Changing Supervisor


Doctoral students are accepted into the research program at the Department to undergo intensive academic training under the guidance and sponsorship of a research supervisor (and co-supervisor, if applicable). Whereas every effort is made, at the recruitment stage, to ensure matching interests between the trainee and the primary supervisor under whom the student was originally admitted, individual goals and competencies may change during training such that the trainee may benefit from mentorship under a different supervisor. The change of supervisor process is collaborative and provides for proper disclosure and cooperation between the student, the original (i.e., current) supervisor(s), and subsequently the new supervisor, and serves to establish a new supervisory relationship for the student to ensure academic continuity.​

Importantly, the change of supervisor process is not intended as a means of interpersonal conflict resolution, unless untenable after efforts have been made to resolve with expert guidance. Students in search of interpersonal conflict management and solution should consult the Centre for Graduate Mentorship & Supervision (CGMS) for help and support regarding supervisory concerns and/or issues.



At a high level, the student is responsible for securing a new research supervisor in the change of supervisor process. A change in supervisor must be requested within the first year of graduate study.  It is important to note that while success in a doctoral degree is the prime responsibility of the student, others share in that responsibility. Foremost amongst these for research-stream students are the supervisor(s), the supervisory committee and the graduate unit responsible for the program. Thus, the change of supervisor must be a collaborative process. The Graduate Office works with the student, the original supervisor, and the new supervisor to facilitate the transition. At Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, the student transfer to a new supervisor is completed by the joint signing of a new supervisor-student agreement, wherein funding obligations to the student are also transferred to the new supervisor. The following is a step-by-step guide for this process:


Step 1: Student meets with the Associate Chair, Graduate for discussion or for sharing of information

The student invites the Associate Chair, Graduate to meet and discuss the circumstances for which a change of supervision could be beneficial and/or a better fit for the student’s academic program. At this meeting, the student should also discuss his/her study plan and educational/career goals so that all pros and cons and possible alternatives are considered. After the meeting, if the student wishes to pursue the change of supervisor process, the student must express this intent, in writing, to the CHE Graduate Office.  At this meeting, potential alternative supervisors are discussed.

Step 2: Student looks for an alternate supervisor

It is the student’s responsibility to find a new supervisor.  The Associate Chair, Graduate can help guide the student through this process; however, the ultimate responsibility to find a new supervisor is that of the student. A new supervisor must be requested and found within the first year of graduate studies and before the PhD qualifying exam. To facilitate this process, the student would be granted up to one extra session of 4 months to secure a new supervisor before having the PhD qualifying exam. Whereas the Graduate Office may assist by answering any questions that the student and/or the supervisor(s) may have, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to secure a new supervisor before the deadline.

Step 3: Student informs the CHE Graduate Office to initiate the change process

Success of the change of supervisor process is not guaranteed, and the Graduate Office cannot simply transfer a student from one supervisor to another. Procedurally, the Graduate Office will communicate the student’s change of supervisor request to The Associate Chair, Graduate Studies. The Associate Chair has the principal obligation and authority to ensure that pathways exist for student success after completion of the supervisor change process. Thus, the Associate Chair may decide to reach out to the student’s original and/or prospective supervisor(s) for consultation, if necessary.

Step 4A: If the student is successful in securing a new supervisor

The student’s new supervisor must write to the CHE Graduate Office and confirm his/her supervisory commitment before the deadline. Then, the Graduate Office will provide further instructions to document and finalize the program transfer process, if applicable. It is important to note that, despite changing supervisor(s), the student would not be granted additional time to achieve PhD candidacy. To clarify, PhD candidacy means by the end of third year: completing course requirements, passing the PhD qualifying exam, having one committee meeting after the qualifying exam, and completing the required number of CHE3001 lectures at the leading edge.  This means that after the student secures a new supervisor, the student must also establish a new supervisory committee, complete additional coursework (if recommended by the new committee), develop an approved thesis topic, and complete the qualifying exam within one extra term of  the normal candidacy deadline. Furthermore, the duration of funding status would not change, and the student would exit the funded cohort in the normal timeframe of the home unit. For example, a student who underwent the change of supervisor process at the end of year one would begin studying under their new supervisor as a year-two student. At the discretion of the new supervisor, the student may either remain registered at CHE or transfer to a different graduate unit:

1.  Student remains registered at CHE; or

In a written statement to the Graduate Office, the student and the new supervisor must acknowledge and accept a CHE funding letter to complete the change process. The new supervisory committee members will be recorded at the first committee meeting.

2.  Student transfers to a new graduate unit

The student must submit a program transfer form to the CHE Graduate Office. The form will be reviewed and signed by the Associate Chair, if appropriate, and then resubmitted to the new graduate unit. The student must follow instructions of the new graduate unit to complete the supervisor change process.

Step 4B: If the student is unsuccessful in securing a new supervisor

The student must write to inform the CHE Graduate Office of how the student intends to continue (or discontinue) the program. For example, the student may choose to continue studying under the original supervisors or withdraw from the program. These example options are not exhaustive; however, comprehensive consideration of the student’s program direction may require further consultation with the Associate Chair, and such discussions may also include the student’s supervisory committee members.

Terms and conditions

  • Confidentiality: the change of supervisor is not a confidential process; however, the graduate office recognizes that this is a sensitive situation. Student confidentiality does not apply to normal operations of the Graduate Office wherein student information must be shared with relevant parties responsible for the student’s academic program.
  • Restrictions: due to the nature and duration of research programs, the change of supervisor process is not applicable to master’s students (all years). Change of supervisor must be done within the first year of graduate study and before the PhD qualifying exam. In the event of a change of supervisor, students will have an extension of up to 4 months for their PhD qualifying exam, which would then need to occur within 17-18 months of starting graduate school in CHE.  In other words, doctoral students beyond year one (or Master’s students who bypass into the PhD program) are not eligible for this process.
  • Registration: all graduate students must have a supervisor to maintain registration in the CHE research program. If the student unilaterally decides to stop working with his/her current supervisor and a new supervisor cannot be identified before expiration of the prescribed timeframe, then the Graduate Office may recommend that the student: withdraw from the program, take a leave of absence, or recommend termination of the student’s registration.
  • Voluntary withdrawal: Students may withdraw voluntarily from their programs at any point before their registration is terminated. A student may decide to withdraw from the program before the Associate Chair / Chair submits to SGS the recommendation for termination of registration or before the SGS Vice-Dean, Students, approves the Associate Chair’s / Chair’s recommendation.
  • Leave of absence: if deemed beneficial, the student may seek a leave of absence in the period (normally one session) for which the student was prescribed to search for a new supervisor.
  • Supervision: The prospective/new supervisor may be from CHE or another department at the University of Toronto; however, to act in the capacity of a research supervisor of a doctoral student, they must hold full graduate faculty membership at the School of Graduate Studies.
  • International students: Any (approved) leave from a program of study in Canada should not exceed 150 days from the date the leave commenced. Study permit holders should consult The Centre for International Experience prior to taking leave to ensure they have a comprehensive understanding of visa limitations.

Contacts and Resources