Starting the Dissertation Process
When you were admitted to the doctoral program you were assigned an advisor on the basis of the department’s limited knowledge of you and your interests and faculty advisee loads. Your advisor’s job was to help you make productive decisions with regard to course work, time in residence, timing and method of passing the comprehensive exam, and to help solve any difficulties you might encounter along the way.
Once you pass the Comprehensive exam, however, responsibility for your program moves from an advisor to a dissertation committee consisting of at least three people. You have the responsibility for choosing your dissertation chair and committee members based on a complex set of factors including faculty expertise, shared interests, and personal compatibility. The committee chair assumes the responsibilities previously held by the student’s advisor during the general phase of the program. You are required to choose at least two committee members from within the Department and you are encouraged to consider members with relevant expertise from outside the department.
The committee’s function is to guide you in the development of your dissertation research to ensure that it is the best contribution to the field that you can make, and that you are prepared, subsequently, to do productive independent research. Their responsibility includes, ultimately, judging whether your dissertation warrants the conferral of the doctoral degree. The responsibility of the dissertation chair is to oversee the planning, conduct and writing of your doctoral dissertation. This includes providing timely feedback on drafts, providing discussion of relevant theoretical and practical issues, offering direction in reading and in writing, and chairing committee meetings.
The procedure for establishing a committee is to provide potential members with a 3-page statement of the expected focus of the dissertation work prior to meeting individually with the faculty member. Once you have secured agreement from committee members, you will arrange an initial meeting with them to develop your plan for developing your dissertation proposal.
In the process of working on your proposal and dissertation, it is possible for shifts in interests to take place so that the committee structure is less appropriate than when you first constituted the committee. Changing the composition or structure of the committee (dropping or adding members or changing chairs) to reflect such changes or changes in committee contributions is appropriate but requires department approval. You should not do it for frivolous reasons. It is not advisable simply to add more committee members to accommodate changes in emphasis.