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I am currently a PhD student and have been advising an undergraduate student on their thesis, which will eventually contribute to part of my own work. Their committee currently consists of my faculty advisor and another faculty member at my university. The problem I see is that neither my advisor nor the other faculty member have substantial research/experience in the area of the thesis since I am exploring an intersection of 2 fields and the university does not have any faculty in this specific area.

I feel that the current committee is well suited for evaluating the quality of the research methods but not the novelty or accuracy of the work done. This student has put in a lot of effort and I want them to receive feedback and critical analysis on their work. I can easily provide this feedback in our regular interactions, but I don't want other universities' admissions departments to disregard the work due to the committee selection.

My own work in the field is not well known or well cited so my name doesn't bring any value to the list of names on the thesis committee, but as we don't have other faculty in the area, I am not sure what else to offer.

Is it reasonable for me to suggest being added to the committee? Is it common/acceptable practice for a PhD student to be on an undergraduate thesis committee?

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    Seems pretty institution specific. As an undergraduate I only had my advisor, not a committee, to grade my thesis.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 26, 2023 at 22:51
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    where are you based? Norms concerning supervision vary from country to country
    – Sursula
    Jul 27, 2023 at 7:20
  • This is at a public university in the United States at a top 10 school in Computer Science. Jul 27, 2023 at 19:24

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This question depends too much on the country and the institution to be answered by us. However, a good committee / advisor can draw on existing expertise outside the committee. You can offer, if you want, to serve as an outside, unpaid resource if you feel like it. Whether you offer is acceptable, depends on the circumstances.

Edit: Since you are in the US, I would wager that the university does have clear and concise rules, but most likely, no-one in the department remembers them. Often, the department admin can find out using informal channels that would lead to the relevant document. If there is nothing, then a department meeting could put in a rule, which most likely will be forgotten about within a few years. Since undergraduate thesis are rare (at least in CS) and are used often as an incentive for grooming students to follow up with advanced degrees, they tend to be treated rather informally or they may be treated through analogy with an MS Thesis committee. Often, there is some rule or custom that allows a qualified outsider from industry to be part of a thesis committee (MS or PH.D.), even if they lack formal education. This is US specific and might not be true for even the majority of institutions.

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  • This is at a public university in the United States at a top 10 school in Computer Science. Not many people do undergrad theses at my school, so there isn't any well defined common practice that I am aware of. I think the suggestion of being an external resource makes sense, I have a pretty casual relationship with my advisor so asking won't hurt Jul 27, 2023 at 19:18
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This only indirectly answers your question, but I think may be relevant. I've probably reviewed >100 early-career CVs (PhD candidates, post-doc applicants, early career fellowship applicants), and I can not recall a single time I even noticed tertiary supervisors/committee members, let alone took them into account in the evaluation of applicants. So I can't comment on if including PhD students on committees is common or not, as it's not something I would notice. That might be different if there was a Big Name attached, but the presence or absence of a PhD student is going to be marginal at best.

So, while it's good of you to be trying to look out for the student, I don't think it's going to make a significant impact for them either way. It may actually be more useful for your CV (as it shows clear evidence of supervision etc.).

(I'll add the standard disclaimer here that academia is highly heterogeneous and there may be fields/countries where this is more of an issue, and you might get better answers if you specified both of those points.)

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  • Thanks for the perspective! I also got the impression that as I am very early on in my career, my name wouldn't hold any meaning to someone reviewing an application. Knowing now that its not something that is often looked at anyways, I think my advisor's name being on it says plenty in this case. Jul 27, 2023 at 19:22
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As @Thomas Schwarz has already stated, this is very much dependent on your location and local uni policies. But nevertherless, here is some perspective from personal experience:

At my university, the main supervisor always has to be a full professor, but the second supervisor ("Zweitgutachter" in German) - there are only two in the committee - could be anyone who has the same qualification as the person writing the thesis wants to obtain. That is, anyone holding a bachelors degree could (technically) be the second supervisor for a person writing a bachelor thesis, a person with a masters can supervise a masters (for PhD the rules are different). Of course the person needs to also be knowledgeable about the subject of the thesis on top.

So as a PhD student, you would be perfectly eligible to be in a thesis committee for an undergrad at my university. Of course, other rules might apply, but it doesn't hurt to ask - it is not a completely unreasonable or unheard of proposition.

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Are you worried about the committee members' grade/comments on the thesis or what they will write in reference letters?

For either case, perhaps talk to the committee members about whether they would be willing to discuss these points with you and/or offer to write a short document that they can use when writing the reference letters.

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