Graduate Program Roles and Responsibilities

Staff Roles

  • Graduate Program Coordinator

  • Responsibilities

    Graduate Program Coordinators are staff members who often serve as the primary point of contact for graduate students at the program level.  They can provide advising on admission requirements, degree requirements, campus policies/procedures, campus services, and funding opportunities.  Graduate Program Coordinators can be found by visiting the graduate program page and scrolling down to the contacts listed.

    Graduate Program Coordinators are hired as staff members through a standard employment search and recruitment process.  

    New graduate program coordinators should review the onboarding processes and resources available through Graduate Studies. 

  • Senior Academic Advisor 

  • Responsibilities

    Senior Academic Advisors (SAA) reside in Graduate Studies and advise on degree milestones, Graduate Council and campus policies, graduation requirements, and mentorship issues.  A graduate program's assigned SAA also supports graduate students, Graduate Program Coordinators, and faculty with any escalated issues related to academic performance and/or progress.  Find your assigned SAA here.


    Senior Academic Advisors are hired as staff members through a standard employment and recruitment process.

Faculty Roles

All of the faculty roles on this page require a mentor-eligible payroll title reflected in the payroll system (see the section on Mentor Eligibility at the bottom of this page). If you are a coordinator and believe that a particular mentor has a mentor-eligible payroll title but is not recognized as such in SPA or PRM, contact the Graduate Studies Project/Policy Analyst. Note that the term "program" refers to any graduate degree program, regardless of whether it is departmentally based or a graduate group, SSDP, PDST, or state-supported.

  • Graduate Program Chair

  • Responsibilities

    The chair is the academic leader and administrative head of a graduate program. The chair automatically has signature authority on all forms and petitions related to the program. In a departmentally based program, the department chair is responsible for the graduate program, even if day-to-day operations of the program are delegated to another individual deemed to be the Graduate Program Chair. See below for appointment of a Graduate Group Chair.

    The official duties of any Graduate Program Chair (whether a department chair, a graduate group chair, or a program chair delegated by a department chair) are equivalent in departmental or group-based programs, and these duties are outlined in Appendix A of the UC-wide APM 245, and in the UC Davis APM 245B Exhibit A.  

    Graduate Program Chairs advise program members and students on:
    -- Policies that govern graduate education
    -- Student records and student progress and advising
    -- Funding, tuition remission policies
    -- Options and processes for student educational leaves
    -- Student disqualification procedures
    -- Campus resources and student services
    -- Mentoring guidelines and best practices
    -- Course curriculum and degree requirements

    The Graduate Program Chair is responsible for overseeing the work of the Graduate Advisors.  Please see responsibilities of Graduate Program Advisors below.


    In department-based graduate programs, the department chair is also the graduate program chair. The dean of a college nominates the department chair to the Chancellor, who then appoints the chair of the department (APM 245A).  The department chair can delegate the day-to-day operations of the program to another individual, but cannot abdicate responsibility for the program. In group-based graduate programs, the Dean of Graduate Studies nominates the graduate group chair (based on procedures endorsed by the Graduate Council) to the Provost, who then appoints the chair (APM Section UCD-245B)

  • Graduate Advisor

  • Responsibilities

    The graduate advisor addresses academic matters affecting graduate students and their academic programs. The role of a graduate advisor is distinct from that of the major professor, in having official authority through Graduate Studies.  In all programs, a graduate advisor’s signature is the only signature (other than the chair’s) that Graduate Studies recognizes as an official signature.

    In general, a graduate advisor acts as a student’s first source of academic information and provides assistance with the details of each student’s plan of study in the graduate program.

    Graduate advisors:

    -- Review and approve the program of study for each graduate student who has not advanced to candidacy
    -- Review and take action on each petition submitted by a graduate student to drop/add courses, or to take courses on an S/U basis, as well as make recommendations on petitions from graduate students who want to drop or add courses beyond the fifth week of classes
    -- Review and approve student petitions for Planned Educational Leave (PELP) and then forward such petitions to Graduate Studies for approval
    -- Provide general course advising
    -- Advise on policy
    -- Provide referrals to campus resources
    -- Advise students and faculty on mentoring best practices
    -- Oversee release of academic holds, leaves, grade extensions, and change of degree objectives
    -- Review advancement to candidacy, thesis, dissertation, and QE committees
    -- Review interim and annual progress reports
    -- Advise on disqualification procedures and appeal processes
    -- Oversee petitions for exception 


    Each program has at least one graduate advisor officially appointed in accordance with the policies and procedures of Graduate Studies to a term of two years. It is recommended that each graduate program/group should have a sufficient number of graduate advisors to establish a student to advisor ratio of approximately 15:1 and not to exceed this number.  The Associate Dean for Programs will send out a call for nominations in June of each year to the chair of the department or graduate group soliciting nominations.  Nominations are then submitted using the online Graduate Advisor Appointment Nomination form and sent back to Graduate Studies for approval and appointment.   This is also the time to review your current advisors and make any changes necessary to current advisor appointment.  Given that only the chair and the graduate advisor’s signature is accepted by Graduate Studies, any requested change in graduate advisors during the academic year must be reported immediately to Graduate Studies and approved through the same process.

