For Thou Art With Me: Choosing a Dissertation Advisor
and Forming a Committee

Jenny S. Clay (University of Virginia)

Choosing a dissertation advisor is usually pretty easy: you find someone on the faculty that most closely matches your interests.  But what if your topic does not match the specialties of any member of your department?  First, you might reconsider.  An advisor fully conversant with your subject can obviously be more helpful in directing your research.  An additional concern: does this person have a high profile in the field, and has he or she been successful in placing advisees in decent jobs?   Or what if you find that the faculty member in your area is not someone you feel comfortable working with?  This is a far more delicate situation and requires tact, discreet advice, and knowledge of the dynamics of the departmental faculty.  Alienating people whose support you will need is not a good idea.  Finally, choosing an advisor may be not as important as analyzing your own work habits: do you need clear deadlines, constant prodding, or to be left alone to work at your own pace?  Do you need prompt feedback or can you forge ahead without it?

The subsequent step of forming a dissertation committee raises other questions to consider: are the members of your dissertation committee in basic agreement as to what constitutes a dissertation?  Are there going to be conflicting expectations?  Should you submit intermediate drafts to other members of the your committee or wait until your supervisor approves a final draft?  In this talk I aim to address these questions and provide some direction in understanding how best to go about finding helpful answers.

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