Responsibilities of graduate studies administrators

Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA)

The strategic, academic leadership within Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) is provided by the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs in partnership with two Assistant Vice-Presidents, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. The implementation of these strategic directives and other functions is led by a Director, Graduate Services and several functional teams that correspond to the student lifecycle. These include:

  • A team that supports the development and implementation of marketing and recruiting materials for academic programming in partnership with Faculties;  
  • A team that receives applications, ensures the validity of materials submitted, coordinates with departments and programs to have the applications reviewed, receives decision recommendations from the programs, and processes the admissions of incoming students including issuing the formal Offer of Admission. The admissions team also helps support international agreements between the University and strategic partners;
  • A team that manages scholarships and bursaries that support graduate students. The Awards team also oversees and supports students’ and Postdoctoral scholars’ applications for competitive, Tri-Agency funding. The team is responsible for processing all student payments through the University’s Student Information System; 
  • A team that serves a registrarial function, acting as the official record keeper for all graduate students’ data (e.g., applications, admission, grades, awards, recruitment, registration, theses, convocation, and course scheduling). The systems team designs, develops and implements with campus partners those systems and processes that facilitate graduate studies administration across the University;
  • A team that supports the development and implementation of student experience initiatives, professional development training and support, communications with campus partners on matters of interest to graduate students, the development and maintenance of web materials including administrative forms and the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar;
  • GSPA staff also coordinate with campus partners to generate and analyze strategic data and submit data to various government and external agencies.

GSPA, as the name implies, also supports the recruitment, onboarding and experiences for our postdoctoral scholars.
More information on GSPA, including contacts, as well as additional resources for the graduate student community can be found on the GSPA web page.

Faculty Associate Deans Graduate Studies

Each Faculty appoints an Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. The Associate Dean is expected to provide leadership and ensure that the responsibilities for graduate studies in the Faculty are properly discharged. Further, the Associate Dean should communicate relevant items from the Graduate Operations Committee to the Faculty Graduate Studies Committee. In addition, the Associate Dean should work to harmonize the graduate interests within the various departments of the Faculty. From time to time the Associate Dean may work on other University-wide committees where there are overlapping interests.

Department (School) or Program Level Administrators

At the Department or School level, there is normally a faculty member who is appointed as the lead administrator for graduate programs. These roles may be referred to as an Associate Chair (in the case of departments with a Chair), an Associate Director (in cases where the school is led by a Director), or a Program Director (for specific graduate programs within a unit). These various roles are commonly referred to as Graduate Officer.

The Graduate Officer is expected to provide leadership in the administration of graduate studies in the unit, and to serve as a point of contact for students who are seeking advice or support. In addition, the Graduate Officer should keep the Graduate Studies Committee of the department informed of relevant items from the Graduate Studies Committee of the Faculty. The Graduate Officer, on occasion, may have to work on inter-departmental committees of the Faculty to deal with special issues on graduate studies.
Within most units, the Graduate Officer works closely with a staff colleague – referred to as a Graduate Coordinator – in the administration of graduate studies. The roles that Graduate Coordinators play vary, but typically include some aspects of graduate admissions, curricular changes, communications among stakeholders, changes in students’ programs, and student funding.

The Supervisor

Research graduate students at the University of Waterloo work collaboratively with their graduate supervisor(s). This relationship is known to be critical to both students’ success – academically, professionally and personally – and the successful conduct of research at the University. Given the importance of supervisors’ roles in student success, this section of the Calendar codifies the expectations and requirements of supervisors. More details on the responsibilities of all parties - students, supervisors, and other graduate administrators - and the recommended best practices to achieve positive outcomes can be found in the University’s Guide for Graduate Research and Supervision. For guidance on roles and responsibilities associated with Graduate Teaching Assistants, please see Policy 30 - Employment of Graduate Student Teaching Assistants

Responsibilities of Graduate Student Supervisors

Knowledge of regulations, policies and procedures

Effective graduate student supervision requires a knowledge and understanding of the University’s requirements and expectations including: 

  • Department, Faculty and University regulations, policies and procedures;  
  • The support services available to students and faculty at the University;
  • University of Waterloo policies and procedures that inform academic integrity;
  • University of Waterloo and Tri-Agency policies and procedures that inform the responsible conduct of research including research integrity and research ethics.

Advice on program of study, research and professional development  

Supervisors are expected to serve as mentors to their graduate students. To this end, supervisors should be prepared to provide well-informed advice on academics and professional development including:

  • Balancing academic expectations that are appropriate for the degree with commonly understood and desirable time and resource expectations of the student and the supervisor;
  • Completing academic requirements needed to fulfil the degree;
  • Developing, advancing and assessing students’ research in collaboration with the Advisory and Examining Committees;
  • Engaging in internships, practica, co-op or other experiential learning opportunities;
  • Accessing professional development resources for Waterloo graduate students.  


The establishment and communication of common expectations are critical elements to positive experiences for both graduate students and their supervisors. Achieving these outcomes can be facilitated by regular meetings and/or consultation between students, their supervisors, and where appropriate Advisory Committees. Especially important is timely feedback on students’ written submissions. More specifically, supervisors should:

  • Ensure that appropriate committees – advisory or examining – are created for the student and that timely communications take place;
  • Communicate the evaluation of the student’s progress at intervals that are compliant with program requirements;
  • Provide constructive feedback on all research materials within mutually agreed upon time intervals;
  • Be cognizant of and active in promoting students’ well-being.

