Part 1 of How to Pick Your Defense Committee

Part 1 of How to Pick Your Defense Committee

So you’re ready to pick your committee members; there are a few things to keep in mind first—after all, it is a 3–6 year process. It is essential that doctoral students take the time to reflect on who they will choose to guide and mentor them through the doctoral process and to eventually determine whether they have earned the degree. It should be said that I come from a social science background, so my perspective is tailored to my particular field, but the strategies I discuss in this series of posts can really be applied to any academic background. There is a lot to talk about so let’s start with the first two guidelines.

 Guideline 1: Pick a balanced committee

It is crucial that you choose committee members who balance each other out—not only in knowledge but also in attitude and personality. Here’s my formula for a balanced committee in regards to their knowledge-base: one member who has a strong background in research design, one member who is a powerhouse for the statistical or qualitative methodology that you plan to apply in your study, and two members who are devoted to theory or area specialty. 

I made the research design specialist my chair, primarily because I hold to the old adage that there is no statistical methodology that can substitute for a poor research design. In addition, make sure that your theory/area-specialty members have adequate knowledge of your particular topic and can steer you in the right direction when it comes to the data that you’ll need to collect.

 

Guideline 2: Pick members who are willing to spend time with you

There are two ways to gauge this:

First, I don’t know if I really need to explain this, but it really only makes sense to pick committee members who have been previous professors of yours. I was the type of student who didn’t shy away from asking questions and scheduling meetings with my instructors because I genuinely wanted their input for my projects and wanted to establish a rapport with them. You can get a good sense of how much time they will invest in your dissertation defense by how much time they invest in helping you with projects or answering your questions.

Second, when meeting with potential members to ask them to be a part of your committee, set a precedent by suggesting a meeting to discuss theory, research design, or methods.  After picking the members of your balanced committee, establishing these meetings indicates to your committee members that you are serious about your project and that they need to be as well.  If you choose a committee member and they don’t end up committing to you, it can be difficult to pick a new member.  I don’t recommend changing members unless it is absolutely necessary.  

In sum, pick a committee who will provide a balanced contribution to your study and choose members who will devote themselves to you when you need them.  More to come. 

 

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