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  • Dissertation Reading Committee

The Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee consists of three faculty members (the principal dissertation advisor and two other readers) who agree to read a student’s dissertation and serve on the orals committee. All members of an approved reading committee are expected to sign the signature page of the completed dissertation. The reading committee normally serves on the oral exam committee, but not always. At the very least, the primary dissertation advisor and one reader from the reading committee serve on the oral exam committee. The student is responsible for obtaining signatures from advisor and readers before submitting the form to the Doctoral Programs Officer for final processing.

The rules governing the composition of the reading committee are as follows: at least one member of the committee must be from the GSE; the principal dissertation advisor must be on the Stanford Academic Council (AC); and any member of the committee that is not a member of the academic council must be approved by the Area Chair and the Associate Dean for Student Affairs. In the last case, the Petition for Non-Academic Council Member to Serve on Doctoral Committee form (available from the Doctoral Programs Officer) and a current CV of the proposed member are required. This person must be particularly well qualified to consult on the dissertation topic and hold a PhD or an equivalent foreign degree. Non-AC members may not serve as dissertation advisors, but may serve as a co-advisor along with a member of the AC. Students may only have one non-AC member on the reading committee. The only exception to this rule is if you have more than the three members required for a reading committee. At least two members of the reading committee must be members of the Stanford AC. Reading Committee members must sign the Doctoral Reading Committee form (all forms located on the GSE website under current students>forms). Email confirmations or digital signatures will be accepted.

The reading committee formation, and any subsequent changes to the committee composition, are reviewed and approved by the Associate Dean for Student Affairs. This signature is obtained by the Doctoral Programs Officer, not the student.

The University requires approval of the Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form prior to advancement to Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status, or before scheduling a University Oral Examination–whichever comes first in the student’s program. Further instructions for form completion are on the GSE Website.

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dissertation committee reader

Finding an Outside Committee Member or Outside Reader for Your Dissertation Committee

25th August 2022

dissertation committee reader

How Your Outside Committee Member or Reader Can Help Your Dissertation

Networking, networking, networking, how to find the perfect outside committee member or outside reader.

  • While you're in coursework, take classes in other departments.   Some programs will require you to take courses outside of your field.  This is not only a great way to get to meet faculty, but is also a chance to see how they work with graduate students.
  • Meet graduate students from other departments . If your campus has a Graduate Students' Association or similar organization,  try going to their events so that you can meet students in other departments.  They may be able to offer suggestions or introduce you to their faculty members.  If you a fellow grad student whose research interests you, find out who their advisor is – that person could be a great outside reader for you.
  • Attend research symposiums, talks, and events hosted by other departments.   This is another great way to meet faculty from outside your department, and to find out about their research. If you like someone's work, don't be shy about introducing yourself, or following up with an email.
  • Ask your advisor. They'll know faculty whose research may have connections to your dissertation, and may be able to arrange introductions can arrange introductions.

Developing a Good Relationship with your Outside Committee Member

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  • Dissertation: readers, the oral defense, graduate committee

Notes of faculty discussion - Graduate Forum Lunch - November 30, 2015  

Good practices for putting together a graduate committee:

  • The rules from the Office of Graduate Studies provide the foundation for forming the committee
  • The Chair of the dissertation committee should be from the department in which the student is completing the doctorate
  • The Chair helps the student plan a committee that works well together
  • The Chair sets the ground rules for the entire process
  • Comprehensive/written exam
  • Proposal meeting
  • Oral defense
  • Committee interaction is typically limited because committee members serve on multiple committees, but it is important to maximize these interactions as much as possible

Good practices for choosing and working with readers:

  • Provide adequate time for readers to carefully read the dissertation draft
  • They are on the same page as one another
  • The reader sends any comments to the chair
  • The chair does not have any surprises
  • Best recommendation is to have one
  • This is up to the Chair’s discretion
  • Outside readers are often heavily sought after from their own department, so the Chair should direct students toward readers with whom the Chair shares a relationship and trust
  • Hold readers accountable for reading the dissertation draft

Good practices during the proposal and dissertation process:

