Learn how you can enhance your relationship with your supervisor.

The learner-supervisor working relationship is one of the most important components of graduate-level and postdoctoral-level training. It is through interaction with the research supervisor that a graduate student learns to develop research questions, perform experiments with rigorous standards for excellence, to analyze findings and draw conclusions, to communicate these findings and in its simplest form, to think like a scientist.  It is through interaction with a research supervisor that a postdoctoral fellow achieves research excellence and autonomy required for career advancement.

This learning is dependent on a working relationship that fosters open communication, clear expectations for performance, and timely and constructive feedback. The goal of this working relationship is to help learners achieve, through mentorship, their academic and research goals and career aspirations.

Communication is therefore key to getting the most out of the Learner-Supervisor Working Relationship. Consider the following:

  • Communicate expectations clearly:
    • This can include turnaround times for comments on written works, assignments or other feedback
  • Authorship. Discuss early and throughout the manuscript writing process how contributors will be acknowledged.
  • Conference participation. What benchmark should be attained for conference participation?
  • Opportunities to teach and write. Learners benefit from participating in grant writing, manuscript writing and research seminars. Include learners in these activities as appropriate for their stage of training.
  • Obstacles to success. Consider open discussions about the typical obstacles that are encountered and how to deal with them. Know what supports and resources are available and how to access them.
  • Manage conflicts. Don’t let little things become big problems. Opt for open and respectful conversations.


The Thesis Advisory Committee is an additional source of mentorship and guidance and can help both a student and a supervisor navigate research and academic challenges. A student should always feel empowered to communicate with their committees for support.