I have been reading that many students have a PhD committee. I assume this is a group of experts supervising the student.

In my case, and I think this is quite common, I had two people. One was the principal supervisor and the other was the associate supervisor.

Almost all my contacts were with the principal supervisor. The associate supervisor was a back-up resource if and when needed.

This was a simple one-on-one contact between me and my principal supervisor.

I am just wondering how does a PhD committee work?

3 Answers 3


At least in the US, a Ph.D committee will have 4-5 members, and there are rules about the composition of the committee (there might need to be at least one person from an external institution, and at least one person from a different department, or variations thereof).

The committee's formal job is to assess the Ph.D student's dissertation proposal, determine that the work being proposed is sufficient for a dissertation, and then evaluate the final dissertation defense and decide whether to grant the student a Ph.D or not.

Informally, a Ph.D committee provides a set of resources/expertise for the student to tap into for advice, research directions and even contacts for future work (yes, there's life after a Ph.D :)). There's prior discussion on how to choose your committee.

  • Thanks So who from the PhD committee supervises the student? Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 2:08
  • The advisor supervises the student.
    – Suresh
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 2:09
  • 1
    Or the supervisor supervises, if you use terminology used elsewhere. Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 15:24
  • I've always felt that "advisor" was a friendlier term and put the focus where it should be: on the student. A supervisor tells you what to do :)
    – Suresh
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 16:33
  • 2
    I'd only take issue with 4-5. In the universities I've been in, a committee with 3 members was always considered normal or standard, 4 would be large, and 5 would be considered unnecessarily large.
    – mako
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 3:23

I want to clarify a point about your first paragraph: at least in the US, the PhD committee does not usually supervise the student very much. A PhD student has an advisor, who is typically on the PhD committee, and may be its chair, who supervises the student. The committee's main role is to determine whether the thesis gives adequate grounds to grant a PhD. At some schools the committee convenes only once or twice---perhaps once to approve a plan for the thesis, and once to approve it. At others, the committee might meet once a year to consider whether the student is making adequate progress.

Regardless, at least in the US, it's unusual for the committee to have a formal role beyond that. Of course it's possible that committee members besides the advisor might be involved in supervising the student, but the causation is more likely to run the other way: because they're involved in supervising the student, they're invited to be on the committee.


The answer to this question differs based on the country, university, faculty, department and the particular members of the committee.

In general universities and departments have regulations and procedures that describe in exact detail the roles and responsibilities of the PhD committee. No one in here can give you anything but some general idea which is already described in more detail in those documents. PhD committees have completely different roles in US and UK for instance. In US they are the ones that assess you but in UK your examiners assess you and then report back to the committee in the department.

  • I did not have a PhD committee. If I did, this question would be superfluous Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 2:07

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