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Roles and responsibilities of graduate students



Students should look upon graduate research as an opportunity to develop fully as a researcher and scholar under the mentorship of the supervisor, advisory committee and the department. It should also be seen as a vehicle to explore and advance career options both within and outside the academy. Ultimately, students are individually responsible for their course of study and conducting, communicating and defending their proposed research plan and outcome.

By embarking on a program of study at the graduate level, students make a commitment to strive for academic achievement and to contribute meaningfully to the intellectual life of the department, Faculty and University. Their primary academic responsibility as graduate students is to meet the requirements of their degree programs in a timely manner.  

When initiating a graduate program, graduate students are committing to engage in a partnership with their supervisor (if applicable) that will be most successful if it is built on mutual trust and respect. Students should seek the advice of their supervisor regarding their program of study and give serious consideration to that advice particularly with regard to research topic.  Students and supervisors are strongly encouraged to discuss the financial and physical resources available to complete the research plan. Students are ultimately responsible for producing a thesis or major paper which is the student’s own work, meets the standards for academic quality of the department and University, and reflects a capacity for independent scholarship in the discipline.

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Similar to departmental representatives and supervisors, graduate students’ experiences will be best when students have an understanding of the regulations and procedures that govern their graduate studies.  Therefore, students should:

3.1   Be knowledgeable and remain updated on department, Faculty and University regulations, Policies.  These include those listed in section 1.2.

3.2   Have knowledge of the Waterloo policies (and Tri-Agency Policy) (Office of Research) and procedures associated with research integrity. Students also have a responsibility to follow the Responsible Conduct of Research Framework (Government of Canada).

3.3   Ensure that their research complies with Ethics Review procedures when it involves human subjects, animals or animal or human tissues, as defined by the Office of Research – Office of Research Ethics. 

3.4   Familiarize themselves with the offices and services on campus (as described in Section 1.2) as well as the organization of offices/individuals involved in the administration of their graduate program. A list of campus resources for graduate students can be found on the Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs website.

3.5   Communicate regularly with those who can provide timely and informed advice, including graduate co-ordinators, members of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA), the Graduate Student Association (GSA-UW) or the University Secretariat.

3.6   Have knowledge of and meet all appropriate deadlines and regulations associated with registration, fee payment, award applications and graduation requirements, as specified by the department, Faculty and University.

3.7   Be committed to providing educational leadership to students as a Graduate Teaching Assistant when employed as such.

3.8   Be responsible for developing a sound research plan with achievable timelines and milestones. Students should seek the advice of and co-ordinate with their supervisor during the planning process and throughout its execution.  A students' timeline may include the completion dates of milestones in master's and doctoral programs.

3.9  Keep a systematic and accessible record of their research work and results and be able to report to their supervisor and advisory committee (where applicable) on their progress.  Student researchers are fully accountable for demonstrating authenticity of research findings at any time. Documentation of the research findings must be carried out through responsible means for the relevant discipline/field.

3.10   Co-ordinate with their supervisor and advisory committee (as applicable) to receive feedback on all stakeholders’ perception of the student’s progress.  Additional guidance on how progress shall be assessed can be found in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar.

3.11   Establish mutual expectations with their supervisors and advisory committee (as appropriate) on anticipated review times for students’ written submissions including theses, major research papers, draft journal articles and other research output. A timeframe of two to three weeks depending on the complexity of the document is commonly applied.

3.12   Communicate to their supervisor and/or advisory committee about relevant University deadlines (Important dates), including tuition refund or convocation dates.  In some instances, accelerated schedules may be achieved to accommodate students’ program completion.

3.13   Comply with the regulations governing academic integrity and complete the Graduate Academic Integrity Module (AIM) (Graduate Studies Academic Calendar) in the first academic term.

3.14   Have knowledge of the definitions of enrolment status (e.g. full-time to part-time, part-time to full-time, inactive, full-time off campus, co-op, exchange or voluntary withdrawal from your program) and the processes by which changes to their status can be made.

3.15   Be informed of the possible outcome enrolment status changes (i.e. loss of funding). Students should also be aware of residency requirements (Graduate Studies Academic Calendar) for their degree.

