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VII. Work With Your Chair and Committee

Mar 23, 2016 by Carol Ray Philips

In the last blog you learned about some of the tasks important to accomplish before you begin writing. One final topic that needs attention, which also relates to the differences between coursework and dissertation, is the difference between working with one professor and with a committee. In courses, one instructor assessed your work. In contrast, your dissertation is both formatively and summatively assessed by at least three faculty members: your chair, second committee member, and third committee member. What this structure means is that your writing has to be approved by three people. Furthermore, those three people usually have strong opinions and also may not agree with one another’s points of view about your work. How you can take charge to make relationships with your committee function well?

Maintain Good Relationships

In all likelihood, your committee–whether chosen by you or by the institution–wants to support you and help you succeed with the task of completing your dissertation. Your job is to provide the committee with reasons to maintain its initial goodwill. This involves following basic conventions of collegial discourse with someone who has power over your dissertation process. When dealing with your chair and committee, you should:

  • Proofread everything you send to them, including emails. Most academics will notice your misspellings and grammar errors in your correspondence, as much as in your work.
  • Be polite. Always say “thank you” and “please.” If you make an error, apologize. Also, schedule an appointment before calling or showing up (unless you've been given permission to do otherwise). If you don't know how members of your committee want to be addressed, take a cue from how they sign their emails or go with the most formal title, usually Dr.
  • Be timely whenever possible. Remember you are always trying to reinforce the committee members' good impressions of you. If you are on a schedule for submissions and you will not be able to make a deadline, let your committee know. Presumably, there will be a legitimate reason for the delay. Explain the reason and apologize. Inform them about when you will be able to submit and check if the proposed date works for them.
  • Stay in reflective communication. Rather than sending just a draft, send a draft with an attached note (an email is acceptable) that comments on issues related to where you are in the dissertation process. For instance, describe the changes you've made, especially in response to faculty feedback. Discuss what you plan to do next. Ask questions. Ask for advice. You want your committee to know that you're engaged.
  • Keep in mind that your committee is much more important to you than you are to them. Members of your committee are committed to many activities and commitments, and you may be just one among several doctoral students whose dissertations they are advising. Conversely, what the committee says to you is of utmost importance because they are your only committee and the work is your only dissertation.

In Conclusion

You are about to begin a new and exciting venture, one that has the potential to change your life for the better. This venture is new and essentially unknown. The purpose of this blog series has been to inform you about these unknowns and to provide strategies for dealing with them.

If you would like support on your dissertation journey, contact ACW to find out how a Dissertation Coach can guide you.

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