What is a Dissertation Committee Supposed to Do, Anyhow?
March 20, 2015
Your dissertation committee is a team of professors who are meant to provide expertise, guidance, mentorship, and dissertation help. In most cases, your dissertation committee members will be faculty whose research is similar to your own, in topic or in approach. They may be experts on the specific topic area that you are writing your dissertation about. Alternatively, they may be experts in a particular research methodology that you are using.
Why a Committee?
By having multiple faculty members to serve as sources of dissertation help, your dissertation will be richer. You’ll be able to get perspectives and dissertation help from a range of different scholars. Working with a committee is also a precautionary measure: if, for some reason, your relationship with your advisor goes awry, your committee can serve as supporters who have your back, and can step up if need be.
Who Chooses Your Dissertation Committee Members?
At some institutions, you’ll have the opportunity to choose your committee members. You’ll be able to ask faculty members to join your dissertation committee. At other institutions, you may be assigned dissertation committee members. Be sure to find out early on in your graduate school career whether or not it is your responsibility to assembly your committee.
How Do You Find Dissertation Committee Members?
Dr. Kara Tuther has some great tips. She suggests asking your dissertation advisor for suggestions, as it’s always a good idea to try to assemble a committee who will get along well with your advisor. She also suggests asking other students in your program about their dissertation committees. Students often have a good inside perspective on what it’s like to work with particular faculty members, and can provide helpful recommendations. To add to this advice, I suggest taking classes with as many different professors as possible while you are in coursework. This will give you a sense of what their teaching, mentorship, and dissertation advising styles are like. If you can, try taking an independent study course with professors who appeal to you – this will give you the chance to try working with them one-on-one, before committing to having them on your committee.
What Should Your Dissertation Committee Do?
The degree of involvement your committee will have in your dissertation depends on the culture of your department. Sometimes committee members may provide in-depth dissertation editing; other times, they may only be interested in reading and commenting on final drafts. As you begin the dissertation-writing process, make sure to sit down with your committee members and talk about how involved they will be. Setting these expectations at the outset can help you avoid misunderstandings down the road.
What if Your Dissertation Committee Doesn’t Get Along?
Sometimes dissertation committees can get a little unruly and chaotic: faculty members often have strong opinions or biases that can conflict, and the professional relationships among your dissertation committee members can often be difficult for you to navigate. Remember this: if your dissertation committee members have conflicts among each other that manifests in the way they treat you, try hard not to take it personally. It can be tough, but remember that if your dissertation committee members are in conflict with one another, it’s not a reflection on the quality of your work.
Sometimes dissertation committee members may disagree about the direction of your project. In those circumstances, as Katy Meyers and Karen Kelsky write, your dissertation chair or dissertation advisor gets to make the final call, and you can ask them to offer an opinion or mediate.
Dissertation Editor‘s consultants and editors can help you with your relationship with your dissertation committee. As you begin formulating your proposal, a dissertation consultant can help you formulate the right kinds of approaches to take when you share your work with your committee. A dissertation editor can step in and provide the feedback you need to turn in a perfect dissertation draft to your committee. If your dissertation committee isn’t working for you, our dissertation services can fill the void: we provide the advice and dissertation help you need to get through grad school. We’re here to help you if your dissertation committee can’t!