Working with your supervisor

A best practices guide

Plan for success

Being a graduate student is a fun and exciting experience, but sometimes it can be tricky. Seize this opportunity with these essential principles and guidelines.

Set your milestones

Know your degree requirements and deadlines. Make a time table of all the things you need to accomplish and by when.

Develop new skills

While working on program-related activities, it is important to pay attention to your professional development. Improve your skills and develop new ones by signing up for My GradSkills workshops.

My GradSkills

Find support

If you need help planning, researching or writing, you can find guidance from your supervisor, the Student Success Centre, International Student Services or your graduate program director


Working with a supervisor and/or supervisory committee

Maintaining a positive working relationship with your supervisor is important as you research and write.

Here are some best practices while working with your supervisor:

  1. Communicate! Meet with your supervisor and/or graduate program director to fine tune your goals and build a blue-print. Include anything that may affect these timelines such as your work responsibilities etc.
  2. Agree upon and commit to progress milestones. Make sure to complete the graduate student checklists.
  3. Your supervisor is human just like you. They may have other teaching, research and personal obligations and may not be able to respond to your questions immediately. Give them ample time (as agreed upon with them) to get to your concern.
  4. Set regular meetings by phone, email or in person to stay on top of things and give your supervisors an update on your progress.
  5. If you are hearing conflicting advice from members of your committee, let your supervisor know and work out a solution
  6. At some point during your degree, you might disagree with your supervisor. Minor disagreements can be resolved by maintaining open and respectful communication. If you find yourself in conflict with your supervisor and you’re not sure what to do, feel free to connect with:

Supervision and romantic relationships

Avoid having romantic or sexual relations with your supervisor (perceived consensual or otherwise) given the power imbalance that exists within the academy. If such a relationship occurs, the supervisor is obligated to disclose the relationship in writing to their Department Head or Dean and completely withdraw from supervision and all other professional duties related to the student.

As a student, if at any time, you feel vulnerable or you are concerned about being drawn into such a relationship, you should seek advice and support.

Confidential support can be found through the following resources

  • Graduate Academic and International Specialists, Faculty of Graduate Studies: grad.advisor@ucalgary.ca
  • Sexual Violence Support Advocate: 403-220-2208
  • Protected Disclosure Advisor, Office of Diversity, Equity and Protected Disclosure (ODEPD): 403-220-4086
  • Student Ombuds Office: ombuds@ucalgary.ca
  • Student Wellness Centre: 403.210.9355

Research and writing

Before you start, make sure to apply for funding to offset some of your costs.

We know that you are excited and ready to dive into your research topic, but as you add to the world's body of knowledge, be proactive with engaging the standards of academic and research integrity to avoid unknowingly (and knowingly) taking part in academic misconduct.

Becoming familiar with intellectual property and what it means for you, your supervisor and your research project can also avoid complications in the long run. 

If you are not sure how to get started with your research:

  • your supervisor is always there to help with your research topic, research method and the general practice in your field;
  • The Student Success Centre can help your literature review and/or proposal.
  • The Research Office has some helpful tips for being a researcher.

We have also put together some thesis guidelines for traditional thesis and information on building a thesis.


Take care of yourself and each other

There is only one you. Take care of yourself and enjoy grad school. As we strive to create a safe and respectful campus for everyone:

  1. Ensure that your research environment is safe, healthy, and free from harassment, discrimination, and conflict.
  2. Learn about the services at UCalgary that promote physical and mental well-being 
  3. Contribute to a collegial environment, seeking to add to, rather than take away from, the wellness of others. 
  4. If at any time you feel vulnerable or are concerned about being drawn into an inappropriate romantic relationship (including with your supervisor), please reach out to our Student Support team for a confidential appointment.
  5. Watch for opportunities around campus to help build a stronger community.