grad skool rulz #8 – the rest of your committee

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The last installment was about choosing your dissertation adviser. This week’s topic is how to select the rest of your committee. As with the adviser, there is no “perfect” committee, but you should try to choose people that have some positive traits (see grad skool rulz #7 for the list of good traits). You should also follow these rules of thumb:

  1. Compliment: If your adviser is weak on topic X, choose committee members to fill in the gap. For example, if your adviser is kind of slow with the letters of recommendation, choose someone who is very professional and does things efficiently. Aloof prof X can be complimented by emotional & supportive prof Y. If prof X isn’t up to date on statistical technique, get someone who is.
  2. Compatibility: Professors are human beings – they have their own disputes and you don’t want to get caught up in the tussle. Most profs will keep dept politics out of graduate training, but you should still be careful. So choose people who will get along with each other. If you have heard that profs X and Y have it out for each other, do *not* put them on the same committee. If you must, consult with your chair or the graduate chair to make sure it will be ok.
  3. Transaction Costs: Remember, getting people to agree on anything is hard. Thus, you should minimize the number of committee members. Get the dept rules (see grad skool rulz #1) and figure out the minimal number of people you need on a committee. And stick to that minimal number! There is rarely any benefit to having reader #6, and there’s a chance they could mess you up.
  4. No block heads: It can be hard enough working with your dissertation committe adviser – so don’t stack your committee with block heads. Choose people will work with you and your adviser, not against you. These people are often easy to identify – they make all kinds of crazy demands on qualifying exams or oral exams. They make students cry in office hours. They seem more interested in ritualistic torture of grad students than professional development. Do not, under any circumstances, put these people on your committee.

The dissertation committee is a team that has two goals: training/advising students and helping the student get a job. Most of the work is done by the chair, so make sure people can work with that person to help you develop as a professional and get a job.


Written by fabiorojas

April 29, 2007 at 6:14 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Okay, quiz time: I have to choose two more people for my dissertation committee. Three people stand out as options, and my chair has no preference.

    Door #1: The chair of the department. Pro: EXCELLENT advice on my paper I wrote in his class. The kind of advice that shifted my theoretical orientation. Has a name that carries weight. Con: Umm…depart. chair? As a committee member? Resource strain, status issues…

    Door #2: A prof I had for a previous class. Pro: Has expressed interest in my topic; wants updates. Very nice. Easygoing. Con: Everyone asks him to be on their committee. Strain of resources.

    Door #3: A prof I’ve had for a few classes, and TA’d for. Pro: We get along well; I already go to him for advice. Not an inordinate number of students clamoring to work with him (I don’t know that he’s on any dissertation committees). Con: His research interests have nothing to do with my topic.

    Sound advice??? Anyone???? Anything????



    July 31, 2007 at 12:25 am

  2. Just ask around to see who write letter of rec in a timely fashion and co authors with students. Perhaps, all else equal, maybe #1 and #3. Goo dluck.


    Fabio Rojas

    July 31, 2007 at 2:29 am

  3. […] Grad skool rulz # 8 – the rest of your commitee […]


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