Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
General Information, Regulations and Research Guidelines

10 Graduate Studies Guidelines and Policies

10.1 Guidelines and Regulations for Academic Units on Graduate Student Advising and Supervision

The general guidelines suggested below are meant to encourage units to examine their graduate programs and to specify their own policies and procedures. These guidelines are directed primarily towards thesis programs but will, in part, be appropriate for non-thesis programs as well.

Each academic unit should have explicitly stated policies and procedures regarding the advising and supervising of graduate students, as well as established means for informing students of procedures and deadlines (e.g., orientation sessions, handbooks) and mechanisms for addressing complaints. Academic units should ensure that their policies and procedures are consistent with the Charter of Students' Rights. For their part, graduate students are responsible for informing themselves of these policies and procedures.

1.  Assignment of Advisors, Supervisors and Committees

i. Each unit should designate a member (or members) of the academic staff (usually the graduate program director) to monitor the progress of students throughout the graduate program, to ensure that all conditions of admission and requirements are fulfilled, to provide students with information on their program, their progress through it, sources of and policies on financial support, and to advise them how to resolve problems which may arise during their program.
ii. As soon as possible, students should have a supervisor who has competence in the student's proposed area of research, and a program or thesis committee. Although procedures and timetables for choosing supervisors and committees may vary across programs, they should be consistent within a particular program and should be made clear to incoming students. Thesis supervisors must be chosen from academic staff in tenure-track positions. Faculty Lecturers and Research Assistants may not act as supervisors but in exceptional cases, may be co-supervisors. Emeritus Professors and Adjunct Professors may co-supervise. Professors (Special Category) may supervise or co-supervise students. In the case of supervision, the academic unit in question must ensure continuity of appropriate supervision of their graduate students.

2.  Program

i. Early in their program, students should be informed of the phases through which they must pass towards the achievement of the graduate degree, the approximate amount of time each phase should take, the criteria for its successful completion, and any deadlines relating to these phases.
ii. It is important that students are made aware of whatever courses are required to complete their programs, that these courses are available, and that they relate to students' proposed areas of research or to the development of related areas of scholarship.
iii. Where relevant, students should also be informed early in their program of language requirements or comprehensive examinations. The guidelines, criteria and procedures for comprehensive examinations must be explicit and consistently applied in each program. Academic units should consider the rationale for language and comprehensive examinations and how they relate to the objectives of the graduate program.
iv. Every effort should be taken to ensure that students choose, as soon as possible, realistic and appropriate areas of research commensurate with degree requirements.
v. There must be clear procedures established in every unit by which students receive guidance and constructive criticism on their progress on a regular basis through the program (e.g., regular meetings and/or E-mail communication with supervisors and committees, attendance at research seminars, semester or annual reviews of student progress). In addition to regular meetings between the student and supervisor or advisory/thesis committee, each unit must establish a procedure to provide feedback to thesis students regarding their research progress. At least annually, there must be a meeting between the student, supervisor and advisory/thesis committee or, in the case where there is no such advisory/thesis committee, there must be a meeting between the supervisor and a departmental representative, at which objectives for the upcoming year are established and the prior year's research progress recorded and evaluated. A written record of such meetings must include the signature of the student, supervisor, and the advisory/thesis committee member or a departmental representative, and this record must be retained in the student's departmental file. (The Graduate Student Research Objectives Report Form, the Graduate Student Research Progress Record, and the Graduate Student Research Progress Report Form are to be utilized to keep a record of these meetings.) In the case where the student does not make expected progress, the advisory or thesis committee or, in the case where there is no such advisory or thesis committee, the student, supervisor and a departmental representative must meet at least once per semester for the subsequent twelve months to review progress and if appropriate to set new objectives. On the occasion of a second unsatisfactory progress report, the student may be required to withdraw from the program of study.
vi. Students should be made aware of the cost living in Montreal and of sources of financial support (e.g., teaching or research assistantships, fellowships) and of the facilities available to them (e.g., study space, computers).
vii. Students should receive guidance and encouragement in areas relating to their growth in scholarship, professional development and career planning. Examples may include, where appropriate, reporting research, writing abstracts, preparing papers for conference presentation or for publication, writing grant and fellowship applications, conducting a job search, and preparing for job interviews.
viii. Units should be sensitive to special academic needs and concerns that may arise in the case of certain students, such as international students or students who undertake graduate studies after a long absence from university.

