University responsibilities regarding supervisory relationships

In instances when a graduate student is progressing satisfactorily but when the relationship between the student and their supervisor becomes untenable, it is important that there is clarity on expectations and responsibilities for both the student and the supervisor moving forward. This section provides direction to this end.

This section does not apply to students that have a documented history of not having met academic progress expectations including research goals. Rather, information for supporting students who are not meeting academic expectations is provided in the Guide for Graduate Research and Supervision and in the Guidelines for evaluating and providing feedback on graduate student progress in PhD and research Masters programs.

Note that a loss of funding is not normally a valid reason for a faculty member to end a supervisory relationship. In those cases, it is the responsibility of the supervisor, the department/school (Graduate Officer) or program, and the Faculty to secure funding to support the student to the end of the funding commitment as articulated in the student’s offer of admission or to the University-mandated program time limits. In some instances, funding for students is provided at the Faculty level.

It is also essential to ensure that if a student is struggling within their program that every effort is made to assist the student and direct them to relevant resources on campus (e.g. Counselling Services).

A. In cases where the supervisor wishes to discontinue the relationship:

The supervisor will have provided the student with ongoing, constructive feedback such that the student has had an opportunity to react to and address the supervisor’s concerns. Normally, a student should have a minimum of two terms with the supervisor in order to evaluate the goodness of fit between student and supervisor before a final determination is made on discontinuing the relationship.

When the supervisor starts the process of ending the supervisory relationship, the supervisor shall communicate in writing to the student the rationale for the discontinuation. The intention of this communication is for the student to have the opportunity to meaningfully reflect on the situation and consider how this may influence future choices.

If the student wishes to continue at the University of Waterloo, the University makes the following commitments in support of the student:

  1. The previous supervisor will not take actions that negatively influence the likelihood of the student finding a new supervisor;
  2. The supervisor, department/school or Faculty will provide funding at least at the University minimum levels to the student for up to two terms while the student seeks a new supervisor (within or outside the Faculty); these will be aligned with important University dates. The intention is to provide the student with as close to two full terms as possible and should be provided in a manner that will support and benefit the student. This is provided that the student is within their program limits.
  3. The Graduate Officer in the student’s home department/school or program will:
    1. assist the student in developing materials (CV, research statement, etc.) that can be presented to potential new supervisors;
    2. contact academic colleagues and arrange meetings between potential supervisors and the student;
    3. serve as a temporary supervisor (the meaning of which is to sign forms, ensure courses are correct, but not provide academic input) until a new supervisor is found or the student’s program ends;
    4. address issues around access to research, office space and direct students to campus resources regarding data ownership and authorship.
  4. The department/school or Faculty will communicate in writing the date by which a new supervisor must be in place and the implications of not meeting this date. Typically, students who are unable to obtain a new supervisor will be given the opportunity to voluntarily withdraw from their program. In cases where the student opts not to voluntarily withdraw, the department/school or program may reach a decision of “required to withdraw”.

B. In cases where a student wishes to discontinue the relationship:

There are numerous reasons as to why a student may want to discontinue their relationship with their supervisor. Should there be reasons that relate to University Policy, options through those avenues should be shared with the student by the Graduate Officer. However, the University recognizes that sometimes there is not a good fit between the student and their supervisor. Hence, the student should have the opportunity to find another supervisor to continue their graduate studies at the University of Waterloo.

The Graduate Officer in the student’s home department/school or program will have actively been engaged with the student and the supervisor in an effort to sustain the relationship. When those efforts are deemed to not have been successful, and the student wishes to stay at the University of Waterloo, the University makes the following commitments in support of the student:

  1. The previous supervisor, faculty members, and staff in the student’s home department/school or program will not take actions that negatively influence the likelihood of the student finding a new supervisor;
  2. The department/school or Faculty will provide funding at least at the University minimum level for a maximum of one term while the student seeks a new supervisor (within or outside the Faculty) provided the student is within their program limits;
  3. The Graduate Officer in the student’s home department/school or program will serve as a temporary supervisor during this period [see A. 3 (c, d), in the previous section].
  4. The department/school or Faculty will communicate in writing the date by which a new supervisor must be in place and the implications of not meeting this date. Typically, students who are unable to find a new supervisor will be given the opportunity to voluntarily withdraw from their program. In cases where the student opts not to voluntarily withdraw, the department/school or program may reach a decision of “required to withdraw”.

If there is uncertainty regarding which of the above two scenarios apply to the situation, the default will be to extend funding for two terms.

More information is provided in the Guide for Graduate Research and Supervision regarding the pathways for graduate students to obtain support.