Any tips on selecting a dissertation committee?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by _T_, Nov 26, 2010.

  1. _T_

    _T_ New Member

    So, it’s almost that time and I’m hoping to learn from the past experiences of others. Besides the obvious questions of success rate of past students, communication styles, etc. what questions should be asked? What do I need to look for? What are the big red flags to watch out for? Also, I’m encouraged to have a committee member from another school on the board. How does one usually go about this aside from asking a professor from there graduate studies? Has anyone ever reached out to a complete stranger?

    Thanks, in advance, for any help you can provide.
  2. Randell1234

    Randell1234 Moderator Staff Member

    I started out with an email to about 10 potential committee members explaining a little about me and how their background and experience looks like it would be a good fit for my research. Then I explained my idea for research in about a paragraph.

    The most important thing I cared about was response time. The person I selected as my chair had responded within about 3 hours! The other people responded quickly and said no and I selected the quickest responders that said yes. I figured if they were responsive to email inquiries, they would be responsive to provide feedback. I had a few people respond 2 weeks later saying, “I would love to be on your committee” – yeah right. Anyway, this worked for me since remote students need responsive instructors to move through this process. Hope that helps and makes sense.
  3. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator Staff Member

    Based on comments I've read from others I'd suggest you consider these factors:

    Someone who knows your areas of interest
    Someone who will stick around for the 3-6 years you'll need them
    Someone with a track record of pushing people (successfully) through the process
    Someone who might occasionally answer a question or offer advise
  4. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

  5. BlackBird

    BlackBird Member

    Ego positions

    Make sure that if you are doing a dissertation tied into cultural ideological issues that you get a committee member that won't be coming from an opposite ideological position. They can give you hell and extend your process needlessly.

    Sometimes they can use their power to bully you and make you pay for what you wrote. :smashfreakB: :swordfight: :firedevil:

    It is a sad thing but it happens. That's where egos come in. :sad:
  6. obecve

    obecve New Member

    1) a record of actually getting people finished
    2) A chair who's expressed research interests match yours
  7. John Bear

    John Bear Senior Member

    My first try (a mistake, in retrospect). Decided I wanted people who were really interested in my topic. I sent a 2-page outline to more than 100 faculty, and got a terrific response, including totally unexpected folk: the campus police chief, a retired professor of Scandinavian literature who had a passion for my topic; Erich Fromm. Looked great on paper. One terrific meeting. And then into 'herding cats' mode. When my chair died suddenly (in his mid 40s), no one else in the department was interested in taking on this ragtag crew. That's when I left for several years.

    My second try: realizing that Randell's approach is the most practical, I did the 'usual' for my department: four department faculty and one friendly outsider in a related field, and things went swimmingly thereafter.
  8. Randell1234

    Randell1234 Moderator Staff Member

    This is an excellent point. One of my reseach questions compared male and female. My chair warned me that one time there was a female committee member that took "offense" to anything that compared male and female and would rip anything up without reading it.
  9. BlackBird

    BlackBird Member

    Not too far from that happened to me on my journey. I know the pain. :sad:
  10. Dave Wagner

    Dave Wagner Active Member

    I recommend that you become familiar with the DSM-IV-TR diagnostic definition for Narcissistic Personality Disorder...
  11. TMW2009

    TMW2009 New Member

    They're getting rid of NPD in the DSM-V... Its now filed under Antisocial/Psychopathic. You'll have to start using the new, more clinically correct label when that's finalized... :p :sombrero::werd:
  12. Dave Wagner

    Dave Wagner Active Member

    Yes, but, of course... All of my observations based on the "then current" diagnostic standard, unless otherwise noted... :)
  13. edowave

    edowave Active Member

    Do a Google Scholar or EDI dissertation search of the person you are most interested in being your chair. See the types of dissertations they chair, and who their grad students were. Sometimes you will find a faculty member's full CV online that has all this detail.

    If you can't find any that the faculty member chaired, proceed with extreme caution. You will be their guinea pig. You also don't want someone who is going to retire in the next 7 years.

    Before you contact the potential committee member, contact the student who wrote the dissertation you found and ask what they were "really" like to work with. If this person gives a good review, it then makes it easier to contact the chair if they are a complete stranger. "I heard from X you worked with him on Y. I'm interested in that area also."

    Once you find the chair, ask that person for recommendations on who else should be on your committee. You would not believe how much personality conflicts (and as others said, ego) go into play with you finishing or not. A committee chair is not going to recommend someone they don't get along with. Also, before you do officially add a committee, run it by the chair first.
  14. screech

    screech New Member

    I think communication is key. Like Randell1234 was saying, response time was an important factor for him. But in addition to response time, do whatever you can to evaluate the communication style of your committee members. In addition to being prompt getting back to you, are they respectful, helpful, knowledgeable, professional? So many doctoral students find themselves in a dissertation time warp because of poor communication. They submit their proposal and it comes back weeks or months later full of ambiguous comments in the margins. They are lucky if they can get a phone call with the committee member. They resort to sending emails for clarification, wait for a response, ambiguous answers to their questions, on and on.
  15. warguns

    warguns Member

    Choose young , healthy members. It's not uncommon for a committee member to die during the dissertation preparation.
  16. Dave Wagner

    Dave Wagner Active Member

    Again, I suggest that you use the DSM-IV-TR criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder to understand with whom you will be working...

    Also, watch out for the process that is used; some schools allow a whole host of non-specialists outside your committee to comment on your research and require changes. The problem is that this technique slows you down and turns your research into generalized, useless crap, because they are by definition non-specialists in your topic. It's mostly false rigor because non-specialists can only be useful to a point. Imagine if the non-specialists are also narcissists who don't know they are wrong and have an intrinsic emotional need to be right all the time. This issue alone stops a lot of people: uncooperative narcissists and dummies.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2010
  17. screech

    screech New Member

    I agree about the issue regarding the committee member's qualifications. I see so many reviews where I say to myself: Does this reviewer really lack this much knowledge, or is this a trick question designed to see how the doctoral student responds?

    In my opinion, the doctoral student should assume the role of the boss, the chair and committee members are your employees. Think of them as advisers, who may, or may not give good advice. You need to be prepared to call them out on points they raise. Be prepared to defend your position on issues.

    Some of my clients approached the dissertation from a coursework mindset, where the instructor is the boss because, they grade your work. When it comes to reviewing your dissertation though, in many cases, the reviewers don't appear to be qualified to review your dissertation. If you assume they are qualified, you will bend to every criticism they make, and like Dave said, you will someday find yourself looking at an incoherent, unrecognizable dissertation.
  18. warguns

    warguns Member

    At my graduate school there is also an outside reader from another university on the committee.. If you have any say in the matter, choose this really carefully. Outside readers are much less likely to go along for the the ride. Take it from someone who knows.
  19. truckie270

    truckie270 New Member

    I agree 100% on this one. My dissertation is specific to my field (emergency services) and my degree is general in nature (DPA). I knew within the first two questions on my proposal defense that my topic was over my committee's heads because of the questions they asked. They provided great input on methodology, but I had to walk them through content because of their unfamiliarity with the topic. They wanted me to add some explanatory material (operational definitions) to the final product which I did gladly, but that is where I stopped making changes.
  20. distancedoc2007

    distancedoc2007 New Member

    Work backwards from an existing thesis from your school. Find one that has qualities you admire and that you could see yourself writing (on your own topic of course) and figure out who supervised it. Often the author of that thesis can be a good supervisor (and is hungry for that kind of role now) along with the person who supervised the original. This way you can make a targetted approach. This advice probably is most relevant to resarch only doctorates, FWIW. Good luck!

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