Tracking student progress

Progress tracking helps students complete their programs

Supervisors who regularly provide clear feedback on student progress and how to successfully complete program milestones (e.g., comprehensive exams, oral defences) tend to have students graduate sooner with fewer complications. Tracking tools such as annual progress meetings and reports are especially helpful for ensuring accountability and facilitating student progress.


Tracking progress helps reduce time to completion

There is considerable research showing that students wish to receive concrete feedback on their progress, and that those who do not are at risk of withdrawing from their studies or taking significantly longer to complete. Supervisors can access an overview of their students’ development through the myProgress system that shows which milestones have been completed as well as deadlines for incomplete milestones.


Annual Progress Tracking

Progress tracking meetings and reports help supervisors support students in setting objectives for the coming year, document progress towards those objectives, and provide useful feedback on the overall quality of a student’s development. As students advance in their programs and become more self-directed, annual progress tracking serves to celebrate successes, learn from setbacks, and validate plans for the current year.

For students who are struggling to meet expectations, annual progress meetings are an opportunity for the supervisor to indicate the improvements needed for the student to continue in the program, with a clear time frame for the student to make those improvements. Progress tracking forms also provide supervisory committees an opportunity to explicitly indicate to a student if they are failing to meet core objectives (by selecting an overall “unsatisfactory” rating) and require significant improvement to prevent program withdrawal.


Progress tracking is required for doctoral students on an annual basis.

Annual progress tracking is an effective way of documenting progress toward critical program milestones for students in doctoral programs. While it is not formally required for all master’s students, units may use the Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Form for master’s students in thesis and non-thesis research programs if this is a unit-wide practice.

The Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking policy explains the steps to follow, and how to proceed if progress is judged unsatisfactory.

Progress tracking provides the supervisory committee an opportunity to give specific feedback on progress to date (e.g., successful data collection, inadequate data analysis) and document agreement with the student on achievable goals for the coming year (e.g., recommend courses on data analysis).

Progress tracking also allows the student to reflect on both their accomplishments and areas for improvement and helps to facilitate accountability in providing a signed record of both progress and expectations.

Myth: “Progress tracking is a formality”

Engaging meaningfully in progress tracking provides students with feedback that helps them complete their program milestones in a timely way.


Student perspectives on progress tracking meetings

Supervisors employ a broad perspective based on institutional expectations and disciplinary norms when evaluating if a student is progressing well. Lacking that context, supervised students may experience anxiety due to lack of certainty about how their progress will be evaluated by their supervisory committee. Although a positive evaluation may seem like a foregone conclusion from the supervisor’s perspective if the student is progressing well, the student themselves may be unclear on what they are doing well. Accordingly, it is helpful to provide students concrete feedback on both areas of strength and weakness to build their confidence and better support independent work.

Preparing students for their first annual progress tracking meeting

In interviews, current students share what their first annual progress tracking meeting was like, and how their supervisor advised them to prepare.


Questions for reflection

  1. What was the experience of the first progress tracking meetings like from the perspective of the students interviewed?
  2. What do you imagine the experience was like from the perspective of the students' supervisors and committee members? What background knowledge might the supervisor have had that the student did not?
  3. What do your students need to know ahead of their first annual progress tracking meeting?

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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