Now that I am ABD (All But Dissertation), meaning that I have fulfilled all program requirements besides completion of the dissertation, I will be spending the majority of the remainder of my PhD program writing my dissertation and receiving feedback from my dissertation committee. The people on this committee can make or break your experience, and that is why selecting who is on it is very important. So what is the dissertation committee? Good question-here is a breakdown from someone who is freshly going though this process (me!):
Most often, the committee consists of five faculty members, with each college or university having specific guidelines on who may makeup the committee. My university requires that the majority (3 out of 5) be faculty in the School of Social Work.
There are four “readers”, with the first reader having the most responsibility and most often being your academic advisor. They will work the closest with you to craft your dissertation and provide feedback. They will also read the majority or the entirety of your document. The fifth person on the committee is the chair, and they are responsible for housekeeping, communication between committee members, and facilitating the defense, along with the paperwork that needs to be signed to make it official (always get it in WRITING).
Normally, a doctoral student will have a methodologist, which is the person who is well versed in the methods you chose to use to analyze your data; a content expert, which is the person who is an expert in the theory and topic you have chosen (if not you will have to be the content expert, which you will be anyways with the amount of time spent); and sometimes an outside expert is needed from an organization or another university, depending on the topic.
It is also important that your committee gets along with each other. This is so important because if the dynamics of your committee are off, this can stall your progress, and you don’t have time for that. If you are unsure, speak candidly with your first reader about their relationships with other faculty who you are considering placing on your committee.
While this process can be overwhelming and daunting, it is in fact doable. The best advice I received is that the best dissertation is a DONE dissertation, so that should be your aim from the beginning.
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