Supervisory committees

All PhD students at McGill must have a supervisory committee

Supervisory committees act as a support system for both students and supervisors, and assist with progress tracking and research project development. They also help with problem solving in the supervisory relationship. Participating in supervisory committees can help faculty members develop important supervisory skills, including communication with graduate students and evaluation of student work.


According to McGill’s Regulations on Graduate Student Supervision, “PhD students must have a supervisory committee consisting of at least one faculty member in addition to the supervisor(s). The supervisory committee must provide, on a regular basis, guidance and constructive feedback on the student’s research.”

The supervisor and supervisee should choose supervisory committee member(s) as early as possible in the PhD program. This is often in the first or second term of the program.

Points to consider when selecting committee members

  • Field of expertise

    • What value will this expertise add to the student’s research program?

    • Does the expertise of committee members and supervisor(s) cover a broad range?

  • Availability

    • Do they have the time to complete the responsibilities of a committee member, such as attending annual progress tracking meetings and giving feedback on writing?

  • Objectivity on committee

General roles and responsibilities of committee members

All supervisory committee members are expected to:

  • participate in annual progress tracking meetings (see the Tracking student progress page and the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies’ page on progress tracking for more information);

  • participate in additional meetings if there is unsatisfactory performance, or if requested by the student;

  • evaluate academic progress and advise on the next year’s objectives;

  • assist in providing guidance, consultation, and advice on the student’s research;

  • determine mutually-agreed upon expectations for feedback and best methods of communication (see Clarifying expectations for more information);

  • provide expertise that complements and expands on that of the supervisor; and

  • with the rest of the committee, approve when the thesis is ready for examination.


According to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, it is the responsibility of students to communicate regularly with and send progress reports to their supervisory committee (for more, see Responsibilities of the Academic Units).

Specific responsibilities of committee members

Although many roles and responsibilities of supervisory committee members are consistent across all graduate programs at McGill, some responsibilities may be specific to the requirements of certain programs. A list of possible responsibilities are below; however, it is a good idea to contact your academic unit for clarification of their expectations.

  • Helping define courses and other program requirements (e.g., comprehensive exam requirements)

  • Providing timely feedback on draft dissertation chapters only after the student has completed at least one round of revision based on feedback from the supervisor, or on other written work

  • Evaluating comprehensive exams, research proposal, final thesis and oral defence (note that the composition of the oral defence committee is slightly different than supervisory committee)

  • Advising on career options and opportunities for professional development

  • Providing mentoring/mediation if the relationship with the supervisor is strained

  • Remaining available for consultation with the student or supervisor throughout the year 

How would you handle conflicts in the supervisory relationship?

When there is a conflict between a supervisee and supervisor, supervisory committee members are often expected to help with conflict resolution.


Consider the following situations that may be experienced by committee members. If you were a committee member, how would you respond? Would your thoughts on the situations change if you were the student’s primary supervisor (i.e., how would you expect the student’s committee members to respond)?

  • The student has not had a committee meeting or a formal evaluation (comprehensive or thesis) for over a year. You have not received any updates from them since the last meeting.
  • When discussing the student’s objectives for the upcoming year at an annual meeting, another committee member expresses ideas that are in contrast to your own.
    • What if, despite attempts to resolve this disagreement, you continue to have differences of opinions with the other committee member(s) and the student appears to be confused and unsure how to proceed?
  • The student’s primary supervisor approaches you and expresses that they are having conflicts with the student (e.g., lack of progress or communication, differences of opinion). What would you suggest? Would you react differently if the student approached you expressing the same conflict?

In all cases, attempt to resolve the conflict between those involved; however, if this is not successful, supervisory committee members, supervisors, and students can contact the Graduate Program Director. If this still does not resolve the issue, contact a GPS Associate Dean.

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Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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