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When I started my Master's program, my supervisor was Professor X. However, I had to leave their group after a few months, partly because we didn't get along, but also because the research topic wasn't a good fit.

Presently, my supervisor is Professor Y (who is awesome, and with whom I performed research work that really interested me). Now, I am getting ready to defend my thesis and need to select professors for the defense committee.

It so happens that my current thesis research deals tangentially with Professor X's research focus from about 5 years ago (and by the way, there aren't many professors whose research directly relates to my thesis). Under normal circumstances, Professor X would have been a decent choice for my defense committee.

Here is where I need a gut-check: I personally do not want Professor X on my defense committee. It is unlikely that they would try to sabotage my defense, but I have always found it distressing to be in Professor X's presence. Yes, I could grin and bear it, but I would simply rather not do that. Is it reasonable to request that Professor X be excluded?

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    How is your thesis committee chosen? For me, they were all selected by me (with heavy guidance and suggestions from my advisor), so it wouldn't really be necessary to 'exclude' anyone, just to not select them.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 18, 2020 at 20:38
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    The content of your committee is 100% a matter of your university's rules. Check those rules. Aug 19, 2020 at 3:46
  • The answer to the title question (apparently not the actual question) is no, thesis defenses are usually public and you cannot exclude anyone from showing up. Aug 19, 2020 at 3:47
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    The rules do not prevent me from simply "not asking" this professor to be on the committee. Even if they did, I am sure they could be bent if I asked nicely enough. Instead, I'm wondering if this is a reasonable thing to do. Is it immature to say "I don't like being around this professor, even if they could be a perfectly acceptable committee member otherwise".
    – Mahkoe
    Aug 19, 2020 at 3:54
  • Has Professor X ever behaved in a racist, sexist, ableist, or otherwise discriminatory fashion towards you?
    – nick012000
    Aug 19, 2020 at 4:45

2 Answers 2

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This is something to talk over with your advisor. It is a reasonable request, but it might not be possible to go along with it. But if your advisor knows the whole story they can advise you on how to proceed, or even, if necessary, assure that the other person isn't included.

But, assuming that your advisor is present at the defense, perhaps one of the examiners, then they can intervene if there is anything improper going on.

If the advisor isn't present, it is a bigger problem, and you need to work harder to achieve the other person's attendance. Sadly, there may not be any options, given the field and the available people.

But, you need an advocate in setting it up and preferably at the defense as well.

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Don't pick professor X because you don't need that stress. At my university you weren't even supposed to pick someone you've collaborated with for conflict of interest reasons. If anyone asks tell them you wanted the significance of your work to be evaluated by the broader audience and not by someone that might be biased in favour of your research. I think that's a very defendable position.

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