3.  Responsibilities

Each unit should clearly identify the student's supervisory needs at each phase and the means by which these needs will be met. Some functions will be fulfilled by the Chair, some by the graduate program director, some by the supervisor and some by the committee. Each unit should clearly identify the specific responsibilities of each of these, as well as the responsibilities of students themselves.

i. Each unit should consider the availability of student support, research facilities, space and availability of potential supervisors in determining the number of students admitted into the program.
ii. Some examples of the responsibilities of the graduate program director are to be knowledgeable about program requirements, the composition of committees, the procedures for comprehensive and oral defense examinations, and other policies relating to graduate studies; to maintain a dossier on each student's progress; and to be sensitive to graduation deadlines and students' career plans.
iii. Some examples of the responsibilities of a supervisor are to uphold and to transmit to students the highest professional standards of research and/or scholarship; to provide guidance in all phases of the student's research; to meet with their students regularly; to provide prompt feedback when work is submitted including drafts of the thesis; and to clarify expectations regarding collaborative work, authorship, publication and conference presentations.
iv. Some examples of the responsibilities of the students are to inform themselves of program requirements and deadlines; to work within these deadlines; to communicate regularly with the supervisor and committee; and to submit progress reports to the supervisor and committee.
v. The Chair of the unit should ensure that procedures are in place to address serious disagreements that may arise, for example, between a student and a supervisor or between a supervisor and committee members. Such procedures should involve a neutral mediator who will ensure that all sides of a dispute are heard before any decision is made.

4.  Quality of Supervision and Teaching

i. Academic units and the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office should consider ways to assess and improve the quality of supervision and to help new supervisors, e.g., through workshops or mentoring models. Procedures for monitoring the quality of graduate student supervision and for providing constructive feedback for supervisors should be developed.
ii. Graduate supervision should be recognized as an integral part of the academic responsibility of an academic unit and should be considered in the allocation of workload, as should the teaching of graduate courses.
iii. Academic units should establish criteria of excellence in supervision and graduate teaching appropriate to their disciplines and should suitably reward those who meet these criteria, e.g., in decisions concerning tenure and promotion, or merit pay awards.
iv. The maximum number of students under the direction of a single supervisor should be consistent with the ability of the supervisor to provide quality supervision, taking into account the workload of the supervisor and norms of the discipline.
v. Procedures should be established for ensuring continuity in supervision when a student is separated from a supervisor - for example, when the supervisor takes a sabbatical leave, retires from McGill or changes universities or when the student leaves to complete field work or takes a job before submitting a thesis.
Revised by Council of FGSR, April 23, 1999 and October 6, 2003.
10.2 Policy on Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking

This is a new mandatory policy and procedure to track the research progress of graduate students. The policy is referred to in the amended Guidelines and Regulations for Academic Units on Graduate Student Advising and Supervision in section 2.v. in bold print. Documents to record progress can be found on the GPS website:

The following is a summary of the main elements of the new mandatory policy. The following steps must be followed for each graduate student in a thesis program:

