Managing a Dissertation Committee

As I (hopefully) approach my dissertation proposal defense, I find that managing my dissertation committee is quite challenging, especially in the summer. Faculty tend to scatter at the end of spring term, so scheduling one-on-one appointments and, even worse, the entire committee at one time for a proposal defense is difficult.

Has anyone attempted to or are currently managing a dissertation committee? What challenges and opportunities have you encountered? Comments, questions and angry outbursts are welcome.

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5 Responses

  1. Certianly! This is single important factor that consume lots of time other than our own procrastination.

  2. Here’s one idea I’ve heard about dissertation committees.

    One way to think of a dissertation committee is like a team. The best performing teams are often where people have well-defined roles–everyone on the team knows why they are on the team and what is expected of them.

    When forming a committee, have a clear idea of why each person is invited to be on the committee–what specific expertise they provide or institutional role they fill. You, your chair(s), and each committee member should have the same idea. Otherwise, you’ve planted the seed for a potential problem.

  3. Man, I hear ya. I’m planning to defend my proposal in the fall (this time because I’m gone for the summer), and two of my committee members will be less-than-available. One is at another university, and the other is going on sabbatical. We’re planning to set dates waaay in advance. We may even set a number of possible defense dates when we meet about my proposal. That way we’ll have protected time that we can use, and we can cancel the ones that we don’t need as I get closer to done. My committee likes “found time” and doesn’t mind canceling meetings. I also have to be opportunistic about meetings. For instance, if my out-of-town member tells me he’s coming next week, then I make sure at least my advisor and I are available. That works if your advisor is willing and at least not on vacation.

    Are you allowed to use video conferencing or audio conferencing during your milestone meetings (e.g. defense)? I know some institutions have limits on how many committee members can be out of the room, but sometimes video or audio is the only realistic option. I’ve used SubEthaEdit and Live Meeting as ways to share documents while on conference calls; neither is ideal, but they work in a pinch.

  4. Libby, that sounds tough. A mentor once told me that the number one factor to consider in seeking out committee members is how responsive that person is (which implies availability). Best of luck in your endeavors.

    I don’t know if we can use video/audio conferencing during milestone meetings. My advisor is pretty flexible on most things, so I imagine he would be open to the idea. Actually, I wonder if I could present my defense from a webcam in my home…

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