Committee members…how to work with them

Many of my clients get mixed messages from their committee members. Committee Member 1 tells the student she is more than ready to defend. Committee Member 2 tells her there is no unifying theme in the dissertation, that she is going off in too many directions, that she needs to look at the underlying theoretical boundaries of the topic, yada, yada, yada…Such divergent viewpoints can be a continual thorn in a student’s side as she tries to write to please several people.

However, a student should not be in this position.

It is important to remember that a dissertation should be a collaboration between you and your chair. Determine how your chair wants you to work on the dissertation. In many instances, the chair is your advisor (and essentially, second author) and the committee members are just a group of readers. The system is set up this way so you do not have too many cooks “spoiling the soup.”

Most programs are designed for the chair and you to do most of the work together. Only at designated times are the other committee members involved. Be very aware of protocol when working with your chair. Most of the time it is important you never go to the other committee members without expressed approval from your chair. Your work reflects on her and she must agree on what you have done before you let others see it.

The chair should see all drafts and discuss with you the scope of the dissertation. Between the two of you, a product is created. In this way, the chair has almost as much of a stake in the outcome as you do. The other committee members should not have a voice in the creation of this product.

The prospectus defense is the time for you to defend your plan. The chair should be there to defend you and the proposal you worked on together. There may be some slight changes to the plan before adjourning, but because you and your chair have decided on the focus, scope, range, research questions, etc., the other committee members should not try to change it AND the chair should not allow major changes to work she approved.

It is important to work with your chair toward a successful defense of your proposal or dissertation. If you do not feel your chair is in support of your work, you should stop, back up, and determine why. Never go into your defense meeting without the FULL support of your chair.