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Tips on Selecting Your Dissertation Committee


Drea is a Cancer Biology PhD Candidate who wants to help others advance to candidacy

Choose Wisely

Selecting your graduate committee will be one of the most important steps in your graduate career. If you are unsure of who to pick, I will try to guide you in the process with some helpful tips.


1. Find The Requirements

Importantly, every university is different. One of the hardest parts about graduate school is that there is disconnect in the requirements. Your program should have a handbook written with relevant information, however. For example, the rule for my committee is one must comprise of my advisor, two must have appointments in my program and two can either be clinicians or from my minor. Find out how to form yours.

2. Make a Shortlist

There are likely a lot of options for your committee. I recommend going through a list of all possibilities and narrow the candidates down. Some criteria you can use to eliminate people are if they are--

  • in charge of a lot of programs
  • unrelated to your field
  • conflicting hypotheses
  • unfair in classes
  • already on 5+ committees

3. Ask Older Students

It is likely that students more advanced than you will have had the professors on your shortlist on their committees. Ask their advice on if you should include them. Some questions to ask are whether they care about the student's project, if they were helpful during the time of qualifying exams, if they have time to be on a committee and finally if they are planning to leave the university. It is also helpful to directly ask the graduate students of those professors left. Sometimes they'll have insight others won't.

4. Ask The Professors If They Are Willing to Meet

One way to know if a professor will be a good candidate for your committee is to meet with them. You can ask them to talk about your research or their research. Regardless, it will build a relationship outside of the classroom and show the professors you are committed to your research. If it goes well enough, you can ask if they're willing to be on dissertation committees. You do not have to commit but knowing if they are available should be a goal.

5. Pick People Who Like You

Finally, pick professors who *want* you to do well. Your committee will be a valuable network of scientists to maintain relationships with outside of graduate school. If you have had your professors in class before, pick ones you thought had a good personality that would get along with yours.

Also, it is important to remember that not all professors work together. Some have actively chosen not to collaborate. If there is even a hint of bad blood between people, do not put them on a small committee together.