    Graduate Advisors' Workshop

    The graduate advisor addresses academic matters affecting graduate students and their academic programs. The role of a graduate advisor is distinct from that of the major professor, in having official authority through Graduate Studies.  In all programs, a graduate advisor’s signature is the only signature (other than the chair’s) that Graduate Studies recognizes as an official signature.

    Each year, Graduate Studies hosts a workshop for new graduate advisors. At this workshop, Graduate Studies leadership provides the new advisors with information about campus-level graduate education responsibilities, academic milestones, mentoring, student professional development, and more. 

  • Admissions Advisor

  • Responsibilities

    Only the graduate admissions advisor (in addition to the program chair) has delegated signature authority for admissions, readmission, or change of major petitions for graduate students. The graduate admissions advisor may also have responsibility and signature authority for awarding graduate program fellowship allocation funds. In many programs, the graduate admissions advisor is chair of an admissions committee charged with reviewing program applications.


    One graduate advisor in each program may be designated as the graduate admissions advisor. This person is nominated and appointed according to the same procedures noted above for graduate advisors. 

  • Major Professor

  • The major professor is the faculty mentor with whom the graduate student works most closely (often their primary investigator). The major professor guides the graduate student through the process of identifying a desired area of focus, pursuing a course of study that builds skills in that area, honing in on a research topic, completing the research, and preparing for a career after graduate school. All PhD students are required to identify a major professor in their third year, whether or not the student is ready to embark on a research topic at that time. It is important that each student have a faculty mentor who is guiding them through their graduate school journey. If a student has no major professor, then it is appropriate for the graduate advisor to serve as that student's major professor.

    The major professor is not formally appointed by Graduate Studies. However, when the student declares their thesis/dissertation committee (by submitting a form to Graduate Studies), the major professor usually serves as Chair of the Thesis/Dissertation Committee.

  • Program Member

  • Eligibility

    In any departmentally based program, all departmental faculty have automatic membership eligibility in the degree program. In a graduate group, individuals must apply to the group for membership. In both cases, an individual can only be a member if they hold a mentor-eligible title, and a member of a graduate program can be relieved of their membership under certain circumstances. Election of faculty to graduate program membership is also governed by the bylaws of the specific program.  See the Policy on Membership in Graduate Programs and each program's bylaws.

    Rights and Privileges

    Please see Policy on Quorum and Voting Rights & Responsibility (GC2011-04)


    Graduate program members are expected to contribute to the program in order to maintain their membership status. Acceptable membership contributions may include:
    -- Teaching graduate courses in the program (educators without salary may not participate in classroom instruction or be Instructor of Record, unless they hold a concurrent instructional title)
    -- Effective mentoring of graduate students (see Mentoring Guidelines)
    -- Serving as a major professor
    -- Serving on administrative committees of the program
    -- Serving as Graduate Program Chair
    -- Serving as a graduate advisor
    -- Serving on advanced degree committees.

  • Mentor 

  • Eligibility

    In the UC system, only faculty can mentor graduate students. At other campuses, this typically means the Academic Senate. However, UC Davis defines faculty (for the purpose of mentoring graduate students) more broadly than the Academic Senate. The categories of mentor eligibility are outlined in the Service on Advanced Degree Committees policy:
    -- Members of the Academic Senate of the University of California (including professors, lecturers, senior lecturers with security of employment, professors in residence, professors of clinical “__,” acting professor series);
    -- Professors emeritus/a, if not excluded from membership by the program's bylaws;
    -- Research professors;
    -- Visiting professors;
    -- Certain members of the Academic Federation (clinical professors in Health Sciences [not volunteer series], adjunct professors, supervisors of physical education, Unit 18 lecturers, academic administrators [not academic coordinators]);
    -- Specialists in the Cooperative Extension who also hold a concurrent appointment as educator without salary;
    -- Academic researchers in the professional research series (including associate research ___ [not research associate or project scientist]) who also hold a concurrent appointment as educator without salary.

    That is, by order of Graduate Council, meeting one of these requirements is necessary in order to serve as a Major Professor (i.e. Chair of a thesis or dissertation committee). As a practice, Graduate Studies also uses the same eligibility criteria for Faculty Advisors and Graduate Group Chairs.