4 Essential Factors in Choosing your Dissertation Committee

One of the most important decisions you will make as a graduate student is choosing your dissertation committee. There are many factors that you should take into consideration when requesting faculty members to sit on your dissertation committee.

Can you work well with them?

This is one of the two most important questions to ask yourself before inviting somebody to sit on your committee.  While you do, of course, want people on your committee who can challenge you intellectually, you don’t want hand grenade throwers.  You want a committee member who will be honest, challenging, and respectful.  You also want people who obey the cardinal rule of reviewing somebody else’s work: comments are to be about the writing, not the writer. If you have to choose between somebody who knows your subject incredibly well and who has a reputation for hostility or being a prima donna and a faculty member who isn’t a subject matter expert but likes you, choose the latter.  Here’s a quick checklist of positive attributes to look for:

  • They like people.
  • They’re prompt.
  • They’re generally friendly.
  • They can see the other side of the coin.
  • They’re consistent.

Can your committee members work well with each other?

This is the other most important question. Be very careful here. Professors, like everybody else, have agendas. There’s nothing wrong with this fact. Political, ideological, and intellectual agendas can make people interesting. However, while both the Frankfurt School Marxist and your institution’s local free-market guru are probably fun to have coffee with, would you want them working together evaluating your dissertation? Remember that each committee member can ask for revisions. Do you want to invite radically opposed kinds of comments? Yes, the chair of your committee can go to bat for you or try to over-rule somebody, but everybody has to sign off on your work. How do they feel about your using a dissertation editor or dissertation editing service of some sort? Do they want you to, insist you do, or forbid you from doing so? Don’t set yourself up for needless conflicts.

Is your advisor a full professor?

This may seem petty to talk about. But academic departments are often very political. Generally, departments do not allow untenured assistant professors to serve as advisors. Departments do, however, allow associate professors to advise. Often, one will be intellectually attracted to younger, energetic faculty members. However, while these associate professors are tenured, they do have to worry about making full professor. Thus, if your advisor is an associate professor and other members of your committee are full professors, your advisor may not feel comfortable challenging people who are going to vote on whether or not to promote him or her. Full professors, at least theoretically, sit at the top of the food chain and will speak their minds and defend their students.

Is the potential committee member enthusiastic about your dissertation idea?

You don’t need somebody who thinks your idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but you do need someone who  thinks that your subject matter is intellectually worthwhile.

These are some of the most important things to look for when choosing your committee. If you follow this advice, you’ll have smooth sailing. If you’re having trouble, don’t hesitate to hire a good dissertation editing service to help you out.