1. Annually, the student must meet with, at minimum, their supervisor(s) and a departmental representative. This meeting can occur in the context of an annual thesis or advisory committee in those departments that have thesis committees.
2. At the first such meeting (to be held shortly after thesis students begin their programs), written objectives/expectations for the year must be recorded on the first of the three forms, Form #1 (Graduate Student Research Objectives Report Form). All three people at the meeting must sign this form. A student who does not agree to sign the form must write a statement detailing his/her objections to the expectations recorded on the form.
3. Approximately one year later, and every year thereafter, the student, supervisor(s) and the departmental representative should meet again to review the progress that has been achieved toward the recorded objectives. Prior to the meeting, the student should record his/her accomplishments and progress for the year by completing Form #2 (Graduate Student Research Progress Record). This completed form is then evaluated by the supervisor and the departmental representative on Form #3 (Graduate Student Research Progress Report Form). All parties sign Form #3. A student who does not agree to sign the form must write a statement detailing his/her objections. At this same meeting, objectives for the following year should be recorded on Form #1, as per the procedure described in point 2, above.
4. In the event that recorded research progress is unsatisfactory, a new set of objectives should be developed for the student at the meeting, and recorded on Form #1. These new, or interim, objectives apply only to the next semester. Evaluation of progress should take place after that semester has concluded, following the steps described in point 3, above.
5. In the event that a student has any two unsatisfactory evaluations they may be required to withdraw from their program of study. These two unsatisfactory evaluations need not be successive.
6. All forms are to be kept in departmental files.
7. Departments that already have progress tracking forms may continue to utilize them, but these must conform to the fundamental principles underlying this new policy. Specifically, any departmental procedure or forms to record graduate research progress must:
be used annually;
be used in a meeting with the supervisor and one other departmental representative, and signed by all parties;
include a written statement of expectations approximately one year before any evaluation. (Note: This can be one semester in the case of expectations following an unsatisfactory evaluation.);
permit the student to submit a minority report and not sign;
state clearly that any two unsatisfactory evaluations may be grounds for requiring a student to withdraw.
Please not this new University policy is MANDATORY. Students may grieve against a department that fails to adhere to the policy and procedures outlined above.
This policy must have been put into effect no later than
September 2004.
Senate, September 2003.
10.3 Vacation Policy for Graduate Students and Postdocs

Graduate students and Postdocs should normally be entitled to vacation leave equivalent to university holidays and an additional total of fifteen (15) working days in the year. Funded students and Postdocs with fellowships and research grant stipends taking additional vacation leave may have their funding reduced accordingly.

Council of FGSR April 23, 1999.
10.4 Ph.D. Comprehensives Policy

The majority of doctoral programs at McGill require candidates to pass a comprehensive examination or set of examinations or equivalent, such as qualifying examinations, preliminary examinations, candidacy paper, comprehensive evaluation, thesis proposal, etc. The Calendar of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office (GPSO) includes the following statement:

A comprehensive examination or its equivalent is usually held near the end of Ph.D. 2. The results of this examination determine whether or not students will be permitted to continue in their programs. The methods adopted for examination and evaluation and the areas to be examined are specified by departmental regulations and approved by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. It is the responsibility of students to inform themselves of these details at the commencement of their programs.
It is recognized that expectations for the Ph.D. comprehensive will vary according to the needs of the discipline. It is important to make it clear to doctoral candidates what the expectations and procedures are for their Ph.D. comprehensive, and to maintain consistency within a given program.
General Policy
1. At the beginning of the relevant academic year, units must provide doctoral students with a written description of the Ph.D. comprehensive, covering the following issues: objectives and content, format, timing, assessment, grading and reporting, failures. (See below for details.)
2. All units that have a Ph.D. comprehensive must adopt an administrative course number for it, usually XXXX 701. One of the following forms of grading must be adopted and used consistently within the program: Pass/Fail or letter grades. ("Mixed" modes of grading are not permitted, i.e., some students within a program reported on a Pass/Fail basis and others by means of letter grades.)

Specific Issues

Objectives and Content

Units must specify the objectives of the Ph.D. comprehensive. Objectives may include assessing any of the following (or a combination), with a view to determining whether the student demonstrates the necessary research skills and academic achievements to be permitted to continue in the Ph.D. program. (This list is not intended to be exhaustive.)

knowledge of the discipline (from the point of view of breadth)
understanding of the proposed field of research
ability to conduct independent and original research
a thesis proposal
professional skills
ability to present and defend material orally

The content of the comprehensive must be consistent with the objectives and should be appropriately circumscribed. Students must be given an indication of the range of material that may be covered in the examination and suggestions as to how to cover this material (e.g., via reading lists, courses, etc.).


The format of the comprehensive must be clearly stated and must be consistent across students within a particular program. The following list gives some of the more common formats, which are often combined. (This list is not intended to be exhaustive.)

written examination of a specific duration
take-home examination
extended research paper(s)
written research proposal
oral exam (which may include or consist of a defense of a research paper or research proposal)

If the comprehensive consists of several parts, the relationship (if any) between them must be made clear.


Timing of the comprehensive must be specified, including the earliest and latest dates by which the comprehensive is to be completed. Students must be informed of the specific dates of the exam in sufficient time for them to prepare for it.

Given the importance of the Ph.D. comprehensive and the consequences of failure, the exam should be held reasonably early in the program, so that students do not spend several years preparing for it.

