Committee selection and thesis outline for new graduate students
Composition of the Graduate Student Advisory Committee
The supervisory committee will consist of the supervisor and at least two committee members. At least one of the committee members must be appointed to the Department of Physiology. The other member may be selected from within or outside the Department of Physiology. All members must hold an appointment at the School of Graduate Studies. A brief note justifying the selection of each committee member should be included as an attachment to the first Supervisory Committee Report. Please see below a description of the expectations for the committee members. The composition of the supervisory committee will be approved by the departmental Graduate Studies Committee. In a few cases the Graduate Studies Committee or the Graduate Coordinator may request that an additional member from within the department be added to the supervisory committee.
Selection of Members of the Graduate Student Advisory Committee
The members of the supervisory committee should be selected to complement the expertise of the supervisor. If the Supervisor has graduated few students then there should be at least one member on the committee with considerable success in graduating students. Some members should have equal or senior appointments compared to the Supervisor. Members must be independent of the Supervisor and must have the freedom to oppose the supervisor if necessary. There is no point in having a committee that always agrees with the supervisor. What is needed is vigorous intellectual challenge. Committee members must also be available and be willing to spend some time with the student.
It is inappropriate for spouses, partners, "significant others" and relatives of a student or a supervisor to participate in a Graduate Student Advisory Committee, Transfer Exam committee, CIHR Proposal exam committee, Final PhD committee meeting, SGS - PhD Final Oral exam committee, MSc exam committee or any other committee that deals with the career of an individual student. Co-supervisory arrangements that include spouses, partners, "significant others " and other relatives are also inappropriate. We continue to encourage students and supervisors to make use of the expertise of any faculty member. The measure above should not in any way diminish access of a student to a faculty member when assistance is required.
Responsibilities of the Graduate Student Advisory Committee
While the Supervisor has the major responsibility for overseeing the students project and progress, the members of the Graduate Student Advisory Committee also have a responsibility toward the student. The Committee exists to help the Student. They should question the time taken to complete the program, ensure that milestones are met and determine whether the student's project is progressing reasonably. Student Advisory Committee members may refuse to sign the Supervisory Committee Report, or other forms, for students who are not fulfilling the requirements of their program in a timely fashion.
If you find that members of your Supervisory Committee are not fulfilling their responsibilities, please contact the Graduate Coordinator.
Please note that the Graduate Coordinator has been asked by the Graduate Studies Committee and the departmental Chair not to sign scholarship or grant applications or enrollment forms for students who have not presented their work to their Supervisory Committee at least once per year and by the June 30 deadline at the latest.
First Committee Meeting or "Proposal Meeting"
The first supervisory committee meeting and report must be completed within four months of entry to a graduate program (specifically by Dec 20 for May/Sept admissions and Apr 30 for Jan admissions). This means that the student's committee must be in place and that a project has been agreed upon by this time. The student (with help from the Supervisor) should produce a research proposal including a rationale, hypothesis, prediction and test structure. The proposal should be given to committee members a week before the meeting. The written report of this meeting discusses the details of the proposal - data is not a prerequisite, but can be part of the meeting if the student has made some progress in the first few months. Failure to articulate a hypothesis and to have an early committee meeting are common denominators of students who get into trouble later. This meeting is mandatory for new students whether they have data or not within the first few months. The main purpose of the meeting is to introduce the committee members and outlined proposal.
Frequency of Student Advisory Committee Meetings
In both the MSc and PhD programs, it is expected that the Supervisory Committee will meet twice yearly and preferably not just immediately before the June 30 deadline. Additional meetings can be arranged to discuss problems and progress. In some circumstances additional supervisory committee meetings may be requested by the Graduate Studies Committee.
The student or supervisor or graduate coordinator may request a meeting.
Should the student and supervisor fail to reach a reasonable agreement on major aspects of the research program the student can ask the Graduate Coordinator to call a meeting of his or her Supervisory Committee that will be chaired by the Graduate Coordinator.
Preparation for Committee Meetings
A Graduate Supervisory Committee exists as impartial mediators and advisers to help the Graduate Student finish a high quality degree in the appropriate time. Meetings of this committee are an opportunity for the student to obtain opinions about ongoing research. Often the committee can make suggestions that neither the student nor supervisor thought of. The committee also provides an independent assessment of the progress of the student.
In preparation for each meeting the student prepares (with assistance from the Supervisor) a report that informs the committee members about what the student is doing or will do. This document should be circulated to committee members 1 week before the meeting to allow them time to think about it. The document should be a summary of the project and work completed (as below), and as a guideline, should be around 5 pages in order to familiarize the committee members with the project and progress.
An effective committee meeting document has these elements:
- Names of student, supervisor and committee members
- Degree program, start date and proposed completion date.
- Date, Time and location of meeting
- Title of research
- Rationale (Why you are interested in this work, why it is important, what is its significance)
- Current status of literature; a concise and germane review.
- Hypothesis (You may provide several hypotheses with a scheme for ranking them) Predictions from hypothesis
- Proposed tests of predictions
- (Can tests distinguish competing hypotheses?)
- Data (if available) or possible outcomes
- Possible interpretations of results
The Time Line
How long will it take to do the work? Try to predict when your experimental phase will finish. This can be done if you know the duration of each type of experiment and the number of repetitions required. The required number of repetitions should be arrived at after deciding on statistical tests to be employed. It is best to think about necessary statistics before committing experiments. It is very important that the MSc is not expanded to include side issues. The MSc should be completed in 18-24 months. Those students wishing to arrange a transfer to the PhD program must have a substantial piece of work completed first and should transfer after about 18 months. The MSc really only needs to have one hypothesis tested well with outcomes examined critically in the thesis. This will demonstrate mastery of the Scientific Method. It is a common mistake to add more projects or to change projects.
The astute student will recognize this outline as the skeleton of the much vaunted 'Scientific Method'. Not only is this method the core concept of science, its structure forms a powerful communication tool.
The Committee Meeting
During the meeting the student should make a short presentation (<20 min) to discuss the elements of the report. The student's presentation should be practiced and concise. The presentation should bring up the progress as well as any problems. It is a big mistake to make the presentation and report a public relations exercise that obscures problems.
Role of the Committee at a Meeting
Discuss the time to completion of the degree
Consider whether the proposed research program is of appropriate duration and difficulty
Review courses taken by the student
Recommend in writing any changes to the proposal tendered by the student and supervisor
Discuss and approve or amend the report of the student
The Committee's Written Evaluation of the Committee Meeting:
A short, critical review of the student's progress, as discussed at the Committee meeting, should be written and signed by the supervisor and/or committee members, and attached to the Supervisory Committee Report form. Here the committee evaluates the progress made by the student.
The evaluation should consider the following issues:
- Has the student made satisfactory progress? If not, why not?
- What steps have been taken to remedy the problem?
- Has the student been informed by the supervisor or committee in writing that there is a problem?
- Is the student qualified and competent to do graduate work?
- Is the student likely to finish the degree on time?
- Will there be a publication from the student’s work?
- Has the student developed critical thinking?
- Has the student personally identified a hypothesis?
- Approximately when should the next committee meeting be held and what progress is expected by that time?
All committee members must read the student's report and attend the committee meeting before they sign the committee meeting form. Both the student's report and that of the Committee must be filed with the Graduate Coordinator. If committee members disagree with statements in the document then it is their responsibility to file a dissenting opinion with the Student, Supervisor and Graduate Coordinator.