Dissertation Committee Nomination Made Easy (Well…Easier)

by | January 25, 2010

Often, a learner will express frustration with the committee nomination process, which can be daunting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is persistence when one receives rejection after rejection.

One day, it dawned on me that an organized approach might make the task a bit simpler. Now I tell my advisees to follow this plan when they reach the dissertation stage. I should mention that I am writing this for learners in the Harold Abel School of Psychology (HASOP), but the basic idea can be adapted to fit the process in any of Capella’s schools or, for that matter, the committee process in any educational institution. It is important to note that learners in HASOP nominate one committee member from their specialization and one from a different specialization, but within HASOP. Only HASOP faculty members can serve on HASOP dissertation committees. These two faculty members join the mentor to comprise the 3-person dissertation committee. Other schools’ committee makeup requirements differ.

Here are the steps:

One: Review bios of prospective candidates (Capella learners should use Mentor Bios not Faculty bios.) Consider individuals you have met along the way – course instructors you have had, colloquium session leaders, faculty members you have met or heard about from your fellow learners.

Two: Make two tandem lists – one for your specialization member and the other for the alternative specialization member. Consider six or so potential candidates for each list.

Three: Prioritize the two lists.

Four: Compose a short, three- to four-paragraph email in which you introduce yourself with a brief bio. Provide a paragraph about your proposed research. Mention who your mentor is and, finally, ask if the person to whom you are writing would consider becoming part of your committee.

Five: Send emails to the top two faculty members on the list. Keep in mind that faculty do not generally respond during quarter break, so be sure to start working on this process at the beginning of the quarter or once you successfully pass your comprehensive exam. It is not appropriate to send “blanket” emails to faculty, thus this must be a systematic process.

Six: Wait 3-4 days and if you have heard nothing, send a very polite email message restating your request. If you get rejections, send emails to the next individuals on the list.

Seven: Once you have two individuals who agree to serve, complete and submit the committee nomination form. Remember, you must have their permission to nominate them.

Not every committee nomination is automatically approved. Even when a faculty member agrees to serve on a committee, the specialization chair makes the final decision. There can be a number of reasons why a committee member might not be approved and the best advice is always to consult with an ALDA advisor

13 Responses to "Dissertation Committee Nomination Made Easy (Well…Easier)"

  1. KY says:

    At what point during a learner’s program, should a committe nomination form be completed and approved? Thanks.

  2. Mark Larson says:

    At Capella, the committee nomination cannot be made until after learners pass the comprehensive examination, following the completion of the required coursework. The dissertation process has 16 milestones. The first milestone is the committee nomination and learners are allowed six weeks to complete it.

  3. Pat Beyer says:

    I sure would have liked to have this information when I was doing the committee search! Very helpful and organized….

  4. KY says:

    Thanks. This is very helpful information.

  5. Mark Larson says:

    Glad you find it useful. I will be working to get this incorporated into iGuide at some point.

  6. Lead D Lukins says:

    Hello – This was very informative, yet left me wondering. What if I am unable to find two committee members during the 6 weeks; and Am I paying tuition for those six weeks? Thanks again.
    Leah D Lukins

  7. Mark Larson says:

    Finding a committee is a step-by-step process and can take longer than six weeks; however, there are extensions available for this and all dissertation milestones. All Capella learners pay tuition during the quarters in which they are engaged in doctoral work. In the case of committee nomination, this milestone is completed simultaneously with completing CITI training and beginning work on the dissertation proposal (or in the case of psychology learners, the Methodology Review Form.) It is also important to keep in mind that learners are not paying tuition during break, yet can make significant progress on their dissertations: designing the study, researching and writing the literature review, using the library, etc. The key to succeeding during the dissertation process is making steady progress even if one has to rewrite, revise, rethink or redo parts of the study. The dissertation is the 5-chapter documentation of a complex research project and the writing must demonstrate high-level scholarship and writing. The dissertation evolves from a basic idea to a completed study over time and much hard work. Patience and perseverance are also key to success. We Advanced Learner Doctoral Advisors specialize in guiding learners through the process and we partner with faculty to offer our guidance and support. Best wishes as you embark on this stage of your program!

  8. Dan Rolworth says:

    How long does a typical dissertation take to complete? Somebody mentioned that it is four quarters. Thanks


  9. Mark Larson says:

    Sorry for the delayed response, Dan. Only in rare instances do learners complete a dissertation in 4 quarters. I advise in the Harold Abel School of Behavioral Studies, Department of Psychology, and we tell our learners to expect 6-8 quarters minimum. The dissertation is a very complex process and it requires much rethinking, revision and rewriting along the way, not to mention the multiple levels of approval required.

  10. Ruth Starr says:

    I think the committee selection would be better placed after the CITI modules are completed and the learner has time to consult with the mentor who will be the committee chair. I suggest you move this milestone to after the CITI module is completed.

  11. Christ says:

    I know that we are in break, but how can I select my committee members? It is mandatory to send an e-mail to each faculty asking if he/she wants to be part of the committee? Last, where I can contact with the Independent committee member? When I tried to fill up the form, it asked me to write the name, but I don’t know who is becoming from SOE? Can you help me?

    • Jonathan Gehrz says:

      Morning Christ!

      Great questions. You’ll want to discuss this further with your doctoral advisor (every school has subtle differences when it comes to who is/isn’t acceptable for a committee), but in response to the question, is it mandatory to email a potential member of your committee? It is required that they secure the faculty member’s consent, Christ. If you can achieve that without an email, that is fine, however, you are asked to provide documentation of their endorsement, so email is perhaps the most effective route. But I would recommend, as you do approach potential faculty to serve, I would not limit yourself to an email exchange. Most folks make the error of sending such communications with the question “Will you be on my committee?” in the initial communication, prior to ever really engaging the faculty and inquiring further on their research interests or expanding on what is provided in their bio. A better approach is to acknowledge that you are seeking a committee member, but with a request to schedule some phone time to discuss your research interests. Often, such conversations lead to better discussions related to the dissertation and provide further insight and perspective to your study and research study’s needs.

      In terms of the third member, visiting scholar/independent reviewer, I would suggest you contact your advisor on this matter, as this does vary greatly. If it an option, I would strongly encourage you to consider bringing a non-Capella faculty member on your team. Not only does such membership further diversify of experience, but it also brings further credibility to your study. Depending on your post-doctoral plans, inviting a visiting scholar to participate in your research can lead to many future rewards.

      Final words of advice, as you consider all members, discuss the matter with your mentor as well. What recommendations/preferences, if any, does s/he have. Consider the matter in relation to your research and current needs. As you proceed with your dissertation, it not uncommon to discover your needs evolve and you might make changes to the committee down the road, but start with your own research project assessment.

      Wonderful questions though, Christ.

      Jon Gehrz

  12. Darlynda Miktuk says:

    Thank you for writing this discussion thread. I have been struggling to put together a committee since the beginning of October. I do have a mentor so I have made some progress, but finding two committee members has not been an easy task. I think you have given sound advice here, and I plan to continue my quest for committee members using your tips and advice. I think Capella should set up a system that lists available mentors and committee members; this would reduce frustration on the part of the Capella learner struggling to find committee members and Capella faculty receiving needless emails when they are at capacity.