Supervisory Committee

Useful links

Supervisory Committee Guildelines.

The form to complete at each meeting. Remember to print and bring it to the meeting.

Tips on how to fill the forms, by Dr. Aimee Ryan.

What is a Supervisory Committee ?

In a nutshell, your supervisory committee is

  • Here to provide constructive feedback.
  • To be set up during your first term.
  • Composed of your supervisor and two additional faculty members (one must be in the department).
  • Scheduled at least once a year.


Some pieces of advice gathered during our annual SC/QE workshop:

Get it done early. The earlier, the less they expect of you and the more useful their feedback/guidance will be.

Pick members wisely. Look for PIs with knowledge in the different areas of your project. Maybe avoid overly-busy PIs. A committee member will more likely invest time on you if he isn’t in ten other committee. Ask around, e.g. to students in your lab or the department, how the potential members are.

Inform your supervisor. If your supervisor is not very aware of the system (and even if he thinks he is), remind him what the SC is, the deadlines etc.

Think about what you want out of this. Do you need feedback on what you did ? Guidance for the next steps ? Simply approval that you’re on track ?

Keep the correspondence formal. Use “Hello” or “Dear Dr. …”. Avoid “Hi Bob”, “Hey”, “Yo”, “Sup'”.

Frequently Asked Questions

…at the annual SC/QE workshops.

What happens if I don’t pass ? In the rare eventuality that your committee is not satisfied by your project/meeting, you’ll have to have another meeting in the following 6 months, with clear objectives to meet.

What if the supervisor doesn’t want a meeting ? If you tried pushing for it already, contact Aimee Ryan. She’ll meet with you and you can discuss. You can ask for a SC meeting whenever you want. You’re always ready to take a SC, and discuss your project.

Any disadvantages to have more additional members (e.g. 3) ? Except for scheduling, no. One of them has to be in the Human Genetics department.

Can I pick a SC member that is not at McGill ? Yes, as long as you have one that is at the Human Genetics department in McGill.

If I have side projects, can I discuss them at the SC, even if it’s not really part of my thesis project ? Not really, you can mention the side project, especially if it takes a lot of your time, but you should focus on thesis project, that’s what they agreed to supervise. Don’t waste their time !

More on the Supervisory Committee process

The purpose of the Supervisory Committee (SC) is to keep you and your project on track. At times you may find SC meetings intimidating, but keep in mind that they are on your side! They will be the ones to tell you if your progress is sufficient or if you are lagging behind. They’ll give expert advice on how to solve problems you are coming across and suggest new and better ways to tackle particular experiments. They can be invaluable collaborators. They can also help keep your supervisor in check. This doesn’t happen often, but we all know it is easy for supervisors to get carried away when they get really excited about a project. It is your SC’s job to make sure your supervisor isn’t loading you up with too much work that isn’t really relevant to your thesis.

Your supervisor usually picks the members of your SC, though your own input counts as well if you have someone you think would be an asset. The SC consists of your supervisor and two other faculty members, at least one from within the department, while the other member can be either from inside or outside the department. They are generally people in related fields who can contribute unique viewpoints. The rule is one SC meeting per year, except the year you have your Qualifying Exam (QE) (which can be used as your SC for the year, if your SC members agree to that). Some also consider the senior seminar to count as your final SC meeting before you write up. Ask your supervisor if they feel this is acceptable.

To prepare for an SC meeting, pick some dates and contact all your members to find a day and time they are all available. Don’t leave this to the last minute, plan at least a month in advance to give them all time to fit you into their schedules. Summer is the worst time to schedule SC meetings, since many faculty members go on vacation.

Once the date is set, it is time to write the report and prepare the presentation. An SC meeting report is basically a smaller version of the thesis proposal. It should be written, approved by your supervisor and sent to your committee about a week before your meeting. It can be fairly short (some department members have been know to ask for only 1 page before!), but plan on 5-10 pages. It should include background information on your project, hypothesis, objectives, any results you’ve got, future work, summary, references and figures. Your first report probably won’t have much in the way of results; this is fine. The first meeting is basically a chance for your SC to discuss if they think your project is interesting and where they think you should take it. Future reports don’t need to repeat results your committee has already seen, so you only need to include work you’ve done since your last SC.

The presentation is a short 20 min presentation summarizing your report. If you or your lab don’t have your own laptop, your hospital or department should have laptops and projectors available for use. If you need to reserve their use, make sure you do it well in advance to ensure you get what you need. You may also want to make sure the room you are using has a screen for projection. Any other student in your lab can suggest a good room they’ve used before. During the meeting, you can ask that your SC hold questions until the end of your presentation, or interrupt you during your presentation. This is a matter of personal preference.

Before the meeting, you may want to review some key articles relating to your project, since it’s also your committees’ job to make sure you know all the necessary background information. The most common comment people get after their first SC meeting is: needs to read more. Most, if not all, the questions you get during your meeting will be project background and rationale. Know WHY you are doing what you are doing and what other people have done to back up your ideas. Also, practice your presentation a few times for your lab mates, they likely have been through SC meetings before and can tell you what kinds of questions they’ve gotten and what they think you’ll be asked.

There is a form you have to fill out for each SC meeting.  Bring it with you to the meeting and give it to your supervisor. Your committee will write notes on it during the meeting which are for your records and to be given to the department.

On meeting day, some people like to have coffee and snacks for their committee. This is optional. Get your laptop and projector set up and make sure your presentation runs properly. After everyone arrives and before the meeting starts, you will probably be asked to leave the room. Your supervisor will just be telling your committee members about your progress. If you’re standing outside forever, they are likely talking about their favourite Chinese restaurant or the latest conference they were at, catching up since the last time they’ve seen each other – so don’t worry. You’ll finally be called in, and if it’s your first meeting, your supervisor will introduce you to you committee members and maybe give some background/intro to your project, you will give your 20 minute presentation and then there will be questions. After this, there will be discussion as to what courses you’ve already taken and what still might be good for you to take.

Expect the whole meeting to take about an hour, including questions and discussion. At the end they ask you to leave so they can talk about how well they think you did and bring up any concerns. Again, don’t worry if you’re out there for a while. When they’re done chatting, they will call you back in (your supervisor will probably make a joke about how you failed the meeting, which is funny because you can’t really fail it, but you’ll be nervous for a second, until your committee bursts out laughing), they’ll tell you how they think you did and what you may need to improve on. Make sure you get all your SC members to sign your report. Make a few copies: one for the department (send it to the secretary), one for you and maybe another for your supervisor’s records.


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