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Research Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.) - Dissertation Committee Formation, Composition, and Review

Contents

Purpose  |  Academic Goal  |  Scope  |  Background  |  Definitions  |  Statement of Policy  |  Further Information


Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to describe when and how a Ph.D. student’s dissertation committee is formed and maintained through the course of his/her degree program of study.

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Academic Goal

The academic goal of this policy is to ensure that all research doctoral students benefit from the expert advice and assistance of multiple members of the Graduate Faculty.

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Scope

This policy applies to all students enrolled in programs of study leading to the Ph.D.

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Background

Research is a complex enterprise, requiring both individual creative initiative and broad consultation with other research experts. Likewise, the education of a Ph.D. candidate – training in the broad methods of research generally, the specific methods appropriate to their discipline, and the values that define the research community - requires the active participation of a broad team of expert advisers at every step of the student’s program. Each Ph.D. student has a Dissertation Committee, whose purpose is to provide the attention, guidance, and mentoring necessary for the candidate to successfully earn their degree and meet the Graduate Council’s Scholarly and Professional Goals for Penn State graduates.

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Definitions

Dissertation Committee (co)Chair: Graduate Faculty member(s) responsible for assuring that all Graduate Council standards and requirements relative to the Ph.D. degree are met and that any conditions set by the student’s Dissertation Committee are fulfilled.

Dissertation (co)Adviser: Graduate Faculty member(s) principally responsible for day-to-day guidance of the student’s dissertation research and academic and professional development.

Outside Unit Member: Graduate Faculty member responsible for providing the student and the Dissertation Committee with a perspective on the dissertation research and other professional matters from outside the unit that offers the program or, in the case of intercollege graduate degree programs (IGDPs), outside the unit of the chair/adviser.

Outside Field Member: Graduate Faculty member responsible for broadening the disciplinary perspective available to the student and the Dissertation Committee; must have a disciplinary expertise different from the student’s primary field of study.

Minor Program Member: For students pursuing a minor, a Graduate Faculty member who is a member of and represents the minor program on the Dissertation Committee.

Special Member: A member of the student’s Dissertation Committee who is not a member of the Graduate Faculty of Penn State, but whose expertise and insights would provide substantial benefit to the student’s dissertation research and the Dissertation Committee.

Major Graduate Program: The graduate program within which the student is pursuing their degree.

Minor Graduate Program: For students pursuing a minor, the graduate program responsible for the graduate minor.

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Statement of Policy

 

