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The Dissertation Committee

Well it’s been a journey… but every person I emailed has responded and they all agreed to be part of my committee. That’s right, we’re making serious progress on the road to my dissertation proposal. It’s been a little surreal and I’m nervous that even though I’m here I’m not quite ready for it. Today, let’s talk about my next steps and what forming my committee actually means.

Getting a PhD can be confusing. No one really told me what to expect or frankly, the process that goes into it. I knew the time commitment and the amount of work needed, but really I didn’t know much. That’s why I decided to blog daily about my experience, to give you an insight into how you go through the process, at least here in the US.

First, I had my qualifying exam, for that I had a three person committee, basically my PI and two others. Once I passed that, I went from a PhD student to a PhD candidate, in the US that’s essentially a signifier that you’ve shown that you can do self directed research and are ready to find a topic for your dissertion.

Timelines for all this vary and since I went from a MS to a PhD program it’s a little faster than going from a BS to PhD. You can do either, I did what I thought was best for me. My I did my qualifying exam fall of last year and now I’m doing my dissertation proposal defense this fall. That will put me on track to defend my dissertation in ~2 years, maybe longer, maybe shorter. It really depends on when I feel I’ve done enough (hint, my committee needs to agree that is the case as well). I’m planning on finishing in 5 years, so I will have the next 2.5 years to do my research and write my dissertation.

My committee will follow me from now until I graduate. As mentioned, they are the ones who will decide if I’ve done enough work. Now that my committee is formed, I will have to write a proposal for the dissertation topic of my choice. They will review it and two weeks (minimum) after they get a copy I will have to do a proposal defense.

Essentially it’s my QE all over again, they will ask questions, make sure I know what I’m talking about, and in the end judge that my topic of choice is: 1) Dissertation worthy and 2) A reasonable timeline for the work has been set. A small note, the dissertation defense will be when I graduate (hopefully) and shouldn’t be confused with the proposal defense for obvious reasons.

That’s it for now, I will regularly meet with my committee and get advice, feedback, and have regular discussions about the progress I’m making. It’s a commitment for them, which is why you ask if they are willing to dedicate the time before you make a selection (they will have to sign off saying they are part of your committee anyway so you know, manners and what not).

I guess the last question is when will I be doing my proposal defense now that I have my committee. The answer is, it depends! There are a lot of moving parts, I have five people on my committee, the minimum required because the more people you have the harder it is to coordinate schedules. I know one member already has commitments that would make it near impossible to do my proposal defense before December. So I’m aiming to have the proposal written by december and defend in January.

That’s the plan anyway. So now I’ve got a bunch of work to do between now and then. I’ve got papers to write, experiments to do, and a proposal written. I still don’t quite feel ready, but you can’t unring the bell, so let’s do it.


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