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Selecting Your Dissertation Committee

Choosing your dissertation committee may be one of the most difficult (but crucial) decisions you have to make as a grad student. These people will be working with you throughout the dissertation writing process and are the ones who will essentially decide whether you earn a doctorate or not. Your dissertation chair will play a major role with your project, so it’s important to choose someone with whom you can work. Different schools and/or programs might have different guidelines for choosing your chair and committee (some even assign a chair to you – which can be both a blessing or a curse), so it’s wise to make sure you’re familiar with the rules and regulations about the committee before narrowing down your faculty choices.

There are several things to consider before choosing your committee members:

Will they be accessible?

Are they planning on going on sabbatical? Are they too busy with their own work to help you with yours (especially if they’re nationally-known research powerhouses)? Are they on campus or available by email year-round? Are they tenured? Do they have other professional roles/duties that demand their attention? These are all things to think about and to ask your potential chair or committee members.

Do they have expertise in your area of study?

They may be the most popular professors or the most well known in your general field, but are they experts in your topic? Do your research. Read their work. Committee members who are interested in your topic and have expertise in the topic can help guide you and provide better-quality feedback.

How responsive are they?

Talk with other professors, students, or alumni about the responsiveness of your potential chair and/or other committee members. Are they hard to reach? Do they let weeks or months go by without responding to emails or phone calls? Do they provide thoughtful feedback? A committee member who takes a long time to get back to you might end up costing you more than just time and money.

How do your personality styles mesh?

You don’t need to be super-friendly with your chair or committee members, but you do want a chair with whom you can easily work. If you have issues taking blunt criticism, choose a chair with a softer correction style. If you work well independently have strong self-regulation skills, you might do better with a more hands-off chair. You know yourself and how you work; choosing a chair that works in a similar way and complements your personality and behavior will make things run more smoothly.

How do the committee members know/work with each other?

Each committee member can request revisions – and when two committee members are at odds with each other about a section or chapter, things can get stressful very quickly. You want to minimize unnecessary conflicts from the start, so it’s worth considering the overall makeup of your committee and the people on it.


Putting together a committee can be stressful, but we have a variety of services that can help reduce stress throughout your dissertation process. If you find you’re not getting the support you need from your committee or adviser, a dissertation coach or editor can help guide you through the process of finishing your dissertation and earning your degree. Contact us today to learn more.

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