Prerequisites must be specified. For example, clarify whether all course work must have been completed prior to the comprehensive and whether the comprehensive is the final step before thesis research and writing.

Assessment, Grading and Reporting

Evaluation parameters must be made clear, including information about who sets the exam questions and who evaluates the student. If performance is assessed by a committee, clarify how the committee is appointed and who sits on it. In the case of written examinations, clarify whether the grading is done by one or more people.

Where there is more than one component to the examination (e.g., an oral exam plus a written exam), it must be made clear how these components are factored into the final grade. For example, make it clear whether each component counts equally, whether the assessment is global, and whether failure on one part of the comprehensive examination (or on one question) results in an overall failure.


The assessment and reasons for the decision must be documented and provided to the student in sufficient detail to allow the student to understand the decision, including identifying strengths and weaknesses. (A number of units have developed short forms specifically for this purpose.) In the case of oral examinations, the student should also be given feedback on presentation, logical exposition, ability to answer questions, etc.

In the case of oral exams, units may wish to consider the following: ensure that there is a reasonably detailed written assessment of the student's performance; tape the oral examination; allow the student to select a faculty member to act as a neutral observer; have one faculty member serve as a neutral chair (equivalent to a Pro-Dean); have an "outside" committee member; have the oral examination open to other students and faculty members.


McGill University values academic integrity, which is fundamental to achieving our mission of the advancement of learning. Therefore, all students must understand the issues associated with academic integrity (see for more information).

Plagiarism in a Ph.D. comprehensive Examination contravenes McGill University's academic goals and standards. Consequently, any student found guilty of plagiarism under the Code of Student conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (see the Handbook on Students Rights and Responsibilities available at in a Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination may face very serious penalties, even expulsion from the University without the degree.


i.  Repeats

In the event of a failure, units must allow, without prejudice, one repeat of the comprehensive (in whole or in part). The first time a student fails, the student must be informed in writing by the department that he/she has failed the comprehensive and must be informed of conditions relating to a repeat of the examination. In such circumstances, the grade of HH (continuing) will be used. In the event of a second failure, a grade of F will be reported to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office and the student will be asked to withdraw from the Ph.D. program.

Conditions for retaking the examination must be clearly stated, including the time frame, potential dates, nature of the re-examination, committee membership, etc.

Units have the right to specify further requirements in the event of failure (e.g., requiring students to take an additional course or courses in areas where they have shown weakness on the comprehensive).

ii. Plagiarism
If plagiarism is suspected, the case will be referred directly to the committee on Student Discipline in accordance with the code of Student Conduct, Part III (article 15) and Part V (A). If plagiarism is established by due University process, the student is considered to have failed the examination, with no possibility of repeat.
iii.  Review and Reassessment

Rereads. In the case of written comprehensives, the Graduate Studies Reread Policy applies.

A student who fails an oral examination may request a review. In such cases, the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office will conduct a review of the examination process and procedures.

Other relevant policies/offices

Charter of Student Rights

Graduate Studies Reread Policy

Office for Students with Disabilities

Approved by Executive of Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR) February 17, 1997
and Council of FGSR March 7, 1997.
10.5 Graduate Studies Reread Policy
This policy applies only in the case of marks given for written work in 600- and 700-level courses.
For 500-level courses and below, the reread policy of the appropriate undergraduate faculty applies.

In accordance with the Charter of Student Rights, and subject to the conditions stated therein, graduate students have the right, subject to reasonable administrative arrangements, "to consult any written submission for which they have received a mark and to discuss this submission with the examiner". Upon request by the student, the instructor of the course is obliged to conduct this consultation with the student.

(Note: Where materials have been graded by a TA and the student wants a reconsideration of the grade, the faculty member responsible for the course is expected to review the materials and the appropriateness of the grade. This is so even if the materials in question have already been discussed by the TA with the student.)


In a case where a student feels that totalling errors have been made in arriving at the final grade, the student can request the instructor to carry out a detailed check that all questions have been marked and that the final grade has correctly been computed on the basis of the term work, final examination, etc.


According to the Charter, students have the right, subject to reasonable administrative arrangements, "to an impartial and competent review of any mark" (hereafter "reread").

