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I am applying to a PhD program at my alma mater this fall, and I am trying to make my application as strong as possible. A friend who went through the program suggested that having people lined up to be on my dissertation committee before I applied would help my application.

I have a professor who has agreed to be my advisor if I am admitted, and another professor who has agreed to be on my committee if I am admitted.

I have a meeting with a third professor next week that I have never met before, but was introduced to by another professor. Aspects of his work are very similar to my interests, and I would love if he would be the third person on my committee, but I don't know how to go about asking if he would be willing when we meet.

Do you have any advice on how to approach this meeting and this professor? How much will having all three professors necessary for my thesis committee on board when I apply help my application?

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  • Have you checked the rules for the composition of your committee? Have you discussed this with your proposed advisor? Aug 1, 2016 at 20:14
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    I would wait until you can consult your advisor before discussing committee membership. She may know someone else who would be an even better choice. Meeting the professor and discussing your research is useful anyway. Aug 1, 2016 at 20:21
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    Can you please elaborate on why you think that lining up your doctoral committee prior to being accepted is a good idea? To me, it seems a lot like putting the cart before the horse.
    – Mad Jack
    Aug 2, 2016 at 1:10
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    Is it usual at this institution to line up a committee so early? In my experience (US), you don't usually form a committee until your second or third year in the program. Aug 2, 2016 at 4:30
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    I am curious why you think lining up a committee at this stage would be any sort of advantage. Aug 2, 2016 at 22:09

3 Answers 3

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Lining up the committee this early has definite disadvantages. Your area of research may shift as you learn more about it. The top professor in your field may join the department next year - you would have loved to have her on your committee, it if were not already filled.

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Simply put, you are wasting your time and their time. There is a lot of variation across countries regarding what, when, and how a phd committee is formed and this is not something you want to do before being admitted. Focus on your potential advisor, you only need one person to promote your application during the admission process, so there is no use to contact potential committee member when you might not even get an interview or an offer.

I advice instead two things: 1. In your application you can usually include 1-2 other faculty you might be interested in. 2. If you get to the interview stage and you are invited on campus, schedule meetings with these potential committee members.

Lastly, because there are many dynamics inside the department and within research groups, you will not be able to make a realistic short-list of potential committee member until you are at least a few months into the program. If I were a professor and you are an applicant asking me to be in your committee, I would think you are jumping ahead of yourself.

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I would not ask for either type of commitment -- being an advisor or being in the committee -- at this early stage.

You don't know what kind of horse trading goes on in the admissions committee. Sometimes I've managed to get more than one student because another faculty member out of left field said they wanted to work primarily with that student before I spoke up.

I am also very hesitant of overcommitting myself to too many students.

Instead, if I were you, I would ask if they would be "willing to work with you" if you were accepted. Non-committal and thus easy to answer.

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