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I'm a graduate student finishing up my first year, and I'm currently in the Master's program but am planning on switching to the PhD program at my university (which is located in the U.S.). I've chosen people I'm interested in asking and my adviser's okayed my selection, but I was wondering how to go about asking these individuals.

What format is appropriate to ask people to be on your committee? Should I email each person, or should I set up a physical meeting to discuss my goals and 'pop the question'?

What should I say in the email/meeting? Most of the potential committee members I'm planning on asking don't know me very well, but they at least know my name (I think). Do I need to discuss why I want them on my committee? How much do I tell them about my project (which is still in the beginning stages)?

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    I did mine by email. I included enough about my project to give them a sense of it, but not so much that it was overwhelming (about two sentences worked for my project). I didn't include why I wanted them on my committee, since it was pretty obvious from my project - YMMV. I also included a brief (again, about two sentences) summary of who I am. Worked well for everyone. – Kathy Jul 24 '15 at 14:48
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    It's debatable if asking over email is "polite", but I assume you're more interested in getting them to say "yes" rather than being polite. If you're not sure they even know your name, it shouldn't be done purely over email. Ask to meet with them, letting them know you are selecting your dissertation committee. – Chan-Ho Suh Jul 24 '15 at 19:10
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I suggest an in-person meeting with each of them, which you can initiate with a brief but explanatory email: "I would like to meet with you for an hour in your office to discuss the possibility of you joining my dissertation committee. Based on your work and experience in X, Y, and Z, I think you might be a valuable committee member. ".

When you meet in person, you can treat it as a two-way interview. They should be interviewing you to determine if this is a good match and if they believe in your research topic and approach. Likewise, you should be interviewing them to determine that they will perform well on your particular committee. Do they have enough time? Do they get along with other committee members? How do they evaluate dissertations and the process of writing dissertations? What sort of feedback or support are they capable of giving you outside of the official meetings? What do they dislike or seek to avoid in the process of evaluating dissertations or being on the dissertation committee? And so on. You should also ask questions regarding their future plans, including sabbaticals, possible changes in job or employer (esp. for non-tenured professors), or possible retirement.

These questions that you ask a prospective committee member can help you avoid many committee problems later on.

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    This sounds good, except: there may be faculty who are willing to serve on the OP's committee but not spend an hour discussing the prospect of it. – Pete L. Clark Jul 24 '15 at 20:40
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    @PeteL.Clark This may be the case sometimes, but I personally would rule out any potential committee member who was not willing to meet with me in person for one hour. This is serious business for me (it's my life, my career) and I want to see some level of commitment and investment on the part of committee members. Again, I think this will head off many problems later. – MrMeritology Jul 24 '15 at 21:10
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    Maybe the meeting won't last an hour. It may only take 15 or 30 minutes. But scheduling an hour will provide sufficient time for each of you to ask and answer questions at length, when necessary. It also provides more time for gaining some personal familiarity, which frequently helps support productive work relationships. – MrMeritology Jul 24 '15 at 21:13

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