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Guidelines for the Doctoral Committee

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Guidelines for the Doctoral Committee


Because of the critical role of the doctoral committee in promoting student success, we request that doctoral committee members set aside time to carefully review the recommended best practices for the doctoral committee listed below, whether this is your first time or your twentieth time serving on a doctoral committee.

We encourage you to consult the Graduate College Bulletin, and especially the following sections, so that you will be familiar with the processes and standards that govern each stage of the doctoral student’s progress:

8.5 The General Examination

8.6 The Dissertation

8.7 Dissertation Defense

We recommend that, if this did not already happen during the Advisory Conference, the committee undertake two tasks in consultation with the student: 1) establish committee roles and responsibilities, and 2) establish a provisional plan and timeline for the student’s completion.

1.   Establish committee roles and responsibilities.

We recommend that the committee establish who will review the student’s work at which stages and set expectations about the reasonable turnaround time for feedback. While it is typical for the chair to provide feedback on the student’s work at early stages, we recommend that all portions of the dissertation be circulated to the full committee well before the defense so that the committee is aware of the specific nature of the student’s work and has ample opportunity to provide feedback. It is acceptable for some members of the committee to be more involved in giving feedback early on, and for others to play an active role in evaluating the work only as it is approaching completion. This plan should be agreed to by the committee in consultation with the student. Regardless of the specific plan adopted, the student is free to consult and share their work with all members of the committee at any time. 

Chair

The chair will coordinate the activities of the committee and will typically be the student’s primary research mentor (though the co-chair is occasionally the primary research mentor). It is appropriate for all members of the committee to be kept apprised of the student’s progress, to be available for the student to consult, and to review the student’s work periodically. The chair should work with the student and all committee members to establish shared understandings of the roles each committee member will play in guiding and evaluating the student’s work, and in establishing appropriate timelines for the student to present their work and for the committee to provide feedback.

Co-Chair

The co-chair may share research mentorship responsibilities with the chair or, in some cases, may be the primary mentor. The co-chair should work with the chair to ensure that there is a clear understanding among the student and the committee members about the respective roles of the chair and co-chair, and about the roles each committee member will play in guiding and evaluating the student’s work. Additionally, the co-chair should work with the chair, committee, and student to establish a plan for the student to circulate their work to the full committee and appropriate timelines for the committee to provide feedback.

Member

Regular members of the committee will help to guide and evaluate the student’s work. They should be available for the student to consult, be kept apprised of the student’s progress, and should participate in reviewing the student’s work as it progresses. The committee should work with the student to establish a plan for the student to circulate their work to the full committee and appropriate timelines for the committee to provide feedback.

Graduate College Representative (GCR)

The primary role of the GCR (previously known as the outside member) is to ensure that the rights and interests of the student are safeguarded and that the policies and standards of the Graduate College are maintained. The GCR shall be present at all meetings of the committee and should be copied on all committee correspondence. The GCR must participate based on the current graduate college participation policy (GB 8.5.2) during the oral portion of the general examination and at the dissertation defense. It is appropriate for the GCR to encourage the committee to follow the guidelines and best practices outlined here, and the GCR has a responsibility to report violations of policy and procedure to the Graduate College.

The GCR must not have a close personal or professional relationship with any member of the committee or with the student that would constitute a potential conflict of interest. The GCR should not, for instance, be a research collaborator of the student or other committee member. (A collaborator from another unit can join the committee as a regular member; it is okay for the doctoral committee to have more than four members, , provided the committee membership requirements in the Graduate College Bulletin are satisfied.) Where the GCR has subject-matter expertise relevant to the student’s doctoral work, the GCR may be involved in providing feedback, though this is not essential to the GCR role. The committee should establish whether and how the GCR will be included in assessing the student’s work.

2.   Establish a provisional plan and timeline for the student’s completion.

We encourage the committee to work with the student now to establish a plan and timeline for completion. The committee should then review the student’s progress at least annually and revise the plan as appropriate. In determining the timeline, it is crucial to recognize that before the defense, the committee needs time to review the complete dissertation, request revisions, and review and approve the revised version of the document. We recommend that a plan for the final stage be established at the outset so that there are shared expectations about when the student must submit the complete dissertation to have a prospect of defending during the planned completion semester.

The full committee must review the dissertation reading copy before defense scheduling. When authority is requested for the dissertation defense, at least ten working days before the defense is held, the chair and all committee members must personally certify that they have reviewed the reading copy of the dissertation and judge it satisfactory to proceed to the defense. (The GCR need not evaluate the quality of the dissertation unless it has been agreed that this will be part of the GCR’s role; however, the GCR should have received the dissertation and should be in a position to attest that all other members have received and approved it.) Authority must not be requested until the committee has received and reviewed the complete document and judged it ready for defense. Because an unsatisfactory defense results in the student’s immediate dismissal from the program, it is imperative that the defense not be held until the dissertation has been revised to meet the committee’s standards. If there is a dissenting opinion on the committee and the matter cannot be resolved, we recommend that the chair contact Senior Associate Dean Sherri Irvin or Associate Dean Liz Karr for consultation.

We are grateful for your service to the student, the Graduate College, and the university. The Graduate College is here to support you and the student. If you have any questions about your responsibilities or relevant policies, or if at any point you would like to consult about the committee’s processes or the student’s progress or well-being, please don’t hesitate to contact Senior Associate Dean Sherri Irvin directly at sirvin@ou.edu or Associate Dean Liz Karr at lizkarr@ou.edu. You are also welcome to refer students Dr. Irvin, Dr. Karr, or to Dr. Rodney Bates (rbates5@ou.edu, 405-325-0797), Director of Graduate Student and Postdoc Retention and Support, for a confidential consultation if they are experiencing challenges that may interfere with their academic progress or well-being.