Supervisors' Corner

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The Graduate Program in Interdisciplinary Studies  is built upon the generosity of scholars here at York University. We thank you so much for agreeing to be a co-supervisor for one of our unique students.  This page is intended to provide you with the information you need to participate as a co-supervisor in IS, namely to co-convene the student's Interdisciplinary Studies Seminar (IS 5000 6.0), to work  & supervise within a co-supervisory infrastructure and get your students geared up for the unique nature of the IS MA Oral Exam.


Here are the Interdisciplinary Studies Appointment Criteria (.pdf)

Supervisory Structure in IS

The Supervisory structure in the IS MA  is non-hierarchical, collaborative and student-driven. The co-supervisory structure ensures that the shaping of the student's program of study and eventual research in consistently and equitably informed by three disciplines/areas of study and by all three supervisors.  This is facilitated by the co-supervisory structure but also by the requirement that students:

  • meet with each supervisor 1:1 once per term
  • meet with their full supervisory committee together once per term.
  • provide an Interim Report every Jan 30th informed by all supervisors
  • provide an Annual Report every April 30th informed by all supervisors.

We ask that the role of co-ordinating supervisor (not to be misunderstood as lead supervisor) be shared, and be based on each supervisor's competing demands, sabbaticals and other activities. We speak about this when we first convene.

Formation of Supervisory Committees

The formation of an Interdisciplinary Studies student's supervisory committee  commences during the application phase  - where students under the direction of the GPD seek out and meet with possible co-supervisors in three disciplines/areas of study. Normally, students must have their supervisors in place in order to apply. Once a student is admitted, the GPD convenes the opening conference and the Supervisor & Supervisory Committee Approval form is filled out and processed. It is essential that the entire committee meets with the GPD and the student in order to plan the student's courses, GA work (if applicable) and to explain the infrastructure of the program. This is helpful not only for the new student but for supervisors also. We try to hold this meeting before the student commences their studies in the fall - and we try to avoid meetings in the summer.

Supervisory Guidelines

It is our hope that the following Supervisory Guidelines are helpful to supervisory teams and we welcome discussion between any supervisor and our GPD. We are here to support you and your much valued work mentoring and advising IS students.

The Interdisciplinary Studies Seminar

Interdisciplinary Studies 5000 6.0: Supervisory Seminar
Every IS student entering the program is automatically registered  into IS 5000 6.0: Interdisciplinary Studies Seminar. This seminar functions as an individually–tailored core course for each IS student. It consists of regular meetings and discussions between a student and their entire Supervisory committee both individually and as a group, and it is graded as a regular graduate course. Grading occurs immediately following an IS student’s oral examination. See the form below. Eventually, the title for this course will be individualized for each student - becoming a 40 character abbreviation of their thesis title.

Directed Reading Courses

Interdisciplinary Studies students have the option of taking a Directed Reading Course with a member of the Supervisory Committee provided a suitable graduate course is not available in the current curriculum, and provided the course does not overlap significantly with a course taken previously. In all cases, the course shall be directly relevant to the students’ thesis project.  Below please find  the IS Directed Reading Guidelines.

Directed Reading Guidelines

As with each discipline or course there are many ways to approach a DR course. We ask that students propose the DR to you - and do some of the leg work in suggesting assignments. Here is a link you can direct them to. Best Practices for Assignment Design

The IS Thesis Proposal

Interdisciplinary Studies students participate in a program-sponsored Thesis Proposal Workshop in order to prepare them to write a proposal for their intended research. The first draft is normally due January 30th of a FT student's first year and we invite a final Thesis Proposal to come forward April 15th or so, if possible. This of course, comes in with if appropriate - research ethics approval. Please look at the proposal guidelines (.pdf) for the structure requested for an Interdisciplinary Studies Thesis Proposal. Of course, depending on the shaping of the supervisory team, the structure may shift. Don't hesitate to touch base with the GPD with any questions.

The IS Colloquium

In a Full - Time student's 6th semester, (and a Part-Time student's 9th semester) if they have an approved thesis proposal and have commenced their research, the IS student comes forward for their colloquium. Normally this happens over a six week time period after Reading Week. Students are given the various dates and times and are asked to consult with their supervisory team early and obtain three time slots that would work. You are asked to attend and participate in the colloquium. Visit the Courses and Colloquium page for more info about the colloquium.

The IS Thesis

Normally, theses in Interdisciplinary Studies will be approximately 120 pages in length. However, the program also realizes that some flexibility is needed to accommodate individual projects: in extraordinary circumstances, then, we suggest a maximum of 150 pages, and at the other end of the spectrum, a minimum of 80 pages. Exceptional circumstances that pertain to the contours of a unique thesis subject or to the rubric of a unique CWMM (“creative writing and multi-media”) thesis project may on occasion require further alterations in length. Such alterations will only be considered in specific situations. All such alterations will be determined by the supervisory committee in consultation with the student and the program office. In all exceptional circumstances, it is advised that the Director be consulted in the event that the program’s approval is required in order to proceed to defense. Rationale: The issue of thesis length is of great importance to students in the Master’s program in Interdisciplinary Studies because I.S. is a thesis-only program. In addition, all students must defend the thesis to an oral examining committee, one member of whom is from an institution external to York University. We have observed that on occasion, External Examiners have mistaken M.A. projects for PhD projects and evaluated them accordingly. When asked, the examiners have indicated that they assumed “Ph.D” because of the length of the thesis. We want to ensure that an M.A. thesis is evaluated as an M.A. thesis and not a PhD., so these guidelines for thesis length are meant to help us in achieving this goal.

