• Kevin Hylton

Managing Your Dissertation Advisor and Committee

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

When you think about writing a dissertation and all it entails, you think predominantly of planning your project, finding literature relevant to your theory, determining the best approach to conduct your research, and how to best portray your findings once the study is over. Each part of a dissertation presents their own unique challenges, but the comforting thing about them all is you are in control.

Dissertation Advisor and Committee Roadblocks

What happens when you do all you can on your end but do not get a timely response from your advisor? Or, a committee member is dragging their feet because they do not agree with one piece of your approach and will not budge until your study has been modified. What about when your advisor or committee wants you to add additional components to your topic, thus generating a greater mountain of work?

Problems that arise due to your advisor and committee are not often discussed, but they do occur. The truth of the matter is that the dissertation is your responsibility and priority, but it may not be theirs. Professors are often sidetracked by their personal priorities, such as applying for research grants, teaching, or preparing research paper submissions for publication.

Some of the most common difficulties when working with your dissertation advisor and committee are:

  • Lack of communication and feedback

  • Unreachable committee members

  • Disagreement on course of action to complete the dissertation

  • Unreasonable requests for revisions to the dissertation

  • Ensuring everyone is on the same page

Best Approach to Manage your Dissertation Advisor and Committee

I have encountered my fair share of issues when working with my advisor and committee on my dissertation, all of which could have been alleviated by adopting a collaborative mindset, determining expectations up front, open communication, and setting boundaries. These actions may not be the remedy for every problem, but they will be helpful in managing your dissertation advisor and committee.

  • Adopt a Collaborative Mindset

You are the owner of your dissertation, though working with experts in their relative field presents a unique challenge, as you have to ensure everyone’s recommendations are taken into consideration and applied when possible. Adopting the mindset that you are collaborating with your advisor and committee to develop the best dissertation possible will ultimately please everyone and set you up for a successful dissertation defense.

  • Determine Expectations Up Front

I have heard countless stories from students that in the oral proposal defense or oral dissertation defense, a committee member was disappointed that something was not included, an analysis wasn’t performed, or the level of quality was not up to par. Sitting down with your advisor and committee members to discuss their expectations for your project at the beginning will minimize the likelihood that something comes up later that forces you to scramble to meet deadlines or expand your timeline. Determining expectations in the beginning also helps your advisor and committee members know specific deadlines you need to meet (i.e., a signature is needed on a formal document for your school or the dissertation submission deadline) and your expectations for communication, feedback, and involvement in the project.

  • Open Communication

An open communication policy between you and your advisor while writing your dissertation will ease any frustrations or issues you encounter and help the process move along more smoothly. With this type of policy, you will feel more comfortable expressing your needs and concerns with your advisor, and in turn, he/she will be able to help and advocate for you.

  • Set Boundaries

Boundaries are a safeguard from receiving unreasonable requests and suggestions from your advisor and committee. By setting boundaries for your study up front, through discussions at the development stage and through formal sign-off at the proposal defense, you are confirming that everyone is aware of the parameters of the study and what can reasonably be accomplished for the dissertation.

Key phrases: Managing Your Dissertation Advisor and Committee, Dissertation Advisor and Committee Roadblocks

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