Major Professor and Doctoral Dissertation Committee

Students are encouraged to select a major professor and supervisory committee in their first year of full-time studies.

The major professor must be selected, agree to serve, and then be formally approved and appointed by the College dean. It is important for a doctoral student to identify a major professor early. The major professor plays a critical role in assisting a doctoral student with developing a program of study, selecting a dissertation topic, and completing the degree. Given the importance of these activities, it is imperative that students carefully choose their major professor. Students may consult the faculty pages of the College Web site to learn about faculty members’ areas of interest and expertise.

The professor will serve as the principal advisor and mentor to students throughout their graduate experience and will play a vital role in the development and completion of the dissertation. The selection of a major professor is limited to faculty who hold graduate faculty status with the University. Updated lists of faculty with graduate faculty status are periodically posted on the College’s Current Student Web site.

Once students have identified the faculty member they want to serve as their major professor, they should approach that person and ask if he/she is willing to assume that role. When a faculty member agrees to serve as major professor, students must contact the graduate coordinator and process the official paperwork. As students approach the end of their course work, they will prepare to undertake the College’s comprehensive exams. The major professor must certify that the student is prepared to take exams by providing written approval to the graduate coordinator several weeks before the exam is scheduled. If the student fails all or part of the exams, the major professor must then determine when they should be retaken.

The major professor plays an important role in the appointment of the supervisory committee. He/she serves as the committee chair, coordinating the activities of the student and their mentors.

Although the College urges doctoral students to identify major professors during their first semester in the program, students aren’t required to remain with that person throughout their graduate career. If the relationship between the two persons does not work out or the student’s interests change, the student may switch to another professor. A new major professor may be identified following the same procedures. The student should notify the original major professor of the decision.

The doctoral supervisory committee plays several key roles in the successful completion of the doctoral degree:

  • It works with the student to customize a study plan, identifying courses that help the student prepare for comprehensive exams. The committee has final say regarding course work. Students are expected to complete all identified courses.
  • It oversees the preparation and approval of the prospectus and dissertation.

The committee consists of a chair (the dissertation director/major professor), and a minimum of three other members. Committees may be larger if necessary. Regardless of the total number of committee members, one member must be a representative-at-large selected from a unit outside the College. At least four members of the committee must have graduate faculty status and receive University approval. Members who do not have graduate faculty status may serve on the committee in addition to at least four other members who have graduate faculty status. Although a faculty member from another university can be on a doctoral committee, he/she may not serve as thesis director or as representative-at-large. Before being added, he/she must submit paperwork to the dean of the Graduate School, accompanied by a request from the College.

The student and major professor select members of the supervisory committee. The student should ask each potential member if he/she is willing to serve. Once you have lined up your committee, be sure to get a form from the graduate coordinator to submit to the dean for approval.

title-inside title-centered