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I'm a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the social sciences.

I've decided to replace one person in my doctoral thesis committee because she is not giving me any feedback or responding to my emails in reasonable times. I can go sometimes for almost a year without any feedback. Since I have to move forward with my degree, and I've been delayed for almost a year because of her, I have to inform her that I have replaced her. But I don't know how to phrase it in order to not offend her. I need to be very tactful and diplomatic here.

Any suggestions of how I could go about to tell her?

EDIT : She was replaced, I had to tell her by writing, and she was not offended at all. So it's all good!

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    Do you have an official advisor? Are they part of this committee or not? How is this person's lack of response holding you back? Do you have an opportunity to speak with her? You leave a lot unsaid here. Best to edit the question for a response to this.
    – Buffy
    Jun 25, 2022 at 12:10
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    You should check with your school if you can actually “replace” a committee member without other committee members agreeing to this. Certainly where I work students are consulted on the composition of the committee but members are not appointed by the student. Rather members are appointed by the graduate school or its representative. Jun 25, 2022 at 12:10
  • You need to ask your supervisor. Your supervisor is stuck working with this person; you are not. Your supervisor probably knows them better, too. Otherwise ask your department chair or similar. Jun 26, 2022 at 1:42
  • To the title question: How should I phrase an important question that I need to ask a professor?
    – cag51
    Jun 26, 2022 at 6:00
  • @ZeroTheHero Very interesting, I get to pick mine, according to some rules about composition and their consent, of course. Mar 26, 2023 at 18:59

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Before contacting her you should speak to your primary supervisor about the issue and ensure that your primary supervisor agrees to change the composition of your panel. You should explain the problems you are facing and how the tardiness of this panel member is holding back your research. If your primary supervisor is in agreement with you (which would be likely in these conditions) then it is likely that he/she will discuss the issue with the other members of your supervisory panel to come to a consensus on an appropriate way forward. Assuming that your primary supervisor is in agreement with removing this other person from your panel, it is likely that you won't end up having to action the matter at all --- what is most likely is that the supervisor you're having trouble with would voluntarily withdraw from the panel. You would then email her to thank her for her time and effort in your supervision and that would be it.

Now, if you find yourself in disagreement with your primary supervisor (or your supervisory panel more broadly) on this issue, then it gets trickier and you are going to have to do some more work to look into the rules for panel composition. You would need to look into the university rules to see whether a change in composition of your panel is something you can execute yourself, or whether it is something that is a decision of the Department or your primary supervisor. You might need to present a case for why you want a change in the composition of your panel, which it sounds like you can do. As to how to communicate to the problematic supervisor, the normal rules of professional etiquette apply --- be polite and appreciative of the work she has already done for you, but be clear and candid about what you want to do.

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