with time management
  • When writing articles, determine and agree on authorship order before beginning

Challenges in the supervisory relationship can still arise. Students should communicate with their supervisor to try to address issues where possible. However, if there are concerns about inadequate or inappropriate supervision, students should contact the academic head of their graduate program. 


Improve your writing and study skills! Book an appointment with a writing advisor and/or academic coach on OSCARplus.  Questions? Email


“Graduate Supervision.” Graduate Studies. McMaster University,

“Getting the Supervisory Relationship Off to a Good Start.” Graduate Studies. McMaster University,

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