You’ve graduated with your bachelor’s degree, and you have been accepted to the university of your dreams to pursue a master’s degree or possibly a Ph.D. I know it seems early to consider this, but what is your exit strategy? What I mean is, are you going to take a comprehensive test, create a project, or write a thesis as a means to fulfill the final degree requirement to graduate? It seems overwhelming to start considering this, but what you decide upon now will influence every major decision you make in graduate school, including the most important choice you will make: who will be your committee chairperson and who will be your committee members. Your committee will guide you through whatever exit method you choose, especially if you choose a project or thesis. Each member will play a significant part. However, it is your chairperson that will have final word and most control, so chose wisely. The following suggestions center around the thesis or project methods, although your committee is salient in all three cases.
Choosing Your Committee
The most important decision you will make will be who to pick as your chairperson. I cannot stress this enough. Picking the right chairperson will be the difference in a enjoyable scholarly experience or wishing you had never applied to graduate school. Sorry to sound negative, but the right choice will make all the difference in the world. My first recommendation in choosing your chair would be to pick a professor that you know or has taught one of your classes. Because you will be working closely with this professor, for a year or more, you should consider the following about your candidate:
- How busy is this professor? Are they a department chair or involved as another committee chair or member? You will be asking them to add your project or thesis onto their already huge workload.
- Do you get along with them? I cannot imagine asking someone you do not even like to chair your committee. You will be spending a lot of time with them, so having a good relationship will help when things get rough.
- What’s their specialty? Do they have the experience they need to provide you with the best advice on your given project? While they don’t need to be experts in your exact topic, make sure that they have enough knowledge of your topic to provide helpful feedback.
- If you have previously had them as a professor, how fast do they turn back assignments? You will be producing multiple drafts of your proposal, so you want a one to two week turn around, not five or six or more. Do they have office hours that can work around your schedule?
- Are they easy to talk to and do they challenge you? You do not want a “yes” person to control your best work. You want them have suggestions that will make this work fulfilling and your highest achievement that you have ever produced.
I would say that you should consider the same attributes for your other committee members. Remember that your chair has final word and the most control of your work. Often, the rest of your committee will not see a draft until it has been signed off by your chair. However, you want a well-rounded committee. You want them to complement each other and if possible get along, even if they have differing opinions or viewpoints. Maybe your chair is great at research but is not well versed in statistics. You should consider a member that excels in that part of the puzzle. Do not pick your members out of convenience. You want them all to contribute and not just agree, as tempting as that may sound. You want your members to challenge you to do your best work.
I hope I have not scared any of you into burning your admission papers. I have had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. These are difficult decisions, but a little research and you will put together a team that will make this rewarding and less frustrating.