How to Select Your Thesis or Dissertation Committee

How to Select Your Thesis Committee

Completing a thesis or a dissertation necessitates dedication, perseverance, and motivation. Effective guidance is a beneficial tool in completing a successful, scholarly product. As a graduate student, you are responsible for selecting your thesis committee and for asking each member to be a member of the committee. Your committee will affect your experience as a student as well as the thesis you produce, so it is important to be thoughtful and strategic as you choose members. 

When selecting your thesis or dissertation committee, consider factors such as relationship, communication, feedback style, and the expertise of the committee member you are considering. Time is an additional concern because most faculty members have many other responsibilities and have limited time to devote to guiding students through the process of writing a thesis or dissertation. As faculty members contemplate your request to become a committee member, their other obligations, subject matter knowledge, and relationship with you may be factors that influence whether they accept this role. Overall, it is important to find committee members who are accessible, offer effective criticism, and support you as you engage in all parts of the process, from the development of your research idea to the analysis of your findings, so that you can complete a polished, scholarly product.


It is useful to choose supportive, helpful, and nurturing individuals if you seek kind and gentle encouragement from potential committee members, but it is also helpful to find individuals who offer blunt, but clear, constructive criticism. Think about professors whose courses satiated a deeper understanding of the topics studied in class. Consider professors who inspired you to delve deeper into your research passions and with whom you had conversations that provoked further pursuit of the topic. In essence, choose members with whom you have built a strong connection during your coursework.


Receiving feedback that you can use to effectively revise your thesis or dissertation is paramount to completing the work. Therefore, it’s important to choose committee members who offer useful feedback. Useful feedback includes specific comments about necessary changes, literature to consider, and details about how to change a particular section; however, feedback may also offer ideas about major changes without describing the various paragraphs that need modification. Consider the type of feedback that is most helpful to you as you work on revisions.  Do you prefer specific details of how to change each section or bigger picture ideas? In either case, you will want to consider hiring an editor to check the syntax, verb tense, word choice, punctuation, clarity, and flow of the document prior to final submission. Copy editing and proofreading are not the responsibilities of your committee members.


Committee members’ expertise and experience in a specific research area (qualitative or quantitative) should also be a primary factor in selecting your committee. An individual with expertise in your field of study can guide you towards specific literature to develop your argument. If you choose a member without content knowledge in your field, you may gain guidance in developing the general areas, but this member may lack the content knowledge to offer direction towards specific developments in the field.


In addition to the aforementioned components of selecting your committee, it’s important to understand the time commitment each member should have in order to be on your committee. Your chairperson or co-chairs should offer the most support throughout the process, so be sure that your chair has the space in their schedule to respond in a timely manner to reviewing your drafts; two weeks is a general guideline for receiving feedback on your drafts. Select a committee member who has enough time to offer constructive criticism and direction when the process becomes overwhelming or you require clarity to proceed.

Each graduate program has its own guidelines for thesis committees. You need to review your department's handbook for this information. For example, the handbook generally states how many committee members are required and the responsibilities of the committee chair. When you're ready to form your committee, reach out to your list of potential committee members via email. Be sure to write your email professionally and respectfully, explain your project in a few sentences, and provide a few reasons why the committee member would be a good fit. 


Overall, your committee will guide you through the process, so that you can achieve the final steps in attaining a graduate degree. It’s critical to select a committee that will offer guidance, constructive feedback, knowledge, and expertise of your subject as a whole group. The members should be accessible and have time to support your endeavor. The committee, which may be comprised of two to five members, should be a good fit for your research goals and support you as you cross the finish line towards obtaining your graduate degree.


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