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This expert advice comes from Sonja Foss and William Waters - authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation


  • Consult your program handbook to understand the official structure of the dissertation committee and the eligibility of committee members
  • Talk with other students in your department who are further along in the dissertation process about their experiences. Seek out those outside your immediate field who share similar theoretical frameworks or interdisciplinary interests. They may have suggestions regarding faculty you may not have worked with directly or who are outside your department.
  • Seek advice from your advisor. Discuss who you have in mind, and why, and ask for feedback and suggestions. Ideally, you've developed an effective, professional relationship over the course of selecting your topic and writing your dissertation proposal, and she is able to bring that to bear when suggesting committee members.
  • Ask the faculty member to be on your dissertation committee.
  • Make an appointment
  • Email a copy of your one-page dissertation pre-proposal to the faculty member before the meeting. Bring an extra copy to the meeting itself.
  • Be prepared to explain why you'd like the faculty member to be a part of your committee. Does the faculty member provide:
  • Insight into the theoretical framework of your dissertation?
  • Experience working with a particular type of data?
  • Interdisciplinary perspective on your topic?

Working with Your Dissertation Committee Members

  • Understand that while non-advisor faculty members on your dissertation committee may be interested in your topic, they will defer essential questions regarding your dissertation to your advisor.
  • Follow their lead in terms of how much time they'd like to spend discussing your dissertation. Most likely, the initial discussions will be extensive, and then only a notice and review when you're preparing to submit and defend. However, an individual committee member may have a stronger interest in your project, and then you may meet as needed, discussing certain chapters or ideas.
  • Have your chapters and dissertation approved by your advisor before you submit them for review to any other committee members.

Related resources:
"Straight Talk about Assembling a Dissertation Committee," by Mary Renck Jalongo, Ph.D.,
"Working with Your Committee: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Sources of Conflict," by Mary Renck Jalongo, Ph.D.


About the Authors: Co-authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation, Dr. Foss is a professor of Communications at University of Colorado, Denver, and Dr. Waters is an assistant professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown, They are co-directors of Scholar’s Retreat, a program to support progress towards completion of your dissertation, thesis or writing project.