First off, congratulations on advancing to this stage in your academic career! Meeting the requirements for your thesis is not an easy task but you did it! You deserve to celebrate your achievements, both big and small.
After you have finish celebrating, it’s now time for you to select committee members for your thesis. A thesis committee is a group of faculty members who provides mentorship for your entire thesis experience.
Before you begin randomly selecting members of your committee, there are a few steps and strategies that will help you pick the right members!
Where do I start?
- Review the requirements for thesis committees in your department
Rice provides requirements for thesis committees online. For example, a thesis committee for a graduate student in the psychological sciences must have three members (your advisor and two others). At least two committee members must be within your department. Reviewing the requirements will help you understand who can and cannot be on your committee!
- Breaking down your topic
If you are considering committee members, you likely have a draft of your master’s proposal or at least an idea of what your project will be about. Consider the keywords of your project (i.e., what are five terms that can be used to categorize your proposal?). These keywords are the core of your project and can help you identify faculty that align with your interests and research goals.
- Connect your topic to faculty research
Now that you have identified your keywords, think about faculty that you know in your department that are knowledgeable in the topics you are studying. You can also search faculty/lab websites or Google Scholar if you are unfamiliar with a faculty member’s research expertise.
If there are aspects of your master’s proposal that are interdisciplinary, don’t be afraid to search for faculty outside of your department that can provide you with a valuable perspective on your research topic.
Who should I be in communication with?
- Talk with your advisor
Often, your advisor will have suggestions for potential committee members. Your advisor is one of the few people that will understand both the scope of your research project and know the faculty expertise in your department. Listen to your advisor’s recommendations and suggestions, note any faculty that may be a good fit, and share any ideas that you have based on your search in steps 2 and 3. Don’t feel constricted the recommendations from your advisor either, your peers could also be a resource.
- Talk with your peers
Older peers in your program often have a great perspective on selecting thesis committee members. Your peers may also have first hand experience with the same faculty members you are considering. E.g., Professor X provides more substantive feedback than Professor Y, so if you want substantive feedback, this is extremely helpful information!
- Talk with other faculty
Don’t be afraid to schedule meetings with potential faculty members if you want to discuss your thesis. Meeting with faculty is a great way to explain your project, hear their feedback, and gauge their interest.
I’ve talked to everyone on the list; what's next?
- Email potential committee members
Once you have selected your committee members, it is now time to email them! This might be scary or feel like a daunting step, but remember that the faculty at Rice are here to support you and help cultivate your skills as a researcher. Committee members are your team members, and are here to ideally provide constructive feedback to make your project even better!
When emailing faculty, make sure to use an appropriate tone, provide the title of your thesis, explain your project in a few sentences (or add your abstract), and note any specific reasons that that faculty is a good fit.
For example, if a faculty member has expertise relating to a theory you are applying in your research, make sure to name the theory in your email! The goal is for your potential committee members to have a clear understanding of the scope of your project and connect their expertise to your project.
What should I be mindful of during this process?
- Handling rejection
If a prospective committee member declines your offer, it’s okay! Do not take it personally or be discouraged! There may be many reasons why a faculty member might decline (e.g., tight on time, perceived lack of fit, or think another faculty member might be a better fit). Do, however, consider other faculty members and consider scheduling a meeting to discuss your thesis project. Meeting with potential committee members can help you understand if they would be a good fit, plus it’s a great opportunity to meet faculty members outside of your courses!
- Sticking to your timeline
Lastly, keep in mind your deadlines. Different departments have different requirements for scheduling your proposal and declaring your master’s candidacy. For example, in the Psychological Sciences department, a student can propose their master’s without declaring a master's candidacy. However, it is required that committee members are notified at least ten days prior to scheduling your proposal meeting.