Graduate Program Director’s roles and responsibilities

Overview - GPD role

Graduate Program Directors are responsible for managing all aspects of their graduate programs and for advising students on academic matters.

The GPD must have a strong commitment to graduate education and be willing to devote the necessary time and resources to ensure the smooth day-to-day functioning and overall academic quality of the graduate program. The GPD functions as the primary point of contact for all academic matters concerning Doctoral and Master’s students in the program and facilitates conversation between the graduate degree program, the academic department and GPS.

The GPD ensures graduate students are informed about services and critical deadlines.

Appointment of the GPD

With the goal of aiding units in appointing GPDs or other academic leaders with responsibilities for overseeing graduate programs, the following should be kept in mind:


  • The GPD requires:
  • A tenured academic position 
  • Some experience in all major areas of graduate activities commensurate with the program’s offerings (e.g., if the program is a thesis program, the GPD should have had supervisory experience, acted as pro-dean, examined theses, offered graduate courses, etc.)

Term and recognition

For the sake of consistency within the graduate program and in its dealings with GPS, it is important that:
  • the appointment of the GPD be established for a length of time that allows them not only to develop the expertise to supervise the graduate program activities but also to gain an understanding of the program’s and GPS’s changing needs and long-term plans (e.g., a common term for a GPD is three years) 
  • the GPD receive appropriate recognition/compensation for their service as GPD (examples include course relief, workload credit, a stipend)

GPD responsibilities

With respect to the graduate program(s)

  • Chairs the committee (or other body) that oversees academic graduate activities in the unit: funding, admissions, comprehensive exams, courses – sometimes includes research, etc. 
  • Serves as a resource person about rules, regulations and procedures for graduate education in the unit
  • Manages graduate activities pertaining to graduate students, aids the academic staff involved in graduate education
  • Manages any pedagogical, operational, and administrative issues that affect the graduate program
  • Initiates activities in the department to address issues in graduate education
  • Monitors and implements program design and practice, including modification of degree requirements and addition and deletion of graduate courses
  • Understands and applies the program’s most recent regulations and ensures that any graduate program information in public documents (website, brochures, etc.) is up to date and consistent with approved GPS regulations and information
  • Understands and communicates the regulations and GPS, ES, and SSAO business processes affecting the graduate program effectively and efficiently to the academic staff and graduate students in the unit
  • Develops a good working relationship with the participants in the program (faculty, students, staff) and with staff and the associate dean(s) in GPS and ES
  • Works with GPS, the department, and Faculty to assess enrolment capacity and strategic enrolment management
  • May oversee or participate in the placement of Graduate Teaching Assistants and Graduate Research Associates --and understands and communicates distinctions between stipends (fellowships) and paid employment
  • Ensures that all thesis students have appropriate supervision and supervisory committees
  • Attends information sessions (particularly those on graduate fellowships) given by the Dean, and reports back to the department on these info sessions
  • Works with GPS, the departmental chair, the graduate liaison of the Faculty (Associate or Assistant Deans), and the Faculty Dean to maximize financial support for students, including making students aware of opportunities for external scholarships, etc.
  • Oversees graduate research issues and events (e.g. annual research day)

With respect to graduate students

  • Ensures a graduate-level learning environment
  • Works with faculty members to monitor the progress of students throughout the graduate program
  • Helps to provide students with information on their program and their progress through it
  • Understands, interprets and communicates the procedures and rules of graduate studies to studentsHolds recruitment/information sessions
  • Advises students how to resolve problems that may arise during their program
  • Ensures the preparation and filing of an annual progress report for each student
  • Facilitates the maintenance and enhancement of quality and timely completion of the degree and works together with GPS in achieving that goal
  • Ensures students understand university policies on intellectual property , plagiarism and academic integrity
  • Reports suspected plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty to the Associate Dean (GPS)
  • Collaborates with graduate student associations to foster a good social climate in the department
  • Admissions
    • Holds recruitment/information sessions
    • Answers questions from prospective students by email and phone
    • Oversees new student orientation
    • Participates in decision-making related to endowed fellowships
    • Works on specific projects related to evaluation of the program
    • Oversees CGPA calculations
    • Ensures that all admission conditions are fulfilled
    • May recruit graduate students and nominate them for admission (or, if not, should provide the committee or individual responsible with any help necessary to do these jobs)
    • Determines that an appropriate thesis supervisor is available for the student’s declared field of research before nominating the student for admission (or, if not, should provide the committee or individual responsible with any help necessary to do these jobs according to program norms)
  • Registration
    • Consults with students about coursework and timing of courses and thesis
    • Approves transfer credits
    • Approves student course selection
  • Fellowships
    • Provides information on financial support and fellowships (including any events, workshops, etc.)
    • Assists students with fellowship applications
    • Provides academic oversight for selection and preparation of fellowship applications
    • Oversees allocation of GPS and Faculty financial support
    • Plans and manages the distribution of funds allocated by the Faculty for graduate student support
  • Supervision
    • Oversees supervision
    • Helps to mediate student-supervisor conflicts (in case of conflicts between the GPD and his/her own students, should direct the student to the department Chair)
  • Thesis
    • Provides information on thesis submissions (including workshops, etc.)
    • Signs thesis forms
    • Oversees thesis examinations
    • Oversees Ph.D. defenses

With respect to faculty members

  • Ensures that the academic staff (especially new hires) are aware of GPS and program regulations and procedures
  • Publicizes and supports GPS workshops for academic staff
  • Encourages best practices for supervision
  • Knows who to contact in GPS, Enrolment Services, and the Scholarship and Student Aid Office with regard to specific graduate studies issues Oversees the application and ranking process for external awards (SSHRC, NSERC, CHIR, Quebec Scholarships)
  • Represents the graduate student, academic staff in the program, GPS, or a combination of the above (depending on the issue)
  • Liaises with external accreditation/licensing bodies about curriculum content (where required)

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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