Improving your supervisory practice

Supervision is a skillset developed over time

Supervisors can improve their supervisory practice over time with self-assessment, mentorship and feedback. Establishing your criteria for success is an important first step. Mentorship from colleagues and feedback from supervisees can help you assess where you can improve.



What are your criteria of excellence? Consider the following topics and pages.

Some supervisors keep a supervision journal or logbook to track decisions, unusual events or important resources. Your teaching portfolio can also facilitate self-assessment. Supervision is a type of teaching and should be recognized as such.

Awards from Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies, and other organizations also list criteria for excellent supervision.


Mentorship from colleagues

If you had only one or two supervisors during your graduate education, your exposure to the varieties of supervisory styles and practices may have been limited. Many supervisors rely their colleagues for:

  • knowledge of institutional policies and procedures
  • advice regarding student issues
  • mentorship

Co-supervision and supervisory committee work can also provide opportunities to observe experienced supervisors and discuss how they approach supervision.

Pre-tenure faculty are eligible to participate in the Provost Faculty Mentorship Network. The program matches participants with a mentor.


Feedback from supervisees

Supervisees may be reluctant to provide direct feedback if they believe that their supervisor will penalize them for speaking honestly. Supervisors who are open to constructive criticism may ask for direct feedback from their supervisees.

Meeting summaries as an indirect form of feedback

You may ask your supervisee to provide a brief written summary of each meeting so that you can check for mutual understanding. Reading over the summary also allows you to gain insight into the student's perspective on the meeting.

Supervisees unsure how to write reports can use a structured meeting summary outline that addresses the following questions.

  • What are the main point(s) that you want to remember from today’s meeting?
  • What will the next steps in your research and other activities be?
  • Do you have any remaining questions, issues or concerns?

Start Stop Continue

Start-Stop-Continue is widely used in classroom teaching and is most effective when a positive learning environment already exists. It can also improve the learning environment when undertaken openly. It simply requires the teacher to ask students to divide a blank page into three sections and label them as follows:

  1. Please start...
  2. Please stop...
  3. Please continue...

The student then lists activities in each section. For example: "Please start responding to my emails sooner," or "Please continue meeting with me to discuss my project,” or "Please stop scheduling social events with the other students at 5 p.m."

Learning from experience

To learn from experience depends partly on self-reflection. The best learning results from a systematic process of reflection involving experiences, observations based on them, rethinking and formulating ideas, and then the testing of ideas. The cycle begins anew, and you gain insight into your practice.

From the top, moving clockwise, the boxes read: supervisory experiences > observations and reflection > rethinking ideas of supervision > testing new supervisory ideas

Reflective practice is a form of self-evaluation that one undertakes to help identify strengths and weaknesses by examining one's practice.

Regular reflection can aid thinking and development of everyday practice, for instance, seeking resources that can deepen understanding of the supervisory process.

Reflection can also focus on a specific experience or intervention as a means of gaining insights that can enhance the supervisory practice. It may help to engage in reflection:

  • After students pass a major requirement (e.g., comprehensive exams) or receive public recognition for their work
  • Before and after mediated discussions between student and supervisor to resolve a conflict
  • Before and after a decision to terminate a supervisory relationship
  • After adopting a new practice, like asking supervisees to send written meeting summaries

Questions for reflection

  1. Reflect on positive experiences you’ve had as a supervisor. What aspects of your role did you perform well? What aspects did you enjoy? How could you build on your strengths in future?
  2. Reflect on challenging experiences you’ve had as a supervisor. What aspects of your role did you find difficult? Is there anything you will approach differently if you encounter a similar situation? Do you plan to adopt new practices or polices?\
  3. Reflect on how you saw yourself as teacher, supervisor, or mentor when you started your career. Early versions of a teaching philosophy can provide reminders. How did you understand your role then? Do you still understand your role in the same way today?

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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