  1. Each Ph.D. student shall have an appointed Dissertation Committee to guide their research training.
  2. Dissertation Committee Appointment: A student’s Dissertation Committee shall be nominated to the Graduate School by the student’s major Graduate Program Head as soon as possible after the student has secured an adviser, but in no event later than one calendar year following the date of the student’s successful completion of the Qualifying Examination unless an alternative timing is approved through the Graduate Council’s curricular review process.
    1. The guiding principle for members of the Dissertation Committee is the success of the student.
    2. While it is expected that the Graduate Program Head will consult with the student, the student’s adviser, and as appropriate the dual-title and/or minor Graduate Program Head, the Graduate Program Head is responsible for nominating members of the Dissertation Committee to the Graduate School, designating Dissertation Committee member roles, and ensuring appropriate Dissertation Committee composition that is in the best interests of the student and the completion of their dissertation. Dissertation Committees must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.
    3. The Dean of the Graduate School may appoint one or more members to the Dissertation Committee in addition to those recommended by the Graduate Program Head.
  3. Minimum Dissertation Committee Membership: A student’s Dissertation Committee shall consist at minimum of four members of the Graduate Faculty, each of whom shall be in a position to contribute substantially to the student’s education. At least two of these four members shall be from the student's major graduate program.
  4. Dissertation Committee Member Roles: Each Committee shall have a Dissertation Committee Chair, Outside Field Member, Outside Unit Member, and include the student’s Dissertation Adviser. The Dissertation Committee Chair and Dissertation Adviser may be one and the same. For students pursuing a graduate minor, the Dissertation Committee shall include a Minor Field Program Member representing each graduate minor. Dissertation Committees may also include other participants who are not members of the Graduate Faculty but are otherwise qualified and have particular expertise in the student’s research area. All Dissertation Committee Members are expected to participate fully in the affairs of the Dissertation Committee.
    1. Dissertation Committee Chair: The Dissertation Committee Chair shall be a member of the Graduate Faculty and the student’s major Graduate Program. The Dissertation Committee Chair is responsible for arranging and conducting all Dissertation Committee Meetings, ensuring that all Graduate Program, Graduate Council, and Graduate School standards and requirements relative to the doctoral degree are met, and that any conditions set by the Dissertation Committee are fulfilled.
      1. For students pursuing dual-title degrees, either the Dissertation Committee Chair or a co-Chair must be a Graduate Faculty member of the dual-title program.
    2. Dissertation Adviser: Each Committee shall include the student’s Dissertation Adviser. The Dissertation Adviser is responsible for the day-to-day guidance of the student’s dissertation research, and academic and professional development.
      1. Where day-to-day guidance is shared by two members of the Graduate Faculty, both may be appointed to the Dissertation Committee as co-Advisers.
      2. Co-advisers are jointly and severally responsible for the day-to-day guidance of the student’s dissertation research, and academic and professional development.
      3. A Dissertation Advisor may also serve as the Dissertation Committee Chair (or co-Chair).
    3. Outside Field Member: Each Dissertation Committee shall have appointed at least one Outside Field Member. The Outside Field Member must have a disciplinary expertise different from the student’s primary field of study, and is responsible for broadening the disciplinary perspective available to the student and the Dissertation Committee. The Outside Field Member may be from student’s graduate program, but may not also serve as a major program member. In cases where the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title program, any dual-title Graduate Faculty member of the Dissertation Committee may serve as the Outside Field Member.
    4. Outside Unit Member(s): Each Dissertation Committee shall have appointed at least one Outside Unit Member. The Outside Unit Member is responsible for bringing to the attention of the student and the Dissertation Committee [non-academic] issues (including, for example, conflicts of interest) that may impact a student’s progress. Outside Unit Members must have their primary academic appointment in an administrative unit different than the Dissertation Committee Chair(s) and Dissertation Adviser(s).
    5. Minor Program Member(s): Dissertation Committees assigned to students pursuing graduate minors shall include at least one Minor Program Member for each graduate minor. Each graduate minor pursued by a student shall be represented by at least one Minor Program Member who is a member of the Graduate Faculty and a member of that minor graduate program. Minor Program Members are responsible for providing the student and the Dissertation Committee with information, advice and perspective on student progress in fulfilling the graduate minor requirements in the graduate program they represent.
    6. Special Members: Dissertation Committees may include Special Members who are not members of the Graduate Faculty but are otherwise qualified and have particular expertise in the student’s research area. Special Members do not have to be affiliated with Penn State.
  5. Annual Review of Dissertation Committee Membership: It is crucial that all committee members remain actively engaged in the guidance of the student through the completion of their program. The Graduate Program Head of the student’s major program shall review annually each student’s Dissertation Committee to ensure that all Dissertation Committee members continue to qualify for service in their designated roles. The Graduate Program Head is responsible for promptly making any necessary changes and informing the Graduate School.
  6. When Dissertation Committee Members Retire or Become Emeritus
    1. Dissertation Committee Members who retire or become emeritus may continue to serve for the duration of the student’s program if they were appointed to the Dissertation Committee in this role prior to retirement, and they have the continuing approval of the student’s Graduate Program Head and the Graduate School. (In the case of students pursuing a dual-title degree, the dual-title Graduate Program Head must also approve.)
    2. As specified in 5 (above) it is the responsibility of the Graduate Program Head to ensure that all Dissertation Committee members continue to qualify for service in their designated roles. The Graduate Program Head will review the committee membership whenever any committee member retires to ensure that students receive expert faculty guidance through their dissertation project.
  7. When Dissertation Committee Members Leave the University: Dissertation Committee Members in any role who leave Penn State for reasons other than retiring or becoming emeritus may maintain their committee appointment for up to one year with the approval of the student's Graduate Program Head and the Dean of the Graduate School.
  8. Other Changes in Dissertation Committee Membership: If the need for Dissertation Committee membership change is required, whether at the time of an annual review or otherwise, the student’s major Graduate Program Head will promptly make the necessary changes and notify the director of Graduate Enrollment Services.

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Further Information

Approved by Graduate Council, May 2, 2018. Effective date: Fall 2018 (8/13/2018)

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