Grad Student Caucus

Grad Student Checklist

Congratulations and welcome to the Biology department at SFU! Your biology graduate caucus has put together this checklist, hoping you will use it to make your graduate studies an efficient, successful and memorable experience. The BISC grad caucus is an elected body of graduate students representing the interests of fellow grad students in our department. This list represents some of the most common recurring graduate student issues, and is broken down into four sections, providing you with both short-term and long-term guidance on how to plan your time here at SFU.
Thanks for taking the time to read over this extensive checklist. Keep it handy so that each semester you can refer back to it and go over it with your supervisor. Remember it is OK (and very common) to revise your goals and deadlines. Don’t be ashamed of not accomplishing a goal that may have been a bit unrealistic. The important thing is to evaluate why you missed a deadline and how you are going to achieve it the next time around. In addition, communication with your supervisor will ensure that they are aware of your goals and recognize your ability to manage your time effectively (which is part of what you need to master as a grad student).

1/ New Graduate Student

  • Biology department website: here you will find information on scholarships, TA’ships, awards, courses, grad regulations etc. There are also many useful links to research, social and grad-related sites:
  • Biology caucus website: info on the activities of the grad caucus and how you can get involved
  • Graduate studies website: information on awards and regulations
  • Get an computing (email etc.) account from Academic Computing Services: You can follow their instructions (click on the link to "activate your ID").
  • Email lists are how information is disseminated in the department. Once you have a computing account make sure Marlene Nguyen, the graduate program assistant knows your email address and she will subscribe you to the bisc-grads mail list. People on these lists automatically have access to the computers in B8220. Inquire if your lab also has a maillist that you should be on.
  • Make sure you get a set of lab keys which your professor has to order for you via Ruth Appanah and library copy cards from the departmental receptionist, get a student card and U-Pass (Registrar) pay your tuition fees, and inquire about free library tours, counselling, health services etc.

2/ Every Semester

  • Plan a meeting with your supervisor early in the term, bring this checklist and ensure the following details are addressed:
    • Review your progress and research goals from the past semester, identifying and discussing both your accomplishments and shortfalls.
    • Identify realistic research goals for the semester that include: field work, lab experiments, data analysis, manuscript/thesis chapter draft writing.
    • Discuss plans to publish research results including co-authorship.
    • Discuss what courses you need to take in the upcoming semester.
    • Confirm financial support for the current semester and discuss plans for financial support for the upcoming term.
    • Discuss plans for professional development (e.g. conferences, learning new techniques, writing etc) and allot sufficient and realistic time in your semester plan. Not all supervisors pay for conference attendance. Discuss your situation and check-out additional sources of funding: BISC caucus travel lottery, graduates studies, NSERC travel funding, conference website.
    • What is the best way to contact your supervisor this semester, by appointment or drop-in?
  • Plan time for family, recreation, vacations etc. Being a grad student is a demanding job, but somebody has got to do it. It is not expected to be your life. As a grad student you do get time off and balance is a key component to enjoying your life and being an efficient grad student!! In addition, if you have any other major time commitments that will affect the amount of time you can dedicate to your graduate work it is important to be open with your supervisor about these (e.g. part-time job, childcare)
    • Discuss your schedule with your supervisor, including how many hours a week you plan on working and what days/time your supervisor can expect to see you in the lab
  • Identify the scholarships and awards for which you are eligible and that have deadlines during this term. It is your responsibility to ensure that your application is complete and submitted on time.
  • It is up to you to register via internet each semester in addition to setting up payment of your tuition either as a lump sum or via payroll deduction. You can pay your tuition either online at goSFU (, via on-line banking or at the Registrar’s office via cash, cheque or Interac (credit card is not allowed).

3/ Annually

  • Supervisory committee
    • You must assemble an advisory committee by the end of your second semester. Both MSc and PhD committees require a minimum of 2 members (2 biology faculty or 1 biology and 1 SFU faculty); discuss the suitability of candidates with your supervisor.
    • You must hold an annual meeting with your committee to discuss progress and future plans. Be sure to take notes during this discussion to complete your annual progress report.
    • Discuss and create a written statement of short term and long term goals including a timeline for achieving them and include this with your annual report.
    • Discuss plans to meet yearly funding requirements.
    • If you and your committee have discussed your switching from the MSc to the PhD program, please check out the caucus website under DGSC to see what qualifications must be met.
  • Annual Progress Report
  • The biology graduate studies secretary will provide you with an annual progress report form. You must complete this and have your entire committee comment and sign before returning it.
  • If you have any problems with your progress or need to discuss any issues in confidentially you can go to the department website and download an additional comments section form to add to your progress report. This page is strictly confidential, is removed from the rest of your report by the departmental graduate studies chair (DGSC chair, who reads your annual report) and therefore will not be placed in your file for others to view.
  • Information on the DGSC, the DGSC student representatives, and how the DGSC is available to assist graduate students is available on the caucus website.

4/ Finishing up

  • To prevent making the common, frustrating and expensive, yet easily avoidable mistakes when preparing your thesis attend one of the many thesis workshops delivered each semester.
  • Be aware of the following timelines:
    • Once a “final” draft of your thesis is written you have to obtain the signatures from all members of your examining committee on an “approval of examining committee form”, before you can set a defense date.
    • MSc students can set their defense date no earlier than 6 weeks following the hand-in of the “approval to defend form”. The examining committee consists of the supervisory committee, an Internal Examiner and a Chair.
    • PhD students can set their defense date no earlier than 8 weeks following the hand-in of the “approval to defend form”. The examining committee consists of the supervisory committee, an External Examiner, a Internal Examiner and a Chair.
    • For more information about who qualifies for the role of an examiner and chair please speak with the graduate secretary or go to the graduate studies website.
    • Ensure that you allow sufficient time for corrections and printing following your defense to meet the library submission deadline.
Good luck with your graduate studies and remember the key to a successful graduate experience is balance and hard work (not to mention following everything on this list)!!