Dissertating in the Open: Putting Together a Committee WITH TEMPLATES!

Y’all, I’m scholarlily-enamored of my committee. (Scholarlily is a new adverb. I give it to you.) Everyone on it is so cool and down-to-earth and does interesting work.

Want to know how to get an awesome committee like mine? Well, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you how to request that someone serve on your committee. After meeting to discuss my prospectus and where we thought my comps should go, my advisor and I planned for me to request that certain people serve on my committee, with her sort of taking over committee organization/management after they agreed to serve.

In my department, a dissertation committee consists of five people and at least one of them must be external to the department. We identified four people to be on my committee; the advisor is always the chair of my committee. We chose two professors from within the department, and two from outside the department. Here’s my prospectus in case you want to review it again. And here’s my committee:

Sandra Hughes-Hassell: My advisor. She’s on the committee of course because she’s my advisor, but also because of her interest in youth services.

Casey Rawson: A friend, colleague, and classmate from my MSLS days. She’s a professor of research methods, so she is my research methods expert. Youth services is also an area of research interest for her. In addition to her areas of research expertise, she has personal interests in fandom and crafting, both of which make my topic of interest to her.

Brian Sturm: A professor who taught me in my MSLS days. He studies immersion, and boy is cosplay about being immersed, right? Also helpful to have on the committee because of his expertise in youth services.

Heather Moorefield-Lang: My first external committee member. She’s got expertise in qualitative and has done a lot of research on makerspaces. Because I see making as a key element in cosplay, I wanted her on my committee. She also used to be a theater teacher and I am a lapsed theater person, so I expected there might be some good personality fit there. (I’m pretty sure I was right.) I didn’t know her, but I’d interacted with her some on Twitter and Sandra had met her at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference.

Crystle Martin: My second external committee member. If you’re basing your whole study on providing confirming evidence for/extending someone else’s study, it’s nice to have that person on your committee. She’s also a Connected Learning expert, and that’s a framework I definitely want to bring into my dissertation work, as it’s kind of my whole reason for getting a PhD. I also had expected a good personality fit here, as we share interests in fandom and gaming. (She once spoke on a panel called “What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Has to Teach Us about Games, Education, and Self-directed Learning,” soooo…) I had met her once about three and a half years ago, when she came to campus for a visit and I was working in the School of Education.


So Sandra and I settled on these four people to ask to serve, but then it was up to me to actually contact them. I looked around on the internet for examples of how to invite people to be on your dissertation committee and found a little advice but no clear templates. So, keeping in mind the advice from the blog post The Basics of Professional Communication, Part I, I set about constructing my own, which I will share with you in just a moment.

But first, a note: please remember that you are requesting a service, not conferring an honor. Serving on committees is part of professional service for faculty members. But also, if they accept, they are doing you a favor. So try to keep that in mind in your verbiage.

Now, three templates for asking someone to be on your committee! But be sure to read after the templates for one more note.

1. Someone you already know well (in my case, Brian and Casey)

Dear [Recipient Name]:

I hope this semester is treating you well. [Include some more conversational detail if you like.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,
[Your name/email signature]

2. Someone you’ve met but don’t know well

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question]. [A one-sentence reminder of when and how you met.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,
[Your name/email signature]

3. Someone you’ve never met

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question].

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,
[Your name/email signature]

Some notes:

When selecting what to call the recipient in the greeting, here are my general guidelines:

  1. If it’s someone I know well, I use the name that I know they prefer. In my department, some professors prefer students use their first name, others prefer their title and last name, and others might prefer a title but last initial, so that their expertise is recognized but the relationship is still a little informal. Respect what this person wants to be called.
  2. If it’s someone I have only met once or don’t know at all, I use the title and last name. Once they’re on the committee and you’re actually having meetings, you may end up calling them by first name as I have in the blog post above. But always begin from the most formal position possible.

All of the people I requested to be on my committee accepted, and we had our first meeting last week, which is why next time on Dissertating in the Open, I’ll write about Your First Meeting with Your Committee!

Thanks to Jegged.com for the Final Fantasy VII Party Select Screen Image.

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