2. Supervisors and Committee Members

Graduate students who write a thesis are required to have a supervisor and supervisory committee. The selection of a supervisor should occur soon after the student has been approved to the thesis route. Refer to Figure 1 “Overview of Master’s Program” for a diagrammatic view of the components of a thesis-route Master’s degree.

2.1 Eligibility Criteria

The academic unit shall ensure that the members of a supervisory committee are sufficiently competent and experienced to serve at the required level. In forming a supervisory committee, the academic unit should consider the rank and experience of the supervisor and prospective members, their publications and other demonstrations of competence in the field of specialization, and the prospective members’ experience in graduate supervision.

As minimum criteria, supervisors and members of supervisory and examination committees must normally:

  • be full-time, continuing Athabasca University (AU) faculty;
  • be active in the general area of the student’s research;
  • have a tenured (or tenure track) faculty appointment;
  • hold a degree equivalent to or higher than that for which the student is enrolled; and,
  • demonstrate continuing scholarly or creative activity of an original nature as defined in item 3.7.3.b. of the Collective Agreement

Because of diverse interpretations of the term “scholarly or creative activity,” the FGS will always find it necessary to rely on sound and informed judgment of the academic unit to ensure adherence to minimum faculty criteria.

2.2 Other Categories

Individuals who do not meet the eligibility criteria, above, may be recommended to serve as co-supervisors and as members of the supervisory and examining committees. For approval of the following categories, the graduate program designate shall formally apply to the FGS:

  • retired professors or professor emeriti;
  • professors from academic units not offering a graduate program;
  • Adjunct professors (an adjunct professor is an honorary appointment at AU; see AU Policy 025 003);
  • faculty members who do not hold a degree equivalent to or higher than that for which the student is a student, but are exceptional in their scholarly work and well-recognized as experts in their field;
  • faculty in non-continuing positions teaching in an AU program; and,
  • other experts (e.g., Indigenous Elders, or a well-known expert in industry).

The graduate program designate submits the recommended individual’s CV and a memo indicating the reasons for, and the benefits of, having the individual on the committee, to the FGS for approval. If approved, the colleague will remain eligible for appointment to other supervisory committees for a three-year period after the initial decanal approval. Additional approvals will be dependent on a favourable recommendation from supervisors working with the colleague. Appointments will only be made of those individuals expected to be able to remain on the committee until completion of the student’s degree program. The FGS may waive the approval mechanism where circumstances warrant.

Requests for continuing supervision by supervisors who have taken retirement will be dealt with by the FGS on a case-by-case basis. The guiding principle will be that faculty who take retirement can continue to supervise their graduate student(s) upon recommendation by the graduate program designate to the FGS.

In all cases, colleagues from the above groups should demonstrate continuing scholarly or creative activity as demonstrated by satisfying the criteria set out in item 3.7.3.b of the AUFA Collective Agreement.

2.3 Selection, Composition, and Approval of the Supervisor and Supervisory Committee

Students normally identify their supervisor, who is usually a faculty member from the academic unit in which they are enrolled. When the faculty member agrees to become the supervisor, the student completes the 2-Master’s Thesis Supervisor Approval form and submits it to the graduate program designate for approval. Upon approval by the graduate program designate, the designate then submits the request to the FGS for approval.

2.3.1 Supervisory Committee Composition

The supervisor works with the student on selecting the supervisory committee. The supervisory committee consists of a minimum of two people, one being the supervisor. It is recommended that a maximum of four members form the committee.

  • The chair of the committee shall be the supervisor, normally from the student’s academic unit;
  • At least one of the committee members shall be from the student’s academic unit.

The committee must meet the eligibility criteria requirements and must not be in a position of conflict of interest (AU Policy 150 002). For example, have been or are currently associated with the student, supervisor or co-supervisor as a close friend, relative, or in a commercial, business or financial relationship.

Once the committee is selected, the supervisor completes the Master's Thesis Supervisory Committee Approval form for approval by the graduate program designate. The graduate program designate shall recommend and submit the names of the committee members to the FGS. The final authority for the approval of the supervisor and supervisory committee rests with the FGS.

2.4 Co-Supervision

In some cases, co-supervision of a student may be recommended to the FGS.

Co-supervisors must meet the eligibility criteria outlined for members of supervisory committees, which includes the criteria under “Other Categories.”

Co-supervision normally represents one of the following relationships

  • The co-supervisor may be a faculty member who is being mentored by the supervisor into the role of eventual supervisor for a future student;
  • the co-supervisor may be an external faculty member, from another AU faculty or external to AU, who holds experience in supervising graduate students and is mentoring the supervisor; or
  • the two individuals may have key expertise in the student’s research area and so have agreed to co-supervise the student.

In a co-supervision situation, the co-supervisor may be from another AU faculty or external to AU, but the supervisor must always be an AU faculty member, preferably from the student’s academic program.

This supervisor holds the legal responsibility to ensure that AU policies and procedures are followed and holds the ultimate responsibility and authority for decisions regarding the student’s progress and outcome. The signatures of both the supervisor and the co-supervisor are required on all documents where the supervisor’s signature is required.

2.5 Roles and Responsibilities of Supervisors and Students

It is the responsibility of the supervisor or designate to keep committee members informed of the student’s progress and meetings of the committee. The supervisor and the supervisory committee (if formed at that time) shall meet formally with the student at least once per year to discuss progress and the student’s goals for the next year.

The Annual Progress Report - Masters Student (APR) must be completed and submitted to FGS annually, in which the student lists the goals they achieved during the past year and identifies their goals for the subsequent year, such as thesis proposal completion date or commencement of data collection. The student also lists publications, paper/poster presentations and awards received during the past year.

The supervisor provides comments on the student’s progress if the supervisor recommends that certain aspects of the student’s work need improvement, specific actions to be taken by the student for improvement are identified on the form. The form is submitted to the graduate program designate and the FGS for information and any needed follow-up.

2.6 Changing a Supervisor or Supervisory Committee

The graduate program designate may recommend changes to a supervisor and/or recommend revisions to the supervisory committee. They would notify FGS to determine which form to complete. In cases of sudden or unexpected interruption of supervision, such as resignation, illness, or death, the graduate program designate must, without delay, arrange for continuity of supervision, pending the appointment of a new supervisor or supervisory committee member.

2.7 Supervisor on Leave

It is the responsibility of supervisors to ensure adequate provision for supervision of their graduate students during a leave. Supervisors who intend to take leave (exceeding two consecutive months) during a period in which they have graduate students under their supervision shall discuss alternative arrangements with their student(s). The supervisor shall submit a written statement to the graduate program designate for approval, describing the arrangements which have been made to provide satisfactory supervision during the period of leave. Once approved, the finalized arrangement will be communicated in writing to the student(s) involved.