  • Send the student back to the drawing board
  • Find the problem in the proposal early!
  • It is the Chair’s responsibility to ensure the student is prepared **
  • It is important that students understand that the proposal is a contract  
  • Day-to-day or week-to-week contact between the Chair and student is often required to check progress. Students need an ACTIVE chair
  • Some departments recommend that students submit their writing for publication while still in graduate school

Good practices during the oral defense:

  • Defenses should be open; Open the door for others to watch
  • Announce the defense to students and faculty
  • The dissertation should be celebrated at the department level—this is an important presentation and should be announced, heard, etc.
  • Hold a private meeting (ask the public to leave) after the open defense for the committee to discuss their decision
  • Create a culture within the department in which students know what to expect from the entire committee during the defense
  • Trust between the Chair and committee members is especially important during the defense

A successful oral defense is the last public presentation of the dissertation but EDITS will need to be made before the dissertation is DONE; students are not done until edits are completed and the dissertation is deposited

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Find data or policy by:, structuring your dissertation committee.

SREB scholar Precious Hardy

An occasional series from the Doctoral Scholars Program on postsecondary topics

In graduate school we are bombarded with decisions. We decide whether to be quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods researchers, what classes to take, and what topic to expand on for our dissertation. One of the most important decisions we make, though, is deciding which faculty members will sit on our dissertation committee.

Typically, students will begin to form their committee once graduate coursework is complete. This allows them to take classes with different faculty members and build rapport. It is out of these nurtured relationships that students should gather potential committee members. Given the function of the dissertation committee, you should recruit faculty members that you work well with.

Faculty members selected to be on your committee can ease — or make more difficult — the process of completing your dissertation.

Your dissertation committee is like a board of directors voted in by you to supervise your business. They are the ultimate judges on your passing the dissertation phase. They will advise you on your research topic and methods, assess the quality of your written work and provide suggestions, assess your ability to function as an independent researcher during the oral defense and, lastly, give their signatures of approval on your work.

The role which each member fills — chair, content expert, methodologist — should be determined by their expertise and your rapport with them.

Chair: The chairperson will work closest with you; this individual will help you select your dissertation topic, provide feedback and suggestions on your written proposal before it goes to other committee members, and steer you back on track when distractions get the best of you.

The decision of chair should not be made in haste; it should be thoughtful. Consider a faculty member you feel comfortable discussing professional and personal issues with, because sometimes they overlap.

Content Expert: The content expert will thoroughly read your literature review to assess and suggest variables of interest, aid in writing a more comprehensive literature review, gauge research gaps and the significance of your study, and help shape effective research questions.

Recruit a content expert who is well-researched in the topic of your dissertation. If you are studying literacy development in students with dyslexia, then find a faculty member with a research background that fits.

Methodologist: The methodologist pays special attention to everything about methods, from the research design to the statistical approach. Their feedback and suggestions will mainly be related to your methods.

Recruit a methodologist who understands the types of analyses you want to perform. If you want to conduct structural equation modeling, get someone who thoroughly understands that.

Faculty members selected to be on your committee can ease — or make more difficult — the process of completing your dissertation. Here are three things to consider when structuring your committee:

  • Personalities – Some personalities play well together, and others do not. You must consider the personalities of your committee members and whether those personalities will work well together. Internal feuds could make your dissertation process difficult.
  • Demands – Consider the demands committee members may place on you during the dissertation phase. Ideally, committee members are professors you’ve had in class, so you should be able to gauge their expectations as it relates to the workload they place on students.
  • Communication – If the communication sucks when you’re in their class, it is probably going to suck when you place them on your committee. Recruit members who are accessible and easy to communicate with.

If you’ve made it to this phase, celebrate yourself. Remember you’ve made it this far because you’ve earned it.

Precious M. Hardy is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Psychology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She earned her bachelor’s in psychology from Lincoln University of Missouri and a master’s in educational psychology from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She is a Gus T. Ridgel Fellow, a Graduate Student of Excellence Scholar, an SREB Scholar, and a Center for Advancing Opportunity Fellow. Her research interests center around ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gaps in education with a special emphasis on reading and math gaps.

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