Many graduate programs require students to have a dissertation committee member who is from outside of the student’s home department or field of study.  This person is often referred to as an “outside committee member” or “outside reader.” Sometimes, this person may be involved throughout the entire dissertation-writing process.  Other times, they may be brought in towards the end of the process to read your dissertation after it is completed. For some students, having an outside committee member can be a daunting prospect: what if that person doesn’t understand your methods or goals? And how do you go about finding the right person in the first place?  Finding and working with your outside committee member doesn’t have to be a source of stress. In fact, your outside committee member can provide a lot of dissertation help.

How Your Outside Committee Member or Reader Can Help Your Dissertation

When you work with someone from outside of your home field, they can introduce you to new ideas that will help your work become more innovative and interesting. Being able to do interdisciplinary research – research that engages with more than one academic field – may provide you an advantage on the academic job market.  At the very least, it means that your dissertation will have greater impact on the scholarly community as a whole, not just in your own field. Your outside committee member can help you learn new research strategies that will help you become an interdisciplinary scholar.

Networking, Networking, Networking

From getting a book published to landing a job, having solid connections to other scholars can help you achieve academic milestones. Your outside committee member can introduce you to scholars beyond your field, helping you extend your academic network.

How to Find the Perfect Outside Committee Member or Outside Reader

In some departments, graduate students get to choose their outside committee member or outside reader, while in others, the role may be assigned by your dissertation advisor.  If you are able to choose your own outside person, the best way to ensure that your relationship with your outside committee member will work for you is to find someone who you can work well with.  But graduate departments are often isolated from one another, and it can be difficult to get to know faculty from other parts of your university.  But there are ways to make those connections!

  • While you’re in coursework, take classes in other departments.  Some programs will require you to take courses outside of your field.  This is not only a great way to get to meet faculty, but is also a chance to see how they work with graduate students.
  • Meet graduate students from other departments. If your campus has a Graduate Students’ Association or similar organization,  try going to their events so that you can meet students in other departments.  They may be able to offer suggestions or introduce you to their faculty members.  If you a fellow grad student whose research interests you, find out who their advisor is – that person could be a great outside reader for you.
  • Attend research symposiums, talks, and events hosted by other departments.  This is another great way to meet faculty from outside your department, and to find out about their research. If you like someone’s work, don’t be shy about introducing yourself, or following up with an email.
  • Ask your advisor. They’ll know faculty whose research may have connections to your dissertation, and may be able to arrange introductions can arrange introductions.

Developing a Good Relationship with your Outside Committee Member

Faculty members can be busy, and sometimes seem inaccessible.  Furthermore, many see their first responsibility as being to students in their home departments, even if they agree to serve on your dissertation committee.  Talk to your Outside Committee Member or Outside Reader about how involved they’re willing to be in your dissertation. Are they willing to read drafts? Are they willing to meet with you a couple of times a semester to talk about your progress or to help you work through your ideas? How far in advance of a defense or exam date do they need to receive your work? As with committee members from inside of your department, it’s best to work these issues out in advance to avoid misunderstanding down the line

If you’re worried that your outside person might not approve of your dissertation research methods, remember that, at the end of the day, your dissertation advisor or committee chair will have the final say.

If you need more guidance than your dissertation advisor, dissertation committee, and outside reader or outside committee member can provide, a dissertation consultant from Dissertation Editor can provide the help and dissertation services that you need.  In addition, our dissertation editors can help you polish your dissertation and help you complete your dissertation formatting, so that you have a flawless document to show your outside reader or committee member.