I started my PhD program and have finished qualifiers already. I had a discussion about topics with my research advisor. However, my advisor admitted he does not know so much about the topic of my PhD.

Thus I had the following questions:

  1. Can my co-advisor be from another institution?
  2. If so, will this impact my thesis committee?
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    I am voting to close because we don't know the rules at your institution, and that is what it matters. Why don't you ask your advisor? – Davidmh Apr 7 '17 at 12:55
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    @Davidmh most questions here can be answered by ask your institution and your advisor. Not sure this is enough to close a question, especially the second one. – Emilie Apr 7 '17 at 13:12
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    @Emilie: The problem is that the only relevant answer to these questions can be given by the institution. There is really nothing much we can answer except: “it depends”. – Wrzlprmft Apr 7 '17 at 15:25
  • Yes, it's common in the institutions that I know. Where I graduated, at least one member of the committee even had to be an 'external'.
  • That doesn't​ mean the same applies to your institution. Read your local examination rules and check with your first supervisor if external (co)supervision is possible in your institution and what the implications are.
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  • Can you publish papers/conference with your co-advisor ? – Wizard Programming Apr 7 '17 at 15:09
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    @WizardProgramming Why not? You mean perhaps whether that counts towards your dissertation? Only your ​supervisor and the statutes of your institution can answer this question. – henning -- reinstate Monica Apr 7 '17 at 15:11
  • I will check with my institution. – Wizard Programming Apr 7 '17 at 15:15

The only ones who can answer the first question are your school officials. Different schools, different rules. Start with your department, and if you don't get an answer, move up to the Dean's office.

Outside committee members (not necessarily co-advisers) are fairly common, and in many cases, required. Their function ranges from fully involved committee members to someone that gets the dissertation a few week in advance and then appears at the defense. The latter can really turn into a rubber stamp, where the person doesn't feel like they can provide substantial input without taking the train off the rails, as its too late. I don't care for those situations.

If you plan to have an outside coadvisor, and its within your institutions rules, I advise frequent communications to your whole committee, with a carefully planned meeting schedule. So -- basically the same as with a fully internal committee.

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As other answers suggest, the answer is typically "yes"; but you should also consider whether it is a good idea to carry out research in an environment in which you can't find a potential advisor who's familiar with your research. Will your current university be the best place for you to grow as an academic in your field? If you find a (co-)advisor elsewhere, you should also be open to the possibility of switching universities altogether. (Obviously there are pluses and minuses to that.)

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