The University recognizes that supervisors will be away from the University for extended periods of time (e.g., sabbatical, satellite campus, visiting professorship). Being physically away from the University does not preclude a supervisor from remaining engaged with their graduate students. In cases where the supervisor will not be available either in person or via electronic communications, the supervisor should:

  • Inform students, prospective students and the department/school of any anticipated extended period where communication will not be occurring;
  • Appoint interim supervisors as necessary in cases of extended absences.


Graduate supervisors have the responsibility to advance and maintain their students’ safety. More specifically, supervisors shall:

  • Ensure a safe working environment both on and off campus (working alone, field work) by assessing hazards and implementing appropriate controls;
  • Complete mandatory health and safety supervisor awareness training;
  • Ensure that graduate students complete both mandatory and work-specific safety training.


Inherent to graduate education are the dissemination of knowledge and the participation in scholarly activities away from the University campus. Travel (domestic and international) can include fieldwork, conferences, course work and other work related to the thesis. Supervisors are encouraged to support students’ travel to accomplish these important objectives. Supervisors should:

  • Follow or encourage students to follow Policy 31 - University Expenses that governs University-sanctioned travel;
  • Categorize and report risk associated with travel and take appropriate precautions;
  • Encourage students to register travel with the appropriate University offices;
  • Consult the Government of Canada Travel Advice and Advisories web page for the international destination and discuss the mitigation of risk with the students.  

Financial assistance  
Supervisors regularly provide financial support for their graduate students. Both the supervisor and the student benefit when a clear understanding exists of the value of funding, and the academic outcomes that should occur from the supported activities. Specifically, supervisors shall:  

  • Be informed about the spectrum of funding opportunities available;  
  • Communicate clearly and in writing to their students the terms (e.g., amounts, length of time, conditions) of the financial commitment being made;  
  • Support students’ understanding of their funding, including a consideration of student expenses (primarily tuition and housing) and taxation, if appropriate.  

Intellectual property   
Increasingly, students and supervisors enter into their academic relationships with previously established intellectual property (IP). Moreover, students and supervisors may have an expectation that their collective work may produce new IP. Best practices include the articulation of students’ and supervisors’ understanding of IP relationships at regular intervals throughout the students’ academic program. More specifically, supervisors should:   

  • Review with students University Policy 73 - Intellectual Property Rights;  
  • Discuss issues related to intellectual property such as patents, software, copyright, and income from sales and royalties, and inform students of University policies about intellectual property and the conduct of research;  
  • Ensure that students are aware of implications and/or obligations regarding IP from research conducted under contract where the rules governing intellectual property including authorship may be influenced by the terms of the contract.


Academic outputs – in various forms – document and demonstrate ownership of creative research and other scholarly activities. These outputs are important for advancing knowledge and catalyzing additional scholarly activity in these areas and should be encouraged. When supervisors and graduate students work collectively on these academic works, it is important for both that their relative contributions are represented appropriately. To achieve these goals, supervisors shall:  

  • Discuss with their students, at an early stage of their program, authorship practices within the discipline and University policies about publications;  
  • Encourage the dissemination of students’ research results by publication in scholarly and research journals, presentation at conferences (domestic or international) and seminars.  

Withdrawal of supervisory duties   
In rare cases supervisors may determine that they are not prepared or able to continue in a supervisory capacity. When this occurs, the supervisor is required to follow the guidelines in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar regarding University responsibilities regarding supervisory relationships that outlines the steps for dissolution of the supervisory relationship.  
The University is eager to establish conditions that maximize graduate students’ likelihood of success. To this end, supervisors:  

  • Have a duty to engage in accommodations processes with AccessAbility Services, as requested, and to provide appropriate accommodation to the point of undue hardship;  
  • Remain informed of their roles and responsibilities with respect to accommodations.  

Adjudicating Student Scholarships

The promotion of graduate level awards and the organization and review of award nominations on behalf of the University of Waterloo is within the mandate of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA). To support this function, a number of committees exist. These are described here.

Committees on Tri-Agency Awards

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are often supported by competitive grants sponsored by the Federal or Provincial Governments. GSPA convenes committees to identify the strongest candidates who will receive the awards and to ensure equity and transparency in the selection. These committees are normally chaired by the Associate Vice President, GSPA; members include the Assistant Vice Presidents, GSPA and the Faculty Associate Deans Graduate Studies. In some instances, additional faculty members from the University participate in the adjudication process to ensure that the applicants and their applications are reviewed by those with diverse lived experiences.

Selection criteria and process are guided by the funding agencies’ and programs’ requirements.

Advisory Committee on Graduate Scholarships and Awards  

The Advisory Committee on Graduate Scholarships and Awards adjudicates internal and external award nominations on behalf of the Associate Vice President, GSPA and the University of Waterloo. The members of this committee are appointed by the Faculty Associate Deans of Graduate Studies. Normally, members serve on the committee for three years. This committee’s recommendations on award recipients are normally received by the Associate Vice President or an Assistant Vice President, GSPA.