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Choosing a Guidance Committee

Authors: Candace "Cooker" Perkins (Ph.D. 2004) and & Paul Nagelkirk (Ph.D. 2005)

The following suggestions were written for Ph.D. students, but most of the ideas are equally applicable to M.S. students.

1. Choosing guidance committee members should begin with a discussion with your major professor (committee chair). This discussion should include:
  • Establish the student's internal and external cognate areas of study and brainstorm about faculty members who might represent these areas on your committee.
  • Determine the roles to be fulfilled by committee members, i.e., represent all areas of study, including someone strong in research design, statistics, etc.
  • Discuss the expected/desired personality and professional caliber of each potential committee member.

Sample Guidance/Dissertation Committee

Major Area:  Exercise Physiology (exercise and pregnancy)
Internal Cognate: Exercise Behavior
External Cognate: Epidemiology Guidance Committee:

Dr. SoandSo (KIN faculty, exercise physiology)
Dr. ThatGuy (KIN faculty, pediatrics and pregnancy)
Dr. HocusPocus (KIN faculty, sport psychology)
Dr. PublicHealth (epidemiology, research, and statistics)

2. Both the major professor and graduate student should independently determine a list of possible committee embers to fulfill desired roles.

Suggestions for the graduate student:
  • Remember that the selection of a guidance committee (and also selection of the internship, project, thesis, and dissertation committees) is ultimately the student's responsibility. Consult others.
  • Consult senior graduate students for their experiences and recommendations. The peer network can help you avoid future hassles.
  • Use the "Expertise Database" on the Committee of Science (COS) web site to search for faculty members from other departments whose research interests may match yours. They may serve as good committee members even if you have not taken any of their courses.
  • Do not simply ask the first four faculty members you meet to be on your committee. You need smart people from diverse backgrounds to ensure you have the best experience that is most beneficial to your future career.
  • Personality and professional caliber are bothimportant. You need sound scientific advice, but want to avoid personal issues that may interfere with your progress.
3. Discuss the list of possible mentors with your major professor. Work to agree on each potential member's role on the guidance committee.

4. Contact potential committee members. Provide each person with a current vita and a proposed plan of study. Ph.D. students should also provide a description of current and proposed research activities.

5. Be upfront about expectations. The committee chair, graduate student, and committee members should discuss expected service on the committee and projected time commitment from each. Recognize the commitment that program committee members make when they agree to become members of your guidance committee. Make sure they understand this commitment and are willing to provide you with the necessary time and guidance. Be appreciative of their time and effort. When selecting committee members it is important that you convey your projected timeline to degree completion.

6. Establish a checklist or form of these expectations for committee members to sign.