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I am currently a PhD student and I need to choose a dissertation committee as I will be graduating soon. (I already have a postdoc lined up.) It seems the only function of this committee is to read my thesis, attend my defense, and decide whether to grant me a PhD.

Assuming my dissertation committee serves its purpose and grants me a PhD, what further relevance do they have? How should I choose my committee? In particular, is my committee still important after I graduate?

The reason I'm asking is because I don't really know who to choose. It seems like I should just ask whoever in my department is available. Should I be considering other factors? For example, it is good to have "famous" researchers on my committee?

I asked my advisor and she didn't voice an opinion and said it was essentially up to me who to choose.

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  • Does your PhD come with a grade? – Wrzlprmft Apr 27 '16 at 18:13
  • Pick faculty members who might be interested in your work. If you're lucky, some of them will be open to staying in touch after you graduate. You can never have too many informal mentors. – user37208 Apr 27 '16 at 18:48
  • Check your school's and your department's rules. At my university, a Ph.D. thesis committee must have a member from outside the candidate's department, and my department requires a member who is in the department but outside the candidate's sub-area. Also, though it's not (as far as I know) required, it's always the case that the adviser chairs the committee. And, if there are other faculty knowledgeable about the thesis topic, they (or some of them) should be included. Beyond that, it's whoever is available. – Andreas Blass Apr 27 '16 at 19:56
  • Addendum to my comment: Sometimes, faculty members have informal arrangements along the lines of "I'll serve on your students' committees if you'll serve on mine." Such arrangements make it easier to organize committees, but it seems this isn't relevant in your case, since your adviser didn't have an opinion. – Andreas Blass Apr 27 '16 at 19:58
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I can share my perspective as person who recently completely a PhD thesis (May 2015). I think that choice of members is something which should not be taken lightly. I would think about a couple of key components. Which members of the faculty have interests/experiences in areas which are potentially interested in pursuing the future? They could be useful in terms of networking in the future. Are their members of the faculty who you have spoken to about your project in the past who might be able to bring a bit of familiarity to defense, this is potentially important in terms of them being able to write a stronger recommendation letter. I think the last thing to think about are the different components of your thesis and selecting members who can best ask you about the individual sections in your thesis.

Best!

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Don't the committee members give you any critique or feedback prior to your actual defense?

You might be alert to the possibility of inadvertently choosing committee members with some grudges or chips-on-their-shoulders about either your advisor, your choice of topic, or something else, which might cause them to either simply be mean to you (to no purpose), or in fact try to scuttle your degree completion. (In my university, from a committee of 4, one "fail" vote is not fatal, but two would be, ... and then one has no chance to do-over: one is simply done, without the Ph.D.)

I do think that with feedback prior to the actual defense, there ought not be any unpleasantness at the defense, and it should really be pro-forma. After all, why keep secrets about what one expects from a thesis when one could communicate them and discuss them, presumably for an improved outcome?

Further, if one has more substantive interaction with the committee than just a few days and the defense, they might indeed be useful letter-writers for some period of time.

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