Thesis Committee Formation

Within one month of passing the qualifying examination, the student must file a candidacy petition provided by the Graduate Division. This petition includes the names of the thesis advisory committee, chosen by the student in consultation with the thesis advisor.

Thesis committee membership, responsibilities

The committee is expected to be composed of two or more Tetrad Program faculty members in addition to the thesis advisor.  Non-Tetrad faculty members can serve on the committee subject to approval of the program directors. While the thesis committee includes the thesis advisor, it is expected to serve as an independent advisory committee. An effective thesis committee provides scientific expertise that complements the expertise of the PI, evaluates progress independent of the PI, provides career development advice, can serve to mediate conflicts between the student and the PI (see below for additional detail), and is readily available for consultation. Here is a link to a thoughtful commentary about choosing thesis committee members.
The chair of the committee is responsible for clearly communicating the assessment and guidance of the committee to both the PI and the student during each meeting.  The chair is also responsible for returning a brief, online report (Thesis Progress Report) at the end of each meeting.

The Tetrad Executive Committee has approved a change, effective immediately, to the organization of the thesis committee.  Thus far, Tetrad Program graduate students have had the option of choosing someone other than their thesis advisor to serve as the chair of their committee.  However, in almost all cases, the thesis advisor also served as the thesis committee chair.  Going forward, while the thesis advisor remains a member of the thesis committee, another member of the committee must assume the position of thesis committee chair.  The impetus behind this policy change has been feedback from our own program members which is in line with the recommendations of various national organizations, such as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) that aim to improve graduate education.

Responsibilities of the student

The obligation to schedule timely thesis committee meetings rests with the student. Students must report to the graduate program admin when the meeting has been scheduled and fill out an associated self evaluation (Student Thesis Report) before each meeting take place.

Frequency of the thesis meetings

The first thesis committee is expected to be scheduled within six months of your qualifying exam and occur within one year once the qualifying exam has been successfully completed, and once each year thereafter (every 6 months for MSTP students).  The yearly meeting (within one year from the last meeting) is the minimum. We also strongly encourage all students to maintain communication with either all or a subset of their committee members in between official meetings.  For students in year 5 and beyond, we strongly recommend an official committee meeting every six months. Students applying for graduation must have had a recent committee meeting where the committee determined that the student was ready to write their thesis and graduate.

The overall goal of the thesis committee meetings is to ensure that the students truly use the thesis committee as an advisory board. This is most effective when committee members are kept abreast of progress on a routine basis. Similarly, any potential issues and conflicts should be resolved as quickly as possible and not be relegated to only official meetings.  Any major problems or conflicts warrant an immediate call for a committee meeting.

The format of the thesis committee meeting

At the beginning of each 2-hour committee meeting, the thesis advisor speaks candidly with the other committee members in the absence of the student. During the meeting, the thesis committee is tasked with evaluating the depth and breadth of the area of investigation, monitoring scientific rigor and the responsible conduct of science. Explicit discussions on these topics as well as career development are mandatory. At the end of the meeting, the thesis advisor leaves the room and the student speaks candidly with the committee members.

Conflict resolution

The committee is tasked with resolving conflicts or disagreements between the student and thesis advisor. However, the student, thesis advisor, and each of the committee members can directly reach out to program directors when conflicts cannot be resolved by the thesis committee.  As always, students can also bypass the program directors and utilize the resources of the university including but not limited to the Graduate Division and the Office of the Ombuds.

Change of committee members

As projects proceed in new directions, perspective changes, or the student feels the committee is not meeting their needs, the composition of the committee can be changed by the student in consultation with their thesis advisor or committee chair by submitting a Change Committee Petition in the student portal.