Dissertation: readers, the oral defense, graduate committee

Notes of faculty discussion - Graduate Forum Lunch - November 30, 2015 

Good practices for putting together a graduate committee:

  • The rules from the Office of Graduate Studies provide the foundation for forming the committee
  • The Chair of the dissertation committee should be from the department in which the student is completing the doctorate
  • The Chair helps the student plan a committee that works well together
  • The Chair sets the ground rules for the entire process
  • There are three necessary interactions/meetings between the committee members:
    • Comprehensive/written exam
    • Proposal meeting
    • Oral defense
    • Committee interaction is typically limited because committee members serve on multiple committees, but it is important to maximize these interactions as much as possible


Good practices for choosing and working with readers:

  • Provide adequate time for readers to carefully read the dissertation draft
  • There needs to be a conversation between the readers and the Chair after they have read the dissertation draft so that
    • They are on the same page as one another
    • The reader sends any comments to the chair
    • The chair does not have any surprises
    • Should one reader be an outside member of the committee?
      • Best recommendation is to have one
      • This is up to the Chair’s discretion
      • Outside readers are often heavily sought after from their own department, so the Chair should direct students toward readers with whom the Chair shares a relationship and trust
      • Hold readers accountable for reading the dissertation draft


Good practices during the proposal and dissertation process:

  • What if a reader says “No”?
    • Send the student back to the drawing board
    • The proposal meeting may require multiple meetings as needed to ensure an adequate proposal
      • Find the problem in the proposal early!
      • It is the Chair’s responsibility to ensure the student is prepared **
      • It is important that students understand that the proposal is a contract  
      • Day-to-day or week-to-week contact between the Chair and student is often required to check progress. Students need an ACTIVE chair
      • Some departments recommend that students submit their writing for publication while still in graduate school


Good practices during the oral defense:

  • Defenses should be open; Open the door for others to watch
  • Announce the defense to students and faculty
  • The dissertation should be celebrated at the department level—this is an important presentation and should be announced, heard, etc.
  • Hold a private meeting (ask the public to leave) after the open defense for the committee to discuss their decision
  • Create a culture within the department in which students know what to expect from the entire committee during the defense
  • Trust between the Chair and committee members is especially important during the defense

A successful oral defense is the last public presentation of the dissertation but EDITS will need to be made before the dissertation is DONE; students are not done until edits are completed and the dissertation is deposited