Guidelines for evaluating and providing feedback on graduate student progress in PhD and research Masters programs

Thorough and timely written feedback ensures that students know if their progress is satisfactory and also know, if it is not, how to get back on track. These guidelines are intended to help students, supervisors, Graduate Officers and Associate Deans evaluate and provide feedback on graduate students’ progress through their programs.

Progress in a PhD or research Masters program constitutes successful and timely completion of some or all of the following:

  • course work;
  • comprehensive exams;
  • language requirements;
  • thesis proposals;
  • Master's Research Papers (MRPs), theses and dissertations

The University requires that an evaluation and feedback activity (as determined by the program) occurs at least once per academic year for a graduate student in a research program deemed to be making satisfactory progress and more frequently (as described below) for a student whose progress is not satisfactory. The two most commonly used mechanisms to conduct the evaluation and feedback are an “Activity report” or a “Committee Meeting”.

Activity Reports: To facilitate the assessment of the student’s work, the student shall provide a report that contains at a minimum an account of past achievements, and an outline of the work to be completed in the period between this and the subsequent submission. The Activity Report is reviewed by the supervisor (or co-supervisors) and the Graduate Officer, all of whom have the opportunity to comment. The Graduate Officer or supervisor(s) determines an evaluation – an assessment of the student’s overall progress relative to expectations – which shall, at a minimum, indicate whether progress is deemed to be satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Committee Meetings: Graduate students meet with their advisory committee including their supervisor(s) and summarize the students’ progress on their research and their program, again emphasizing past accomplishments and future activities. The committee determines an evaluation which shall indicate, at a minimum, satisfactory or unsatisfactory progress.

In all cases, the student’s overall rating and feedback on past work and future plans shall be reviewed by the student’s Graduate Officer and communicated to the student in writing. The level of detail on the written feedback shall be commensurate with the level of concern identified by the assessment. For example, students for whom progress is deemed to be excellent, may only need feedback that briefly acknowledges their past success and endorses their future plans. Should the evaluation be “Unsatisfactory,” the student must be informed as to the reasons for the concerns, actions that are to be taken to improve performance, and the timeline by which the necessary actions are to be completed. The comments (Activity Report or Committee Meeting Form) from the supervisor and/or the advisory committee should be detailed, reasonable and provide a timeline for completion.

Upon receipt of the evaluation, students also have the opportunity to comment. If the assessment of an Activity or Committee Report produces an Unsatisfactory evaluation, the student shall have the opportunity to meet with the evaluator(s) with the goal of providing additional information or context that may warrant a reconsideration of the assessment.

An Unsatisfactory rating should be an opportunity for the Graduate Officer and supervisor (or co-supervisors) to identify students who are struggling with their research due to health (including mental health), financial, writing or other challenges and provide direction to the student to appropriate campus resources (e.g. Campus Wellness, AccessAbility, The Writing and Communication Centre etc.). In these cases, Graduate Officers are encouraged to balance being an advocate for the student and also ensuring that program milestones are being met. If the evaluation remains as Unsatisfactory, and the student seeks to have the evaluation reconsidered, the student may proceed under Policy 70 with the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies in the Faculty.

If the concern is regarding performance in courses, particularly in the first term of graduate studies, students should be provided with the opportunity to improve their performance in a following term (when courses are offered).

In the case where a student receives an Unsatisfactory rating, the student will be placed on conditional status - the meaning of which is that the student is at risk of being required to withdraw if substantive improvements in performance are not observed. The student shall be given one to two additional terms (at the discretion of the Graduate Officer) to complete these requirements and return to satisfactory standing.

If progress on any subsequent assessment is deemed Unsatisfactory after receiving the first evaluation of Unsatisfactory, the Graduate Officer shall communicate a decision for the student to be required to withdraw from the program and no further funding will be provided. This letter (issued on letterhead) should specify the sequence of events that led to this decision. This letter will be reviewed by the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies prior to distribution to ensure that decisions are consistent within the Faculty. The Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Associate Vice-President Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs must be copied on the final correspondence. A student may seek a petition or grievance for a Required to Withdraw decision according to Policy 70.