3.16  Understand voluntary or required to withdraw decisions and how the required to withdraw decision can be addressed under Policy 70 through either a petition or grievance.

3.17  Be familiar with the process for requesting a program extension and under what circumstances this may be considered. Submit your request using the Request of program time limits form by the term deadline as noted.

3.18  Review the petition process and under what circumstances you may seek an exception to or relief from normal Faculty or University rules and regulations. After reviewing, submit your petition through the form - Petition for Exception to Academic Regulations - Graduate Students (Form 70A).

3.19  Be familiar with the resources and options available to them when challenges arise with their current supervisor.  These may include:

  • Seeking the advice and intervention of departmental representatives;
  • Communicating with and requesting the support of the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies;
  • Entering into conflict resolution efforts with the support of the University resources such as Conflict Management;
  • Being aware that there is a provision for changing supervisors.

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Students must have agency and take responsibility for their own wellness.  Naturally, there will be times when students will benefit from the support services provided by the University.  Students should:

3.20  Have an awareness of the services at the University available to promote physical and mental well-being especially those listed in section 1.2.

3.21   Understand and take advantage of funding opportunities that support return to wellness, including the medical leave, as administered by GSPA.

3.22   Have knowledge of resources on campus that provide accommodations (i.e. AccessAbility Services) and understand their right to seek accommodations without disclosing disabilities to their supervisor. Engage the Office of Research to create IP arrangements that differ from University Policy.

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Intellectual property 

Graduate students share responsibility in ensuring common understanding with other university stakeholders with regard to intellectual property (IP).  In the area of IP, students should:

3.23   Be informed about and adhere to Policy 73 (Secretariat) on the ownership of intellectual property.

3.24   Engage their supervisor(s) in discussions that allow for students and supervisors to come to an agreement, in writing, of their current and future ownership of IP.

3.25   Work within the Tri-Agency Responsible Conduct of Research Framework (Government of Canada).

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 Thesis/research paper publications

The preparation of a student’s thesis or research paper is often a time during which students require the most support.  Further, common expectations between students and their supervisor(s) are critical in this time period.  To maximize the likelihood of positive experiences for students and supervisors, students should:

 3.26  Discuss, prior to the submission of a thesis/research paper, a draft of the submission with their supervisor.  The conversation should at a minimum address:

3.27    Comply with a responsible standard of conduct in research (Office of Research) while publishing/disseminating research materials/findings related to their graduate research (Policy 73 (Secretariat) and conventions in the field should be followed).  Note that students may not submit a paper for publication as co-authored without agreement of the co-author(s), including the supervisor, nor submit without consultation with the supervisor a paper authored by the student (solely or jointly with others) if the research project involved use of University facilities or was part of the student’s academic program. In such cases, institutional affiliation should be mentioned. Conventions of the field regarding authorship may vary.  In addition, students should be aware of predatory journals and conferences.  The Library has resources and staff to help students recognize these organizations.

  • The appropriate use of and recognition for any editing services that may be used in the preparation of the document.
  • How the supervisor wishes to review drafts, by providing comments on individual components, or reacting to a draft of the full document;
  • The expected review time for the supervisor to provide comments;
  • The supervisor's intention to review any original data associated with the submission.  Note that students must comply with supervisor’s request for access to student’s data.
  • Those colleagues or agencies who have contributed to the scholarship contained in the work or the funding of the research activity.  These contributors should be acknowledged in the thesis or research paper.
  • How the student’s contributions will be articulated for those theses that contain elements that are not sole-authored by the student.

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 As with supervisors, graduate students will from time to time be physically absent from campus.   In these cases, students should:

3.28   Discuss plans with supervisors prior to being absent from campus for brief periods (e.g. vacation); include how communications and responsibilities will be managed during the absence.  Considerations should include the student’s own academic progress as well as any research activities that the student’s absence may influence.

3.29  Satisfy the requirements of Policy 30 (Secretariat) if the students are serving as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.

