Choosing dissertation committee members

When choosing dissertation committee members, only select the minimum number required. Coordinating more than the necessary number of dissertation committee members can become a logistical nightmare when meetings have to be scheduled, papers have to be signed, and opinions have to be taken into account.

Try not to include anyone who is swamped with other committees. You will have a hard time getting their attention.

It is very important to work with your chair when choosing dissertation committee members. Do not get anyone who may have different theoretical opinions from those of your chair! Do not get another expert on the topic as a committee member. Your chair must be the only expert. If not, conflicts can come up between them on exactly how to do your research.

Talk with other graduate students in the department to get an idea of how different faculty members work. If there is a particular professor you want to be your chair, make sure you hear all the horror stories about what happened to those other poor graduate students before you who tried to work with her!

Learn specific techniques about how to develop the best working relationship with your proposed chair. I learned quickly when working with my chair that I had to make sure I was on his schedule for at least 90 minutes. He liked to gossip and it cut into our time substantially. I was also very careful to watch him put me on his schedule. As the ultimate “absent-minded professor,” I was assured of the exact appointment only when I knew he had literally “penciled me in!”

After a certain length of time in a program, you should have a feel for the politics of the department and who to trust and who not to trust when choosing dissertation committee members.