Changing supervisors

Q: I might want to work with a different supervisor. What are the consequences if I change supervisors?


A: Talk with him or her, then with your Graduate Program Director.

To discuss both the academic and financial consequences of a such a change, you should first talk with the people involved. The supervisory relationship is built upon responsibilities of both supervisor and supervisee. In any professional relationship there must be an understanding about what each party expects from the other, including the modification or dissolution of the relationship.

Although most supervisory relationships are successful, in some cases either party may feel that the relationship is not conducive to smooth progress towards the degree. At that point there needs to be a frank discussion about what modifications or alternatives to the relationship could be considered.

Sometimes, a change in supervisor may be beneficial to both parties. If you are considering a change in supervisor, you should consult with him or her if possible, but be sure to seek the advice of your Graduate Program Director soon. The Chair of your department or the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) within your faculty or at Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies may also be helpful in identifying and securing a new supervisor, and in mediating any concerns that sometimes arise during the transition (e.g., with how funding will change or to what extent already completed research may be shared). Changes in supervision should accord with the guidelines and regulations on graduate student advising and supervision on the University Regulations and Resources website.

When a student is having difficulties, it is all the more important that the new supervisor is not only someone with whom the student feels more comfortable personally but also that the new supervisor is appropriately placed to supervise the research. Depending on the student’s stage within the program, a change of supervisor may require a change in the topic or plan for the research. Throughout the process, it is critical to keep all parties informed of the actions under way. The process should be completed as quickly as possible to reduce delays in research progress and associated worries.

Further advice: You should consider options such as:

  • Adding members to the supervisory committee
  • Adding a co-supervisor if one is available

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

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