Starting out

Start by establishing clear expectations and communication channels

Plan to spend more time than usual in the first meetings, and anticipate needs and potential concerns based on what you know of each other.


Student and supervisor can discuss how the student can plan ahead before the official start of term so that they feel prepared upon arrival. Some ideas include

  • reading on the topic of the research
  • reviewing or practicing techniques or skills that will be used in the project;
  • completing any required or relevant online research ethics courses; and
  • reviewing program requirements and milestones.

For supervisors: Preparing to supervise new students

Reflect on what you expect from the student. If this is your first supervisee, the New supervisors page may provide additional helpful information. If this is not your first supervisee, consider what you would like to keep or change from your previous supervisory experiences.

At the first meeting with your supervisee, be sure to clarify expectations. The following recommendations may also be helpful.

  • Allocate more time for the first meetings with students.
  • Clarify preferred means of communication.
  • Sign an LOU (required for PhD students) that outlines key expectations in writing  

Make action plans at meetings and ensure that students know what to do next .

  • Ask students to send you an email after each formal supervisory meeting summarizing what they perceive as the main outcomes of the meeting.
  • Written records such as these are valuable for review and discussion of student progress and development.


For students: Attend orientation and connect with peers

A great way to get started at the beginning of term is by attending McGill’s graduate orientation, as well as orientation events offered by your department or program.

Be sure to discuss expectations with your supervisor early on. Asking senior students in your department, program, lab or research group about their experience can also be helpful in learning what to expect.

What do you wish you knew before starting graduate school?

Graduate students share what they wish they had known before starting graduate school in the video below. They advise new students to clarify expectations and program requirements, be concrete and clear about their research interests, and to take time for themselves.


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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