No request for a reread is valid unless, at the time it is made, the student has already met with the faculty member responsible for the course to review the mark, or has made a reasonable attempt to do so.

Rereads can only be requested if a change upwards in the letter grade for the course is possible as a result of the reread. Assignments can only be reread if, together, they account for more than 20% of the course grade.

The reread by a second reader is a review of the mark, not the work assigned. It is the second reader's task to determine whether the original mark is fair and reasonable, not to give the work a totally new assessment.

1. The time limit for requesting a reread is within 30 days after posting of the final marks for the course. However, in the case of work which has been graded during the course and returned to the student, students must indicate in writing to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office within 5 working days of receiving the graded work their intention to request a reread. This intention must be confirmed within 30 days of the posting of the final marks for the course.
(Note: Material that is returned to a student cannot be reread unless arrangements have been made to ensure that the material has not been changed subsequent to the original grading; for example, the student can make a copy for the professor to retain either before handing the material in or immediately upon receiving it back from the instructor or at the point where the professor and student review the work together.
Instructors are strongly advised to write their corrections in red pen and to write comments which help the student to understand the mark assigned.)
2. The request for a formal reread must be made by the student in writing to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office and should specify the reasons for the request. It should include a statement indicating that the student has already met with the faculty member responsible for the course to review the mark or indicating why this has not been possible. The reread fee ($35 for an exam, $35 for a paper, $35 for one or more assignments, to a maximum of $105 per course) will be charged directly to the student's fee account after the result of the reread is received. No fee will be charged if there is a change upwards in the letter grade for the course.
3. Administration of the reread is handled by the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office, not by the department. The Office will contact the department to obtain the work to be reread, a list of potential readers, and details of the marking. All communication with the second reader is conducted by the GPSO.
The second reader is given the original assignment, with marginalia, corrections, summary comments and mark intact, as well as any notes from the instructor pertinent to the general nature of the course or the assignment and grading schemes, etc.
4. The student's and the instructor's names are blanked out to reduce the possibility of prejudice and to help meet the requirement of the Charter of Students' Rights that the review be impartial. The rereader's name will not be made known to the student or instructor at any time; the student's name will not be made known to the rereader at any time.
5. The second reader should support his or her assessment with a brief memorandum to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office. As a result of the reread process, the grade may become higher or lower or remain unchanged. The grade submitted by the second reader shall replace the original grade. The reread grade cannot be challenged.
In the case of requests for rereads of group work, all members of the group must sign the request, indicating that they agree to the reread. In the event that members of the group are not in agreement, the written request should indicate which students are requesting the reread and which students do not wish for a reread. In such cases, the outcome of the reread (whether positive or negative) will affect only the students in favour of the reread. Neither the reread grade nor the decision to opt in or out of the reread can be challenged.
6. The new grade resulting from the review will be communicated to the student in a letter from the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office, with a copy to the academic unit.
Prepared by the Committee on Graduate Programs, Supervision and Teaching
Approved by Council of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, May 12th 1995
10.6 Health and Parental/Familial Leave of Absence Policy

A leave of absence may be granted by the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office for maternity or parenting (interpreted according to McGill's "Parental Leave Policy" for non-academic staff) reasons or for health reasons.

Such a leave must be requested on a term by term basis and may be granted for a period of up to 52 weeks. Students must make a request for such a leave in writing to their department and submit a medical certificate. The department shall forward the request to the GPSO.

During a leave of absence for parental or familial reasons, a student will not be eligible to take courses but he/she may request and expect guidance on thesis and research work and will have free access to the University's academic facilities. Library services will continue to be available by registering at the Circulation Desk of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library (McLennan-Redpath). In special circumstances, familial leave may be considered by the GPSO for a student when a close family member is ill.

During a leave of absence for health reasons, a student will not be eligible to request guidance on thesis and research work or to take courses. He/she will not have access to the University's academic facilities but Library services will normally continue to be available by registering at the Circulation Desk of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library (McLennan-Redpath).

A medical certificate must accompany such leave requests.

(Council of FGSR - March 1999)
Please refer to section  "Leave of Absence Status" for information regarding registration of graduate students and Postdocs on such leaves.
10.7 Failure Policy

Please refer to section  "Failure Policy", for information regarding the policy and procedures to follow in cases of failure.

McGill University