The constructive question is, What practices/strategies could help ensure the committee reads the dissertation?
I am wondering if those who already hold a PhD, or advanced graduate students finishing their dissertations have experience where they suspected that their committee (besides their Chair) have not read their dissertation prior to the final defense examination. I would guess this issue is far from unique, as there is a variety of reasons for this. Here are some general reasons:
- Gap in Access: Committee members become separated from the department/institution, either completely or to some significant extent. Examples include retirements, where the individual might remain tangentially involved in a part time or 'emeritus' role; leaving for another job at a different institution, etc. (both are often associated with geographic relocation).
This creates additional distance between the student and that individual, making an "office drop-in" unfeasible and communication more lopsided, as the individual may feel less press to respond to emails/calls.
Note: difficulties with communication can be a standalone category, but I thought it was too broad as it applies across the board.
Gap in Motivation: This is essentially a gap between committee member's current priorities/interests and the thesis. Committee members, who have been added to the thesis committee because their area of expertise complements the knowledge capital on the committee, might feel disinterested from the particular dissertation topic selected by the student. Because the topic does not directly tie into their work, there is little incentive for them to spend time carefully reviewing the dissertation.
Lack of time/low priority: Related to the previous reasons, although this issue might surface even if the faculty member is reasonably accessible (on campus etc.) and reasonably interested in the thesis. Despite their 'well meaning' and 'best intentions', the thesis nevertheless keeps slipping to the bottom of their to-do's and they don't get around to reading/commenting for months. The pattern may recur despite regular polite reminders by email from the student and/or the committee chair.
Whatever the underlying reason (or their combinations), the result is the same: the thesis does not receive as thorough review as it technically should. The obvious negative consequences may be summarized as:
lower overall quality of the thesis (more eyes on the writing helps spot all sorts of issues that may be visible only from the unique vantage points of highly competent readers);
lower quality of the student's learning experience (less feedback = less learning);
longer time to complete thesis (since the student has to compensate for lack of feedback by trying to work out all the kinks on his/her own, plus the time it takes to simply wait for committee members to respond to requests for feedback).
difficulties during the final examination (thesis defense), since lack of committee's familiarity with the content of the thesis directly impacts their ability to be more "plugged in" to the examination presentation and 'grilling' of the candidate. As a result the candidate might have incorrect assumptions/expectations of the committee's knowledge of what he/she is talking about, and the resulting general confusion (can anyone relate to that one? ;)
What to do. How to reduce the chances of the 'neglected thesis syndrome'?