Choosing your dissertation or thesis committee is perhaps one of the most difficult but important decisions you will have to make as a graduate student. These individuals will be working with you throughout the process, and are the ones who will essentially decide whether you earn the doctoral degree or not. Your dissertation chair will especially have a major role with your project, so it’s important to choose someone with whom you can work. Different schools and/or programs might have different guidelines for choosing your chair and committee, so it’s wise to make sure you’re familiar with the rules and regulations about the committee before narrowing down your faculty choices.

You want to think about a variety of things before choosing your committee members, and they’re not decisions to take lightly. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Will they be accessible?

Are they planning on going on sabbatical? Are they too busy with their own work to help you with yours, if they’re nationally-known research powerhouses? Are they on campus or available by email year-round, or do they only have 9-month contracts? Are they tenured? Do they have clinical practices outside of teaching that demand their attention? These are all things to think about and ask of your potential chair or committee members.

Do they have expertise in your area of study?

Sure, your picks for your committee might be the most popular professors or the most well known in your general field, but are they experts in your topic? Have you read their research and papers? Do your research. Read their work. Committee members and chairs who are interested in your topic and have expertise in the topic can help guide you and provide ample feedback about your work.

What is their responsiveness like?

Talk with other students or alumni about the responsiveness of your potential chair. Are they hard to reach? Do they let weeks or months go by without responding to emails or phone calls? Do they provide thoughtful feedback, or are they vague and noncommittal? A chair that takes an inordinate amount of time to get back to you (more than 2 weeks) might end up costing you time – and money.

How do your personality styles mesh?

While you don’t need to be super-friendly with your chair or committee members, you do want a chair with whom you can easily work. If you chafe at blunt criticism, choose a chair with more of a hand-holding style. If you work well independently and have a self-starting kind of work style, you might do better with a more hands-off chair. You know yourself and how you work; choosing a chair that works in a similar way and complements your personality and behavior can make things run more smoothly.

How do the committee members work with each other?

Each committee member can request revisions – and when two committee members are at odds with each other about a chapter, this can get sticky and stressful very quickly. You want to minimize unnecessary conflicts from the start, so it’s worth considering the overall makeup of your committee and the people on it.

Putting together a committee can be stressful, but editing and data analysis doesn’t have to be. We have a variety of services that can help reduce stress throughout your dissertation process. If you find you're not getting the support you need from your committee or adviser, a dissertation coach or editor can help guide you through challenges that arise to help you reach your goal. Contact us today to learn more.

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