No one writes a dissertation in a vacuum. The final document is a group effort: you write it, but your dissertation committee shapes the content and approves the final document. These committee members will make suggestions, point out problems, and (yes) require changes. You can make this process smoother and more efficient by regularly communicating with your committee. Doing so helps avoid unpleasant surprises, such as disagreement on a chapter’s point after you’ve made revisions.
Here are five good habits for fostering positive and productive relationships with your dissertation committee:
- Thank your committee.
- Communicate regularly.
- Be specific about what you’re working on.
- Be specific when requesting feedback.
- Be positive.
Thank Your Committee
Writing a dissertation is a great deal of work, but so is advising one. Before you’ve even written a word, your committee members have promised to not only read your document but also tell you what they thought of it! That is quite a gift to you. Honor their commitment by staying on top of your own writing and submission deadlines, as well as thanking your committee.
Communication is a two-way street, so be proactive and check in regularly with your faculty. Create a schedule for updating your committee members on your progress, then stick to it. Not everyone needs to receive all updates. Some updates will only go to your committee chairperson, but let everyone know when you expect to send them drafts to look at. A good time to update your committee on your progress is when you finish a chapter draft or a major revision. You can send them a brief message:
Dear Professor X,
I wanted to let you know that I’ve finished the first draft of Chapter 2. My committee chairperson, Professor Y, is now reviewing my draft. Once I receive Y’s feedback, I will make any necessary changes and send the revised draft to you for review. I anticipate that I will send you my revised draft no later than May 30 (two weeks from today).
Thank you in advance for your assistance!
Be Specific About What You’re Working On
“I’m hard at work writing” is not as informative as “I’m working on the literature review” or “I’m in the middle of revising Chapter 1.” Even “I’m having a lot of trouble finding sources for xyz” is helpful to convey. When you tell your chairperson where you are in the process and what you’re having trouble with, you empower them to give you helpful suggestions.
Be Specific When Requesting Feedback
When you request feedback, be clear about what kind of feedback you are asking for. Rather than “Can you give me feedback on Chapter 2?” ask questions like, “Do I have enough evidence to back up my argument in Section X of Chapter 2?” Questions help committee members focus their feedback onto the content of what you say, rather than the mechanics of how you say it. (There is a time and place for that, too, but first things first.)
Here’s an example:
Dear Professor X,
I finally finished revising Chapter 3! I know that I need to work on polishing the writing, so I’ve made an appointment with the Writing Center, but can I get your feedback on my argumentation? I think that I’ve addressed all of your concerns from the previous draft, but since Section X is entirely new, I’d especially like to get your input on it. Also, do I have enough citations for Section Y, now?
Remember, you can also make an appointment at the Writing Center if you know what you want to tell your committee, but are having trouble phrasing it. We can help!
Writing a dissertation is a big project. Inevitably some things won’t go as smoothly as desired. Keep in mind that everyone’s goal is for you to complete a well-written, professional document that reflects well on you, your committee, and Azusa Pacific University. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and keep working regularly—that’s a recipe for finishing in good time.