3.30   Be informed that an inactive status (Graduate Studies Academic Calendar) can be applied when extended absences are necessary or possible.  Students may be inactive for up to two consecutive terms when students wish to pursue work opportunity not related to the thesis, or when temporary financial difficulties preclude the student’s continued enrolment.  International students who are studying with a student visa should consult immigration specialists to understand the implications of inactive terms on their current and future immigration status. 

3.31   Be informed of, and take advantage of, medical or parental leaves when warranted.

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Creating safe environments and conducting activities in ways that promote safety are shared responsibilities among students, supervisors and other stakeholders.  To advance the goal of safety, graduate students should:

3.32   Familiarize themselves and comply with the safety regulations specified by the supervisor, department, Faculty and University [see Policy 34-Health, Safety and Environment and other safety polices (41 & 60) on the Secretariat website].

3.33   Complete all required training in a timely manner. The Safety Office provides consultation and support services to the University community on matters relating to environmental and occupational health safety, including Fieldwork Risk and working alone.

3.34   Know that the Sexual violence awareness, referral and support training (Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion Office) module is helpful for identifying supports and resources for the prevention of sexual violence.

3.35   Be proactive in seeking opportunities to maintain and enhance their safety training when regulations or expectations change, or when new safety risks arise.

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Graduate students may engage in off-campus activities for a variety of purposes including conducting (field) research or disseminating the results of their scholarly activities.  Students have the responsibilities to prepare themselves such that the risks associated with travel are reduced and students are well-positioned to respond to unexpected challenges.  Moreover, students should make the University aware of their travel plans so that support or information can be provided to students who are away from campus should the need arise.  To achieve these goals, students should:

 3.36   Have knowledge of Policy 31 (Secretariat) that governs University sanctioned travel, and follow the requirements and recommendations of that Policy.

3.37  Provide contact information, emergency contacts and location and duration of travel to their supervisor for documentation.

3.38   Be proactive in assessing the risk associated with travel including both the destination and the activities that are anticipated to take place.  Risk can be categorized as low or significant. Low risk (Safety Office) are activities for which it is expected that participants will encounter hazards that are no greater than what they encounter in their everyday lives. When a student anticipates experiencing what are deemed to be significant risks (e.g. industrial sites, remote regions etc.), the student is required to complete  the Fieldwork Risk Management Form from the Safety Office.  Students should also consult with their supervisor and other resources to develop and document a risk mitigation plan.

3.39   Familiarize themselves and comply with regulations and preparation requirements for travelling abroad (see Waterloo International - Information for Students).  Students should complete the Pre-departure Travel Form at Waterloo International and be aware of Government of Canada Travel Advice and Advisories web page for the international destination.

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Financial support 

Funding and access to financial resources are of critical importance to graduate students’ well-being.  Students will often receive financial support from various sources and that may change over the course of their studies.  Students’ primary responsibilities around funding are three-fold: to understand the nature of their funding – the amount and the timing – such that they are able to plan effectively to support themselves during their studies; to seek to identify funding sources for which the students may qualify; and to meet the requirements of the activities for which the students are being supported.  For these goals, students should:

3.40  Actively engage with their supervisor, their department and other university or external sources to identify funding opportunities.  The University strongly encourages students to explore their eligibility for Tri-Agency funding.

3.41   Meet the terms and conditions of the contractual agreement(s) with a supporting agency/department and Faculty and the relevant guidelines for financial support. Policy 30 (Secretariat) provides guidelines, and procedures related specifically to graduate student teaching assistantships.  

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Change of supervisor or committee membership 

In some instances, students may wish to change their supervisor or a member of their advisory committee.  Naturally, these instances create disruption in students’ academic progress and may result in trying situations for the student and the supervisor.  The University is eager to support students and supervisors in the resolution of challenges such that these academic relationships can be restored to a situation that is positive and productive for all stakeholders.  Every effort should be made to resolve a conflict before resorting to formal procedures as defined in Policies 70 and 33 (Secretariat).  When the student does elect to seek a change in supervisor, the student should:

3.42   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.

3.43   Have prepared a summary of the student’s current academic status – terms in program, completed progress towards the degree, remaining requirements, etc. – that can then be shared with other potential supervisors.

3.44   Have considered and contacted those who may serve as the new supervisor or the new advisory committee member.

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