Gearing your Student Up for their Oral Examination

So, your student is coming forward for their Oral Exam. Great.  Like most things about this innovative MA - it runs a bit differently in Interdisciplinary Studies. This is for sure the best time to really have one of the three supervisors take the reigns to usher the student through the process of gearing up paperwork wise.

Normally an IS student is ready to come forward for defence once there have been major edits to their thesis based on rounds of collaborative feedback from all supervisors. This is truly best achieved during meetings where all voices can be heard at the same time - building from one another and collectively deciding on edits, shape etc. Then you are ready to 'sign off' on a student's thesis.  Please fill in the Recommendation for Oral Examination form and send in three hard copies of the thesis to the program office.

Examination Committee Makeup

The make-up of an IS MA Thesis Oral Examination Committee differs from the make-up of the standard FGS MA Thesis Oral Examination Committee. Every IS MA Thesis Oral Examination Committee consists of four (4) voting members: An External Examiner, A Chair (normally the GPD or designate); An Inside York Arms-Length Examiner; and ONE member of the supervisory committee.  While all members of the IS student's committee are invited and encouraged to attend the oral examination, only members of the examining committee can vote and deliberate.

Scheduling the IS MA Thesis Oral Examination

Scheduling the IS MA Thesis Oral Examination is a complex and lengthy process. A general rule applies: to meet IS program deadlines, double the times FGS allocates to the various stages of the process. Scheduling the IS MA Thesis Oral Examination normally proceeds in stages:

  •  Four months before the projected date of the Oral Examination, as an examinable draft of the Thesis takes shape, every IS student should meet with the full Supervisory Committee to map a timeline for proceeding to Oral Examination
  • The current Coordinating Chair of the Supervisory Committee should confirm with the other two supervisors that the Thesis is on target
  • Any impediments to the student’s proceeding to Oral Examination should be raised and discussed at this meeting.

The Supervisory Committee is asked to nominate one supervisor to represent them as a voting member of the examining committee at the Oral Examination (normally the current Coordinating Chair acts as representative) as well as agree to at least two potential candidates for External Examiner and at least two potential candidates to serve as the Inside York Arm's Length Examiner. (formally the Dean's Rep)

The Supervisory Committee should rank in preference the potential candidates for External Examiner and YorkU Arm's Length Examiner and (prior to any contact with them) submit their names to the GPD for approval. If the Coordinating Chair is uncertain about the suitability or eligibility of potential candidates for External Examiner and YorkU Arm's Length Examiner to serve on an IS MA Thesis Oral Examination Committee, they should consult with the GPD before contacting possible examination members.

After approval from the GPD, the Coordinating Supervisor should undertake to establish informal contact with them to determine their willingness and ability to serve, after which their names and contact information are submitted to the GPA. The program then sends the External Examiner and Arm's Length YorkU Examiner a formal invitation together with their copy of the thesis in both electronic and hard copy format (both of which must be provided by the student when they submit the signed recommendation for oral defence)

  • Three months before the projected date of the Oral Examination, every IS student should meet with the full Supervisory Committee to confirm final revisions necessary for the Thesis to be considered worthy of proceeding to Oral Examination
  • The Supervisory Committee should agree on these final revisions and provide clear instructions to the student, in writing if necessary, and sufficient to enable the student to produce an examinable draft of the Thesis

The Coordinating Supervisor should confirm the availability of the potential candidates for External Examiner and York Arm's Length Examiner, and the Supervisory Committee should confirm their ranking. If the Coordinating Supervisor has not been able to secure commitment from candidates for External Examiner and the York Arm's Length Examiner, alternate candidates should be nominated and the process of recruitment repeated.

Every IS student should submit the final draft of the Thesis to all three members of the Supervisory Committee for approval to proceed to Oral Examination as soon as possible after this meeting.

  • Eight weeks before the projected date of the Oral Examination, every IS student should meet with the full Supervisory Committee to confirm their approval that the final draft of the Thesis is worthy of proceeding to Oral Examination
  • The Supervisory Committee should confirm which supervisor will serve on the Oral Examination Committee, as well as the availability and ranking of candidates for External Examiner and the York Arm's Length Examiner

IS students should make sure the IS Recommendation for Oral Examination form has been completed, as well as the Copyright Licence (Partial Copyright) form, the UMI Form, and the Theses Non-Exclusive Licence (National Library) form.  Every IS student is responsible for securing these signatures. The form also requires the names, academic affiliations and contact data for the External Examiner and the York Arm's Length Examiner.

The Big Day

So your student has had all kinds of support , guidance and direction. And no doubt one of you has mentored her/him to get the presentation ready and ready for fielding questions. Also, our student had their experience at their Colloquium which really builds confidence and helps students get ready for their Oral Exam. And lastly, our students often go to other IS Oral Exams - hopefully to support their peers along with learn and see how things unfold. Cool.

So it's the big day!  It unfolds similar to a PhD Oral Exam where everyone but the examining committee is excused briefly from the exam room and discussion ensues regarding examinability of the thesis and speaker order. We will start with the External Examiner asking questions, then the York Arm's Length examiner and then the Committee Member. At times, we welcome questions from the student's other supervisors if they are present - always of course yielding time to the four core examiners.

Once questioning is done, again we ask that only members of the examination committee then deliberate and all others  will be asked to leave the room. Following that, the student and others are recalled and the decision shared with comments being read from the chair of the examination. And then CELEBRATION!


We need you to assign a grade to the Student's Interdisciplinary Studies Seminar Course, i.e.  IS 5000 6.0. View the Criteria for Evaluation document (.pdf) for more information about that. So we'll give you IS 5000 Grade and Title Submission Form (.docx) and ask that you get that into the program office pronto.