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How to Choose a PhD Dissertation Committee

Updated on January 27, 2011

When I was putting together my dissertation committee last year, I had a little chat with my department secretary. While she was shuffling paper, I gently broached the subject of how I should choose a committee and an advisor, and what I should do to make sure I made good choices. She was very helpful, but one piece of advice really stuck with me. "You run the show!," she told me and encouraged me to pick, organize, and -- if necessary -- re-organize my committee to suit my needs.

There are two biggies you should keep in mind when considering how to put together your committee. First, you want to choose committee members based on their expertise in a relevant subject. This one is pretty obvious but I think it's important. Don't pick someone who doesn't know your subject well because a) they won't be able to offer you much help or make relevant recommendations and b) the recommendations they do make might be odd or only vaguely related.

At the end of the day, you're better off approaching a professor who is a good fit for your subject, even if you don't know him/her quite as well. Sharing a common background and theoretical perspective will make things much smoother down the road.

Second, you want to choose committee members based on their working style and whether or not it's compatible to yours. This is not always something that's evident until you actually start working with them. It's nice if you've taken a course with the professor in question so that you have some idea of what their expectations are, if they're easy-going or demanding, responsive or difficult to get a hold of, encouraging or overly critical.

You might find that once you start working your committee isn't working out as well as you'd hoped. This is an issue I ran into with one of my committee members. I ended up replacing this professor, but made sure to ask around the office about the etiquette for doing this. Some departments are fine with it (remember, "you run the show!") but in others it may be a political nightmare.

Happy dissertating!


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    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Great Hub and will be very useful to many students out there.

    • munirahmadmughal profile image

      munirahmadmughal 6 years ago from Lahore, Pakistan.

      "How to choose a PhD Dissertation Committee?"

      The hub is informative and based on personal experience and also on the experience of a member.

      The remark: "You run the show" is really remarkable and contains in it the whole answer to the question:"How to choose a Ph.D. dissertation committee?"

      Where such an option is given to the students it is a great favour and keeps the atmosphere pleasantly passing throughout subject of course to the compatability of both the members and the students. The Hubber has very gracefully pointed out the delicacy of replacement of a professor as it is to depend on the in-house policy of a university to pass an order on such a request after selection, which may or may not be the same as desired by the student. In other words, it is perilous and requires due diligence and much thinking before making and taking up such a request.

      Universities have expectations from the students that they would do the research of the standard required by the university. And to have such expectation is both the right of the university and obligation of the student. How he or she discharges it is the obligation of the student within the regulatory framework of the university.

      The exercise is to be taken and completed by the student.

      He is to stand on his own legs.

      He is to answer all questions.

      He is to take care of the time schedule.

      He is to extract guidance himself.

      He is to manage the whole show in a graceful yet competitive atmosphere.

      The selection of the topic, the selection of the guide, the selection of the manner, the selection of all sorts of cooperation, the selection of the style, the selection of the submission are all to be made by the student fully conscious of the perils of any lacking on his part.

      He is to remain research oriented.

      He is to supplement his thesis with authorities but not to commit plagiarism nor misunderstand, over or under estimate his right to copying with full references without injuring any copy right of another writer.

      The honour that follows is both on account the goodwill of the university and also of the degree of perfection and excellence shown by the student in his work.

      The hub is 'Up" by all standards.

      May God bless all.