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Advisers and Doctoral Committees

Approved by Graduate Council, March 2000

Revised by Graduate Council, May 2011

Revised by Graduate Council, May 2012

Following admittance to a degree program, the student should confer with the head of that major department or program concerning procedures and the appointment of an academic adviser. Consultation or arrangement of the details of the student's semester-by-semester schedule is the function of the academic adviser. This person may be a member of the doctoral committee or someone else designated by the head of the major program for this specific duty. The academic adviser may be different from the dissertation adviser.

Doctoral Committee

General guidance of a doctoral candidate is the responsibility of a doctoral committee consisting of four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty, which includes at least two faculty members in the major field. For research doctorate (Ph.D.) committees, one member of the committee may be a Category Q member of the Graduate Faculty and serve in the roles specified under Expected Duties of Category Q members. The dissertation adviser must be a member of the doctoral committee. The dissertation adviser usually serves as chair, but this is not required. If the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, a co-chair representing the dual-title field must be appointed. In most cases, the same individual (e.g., dissertation adviser) is a member of the Graduate Faculty in both the major and dual-title fields, and in such cases may serve as sole chair.

At least one regular member of the doctoral committee must represent a field outside the candidate's major field of study in order to provide a broader range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise. This committee member is referred to as the "Outside Field Member." In cases where the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, the dual-title representative to the committee may serve as the Outside Field Member.

Additionally, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the primary appointment of at least one regular member of the doctoral committee must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit in which the dissertation adviser's primary appointment is held (i.e., the adviser's administrative home; in the case of tenure-line faculty, this is the individual's tenure home). This committee member is referred to as the "Outside Unit Member." In the case of co-advisers, the Outside Unit Member must be from outside the administrative home(s) of both co-advisers. In some cases, an individual may have a primary appointment outside the administrative home of the student's dissertation adviser and also represent a field outside the student's major field of study; in such cases, the same individual may serve as both the Outside Field Member and the Outside Unit Member.

If the candidate has a minor, that field must be represented on the committee by a "Minor Field Member." (For additional information related to minors for D.Ed. students, see also "Major Program and Minor Field" under "D.Ed.-Additional Specific Requirements" in the University Bulletin.)

The doctoral committee is appointed by the Graduate School dean through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, upon recommendation of the head of the major program, soon after the student is admitted to candidacy. The dean may on occasion appoint one or more members of the committee in addition to those recommended by the head of the program.

A person who is not a member of the Graduate Faculty (and may not be affiliated with Penn State) who is otherwise qualified and has particular expertise in the candidate's research area may be added as a "Special Member," upon recommendation by the head of the program and approval of the dean of the Graduate School (via the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services). A Special Member is expected to participate fully in the functions of the doctoral committee. If the Special Member is asked only to read and approve the doctoral dissertation, that person is designated a Special Signatory. Occasionally, Special Signatories may be drawn from within the Penn State faculty in particular situations.

Graduate Faculty officially appointed by the Graduate School to a doctoral committee who then leave Penn State may maintain that committee appointment for up to one year if the student's graduate program and the Graduate School dean, through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, approve the request for this exception. A retired or emeritus faculty member may serve as a doctoral committee chair if, and only if, he/she was officially appointed and began chairing the committee prior to retirement, and has the continuing approval of the program head and the Graduate School dean, through the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services. Otherwise, the committee must be revised to either remove the faculty member from the committee, or to change the individual's appointment to a Special Member. The membership of doctoral committees should be periodically reviewed by the head of the program to ensure that all members continue to qualify for service on the committee in their designated roles. For example, if type of appointment, employment at the University, etc., have changed since initial appointment to the committee, changes to the committee membership may be necessary. If changes are warranted, they should be made as soon as possible to prevent future problems that may delay academic progress for the student (e.g., ability to conduct the comprehensive or final examinations).

The graduate program head must also periodically review the Graduate Faculty listing for his/her program on both the Graduate School's faculty list and the graduate program's listing in the University Bulletin to ensure that those listings are accurate.

Chair

The chair or at least one co-chair must be a member of the graduate faculty of the specific doctoral program in which the candidate is enrolled. A retired or emeritus faculty member may chair a doctoral committee if he/she began chairing the committee prior to retirement and has the continuing approval of the department head or program chair. The primary duties of the chair are: (1) to maintain the academic standards of the doctoral program and the Graduate School and assure that all procedures are carried out fairly, (2) to ensure that the comprehensive and final examinations are conducted in a timely fashion, (3) to arrange and conduct all meetings, and (4) to ensure that requirements set forth by the committee are implemented in the final version of the thesis.

Responsibilities of Doctoral Committees

The doctoral committee is responsible for approving the broad outline of the student's program and should review the program as soon as possible after the student's admission to candidacy. Moreover, continuing communication among the student, the committee chair, the research supervisor, and the members of the committee is strongly recommended, in order to preclude misunderstandings and to develop a collegial relation between the candidate and the committee.

Doctoral Examinations

The (entire) committee will prepare and administer the examination and evaluate the candidate's performance on the examination. If a committee member is unable to attend the final oral examination, he or she will sign as a special signatory after notifying Graduate Enrollment Services (114 Kern) that a committee change must be approved and be made a part of the student's record. (Substitutes are not permitted, but changes in the committee can be made, if needed, through the usual procedures.) These changes and approvals shall occur before the actual examination takes place. The department or program head will notify Graduate Enrollment Services when the candidate is ready to have the comprehensive and the final oral examinations scheduled and will report the results of these examinations to that office.

At least three members of the doctoral committee (including the thesis adviser or chair) must be physically present at the comprehensive and at the final oral examination. The graduate student must also be physically present at these examinations. (Thus for a five-person committee, two could participate via distance.) No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via interactive videoconferencing. The examination request and a request for exceptions must be submitted to the dean of the Graduate School for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, should be communicated to the student and to the doctoral committee members well in advance of the examination.

A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing a comprehensive or a final oral examination. If a candidate fails an examination, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether another examination may be taken.

The committee examines the dissertation, administers the final oral examination, and signs the signatory page of the dissertation. At least two-thirds of the committee must approve the dissertation.

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