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So, You Want Me On Your Committee?



I'm generally happy to serve on your dissertation committee, but to make the situation mutually beneficial, I request that you adhere to a few simple guidelines:

  • Have a thesis statement.
    It should be brief, clearly visible in all documents and presentations, and thoroughly supported. Mine was something like "in the battle between expressive features and exhaustive search, expressive features wins." Think of it as your elevator pitch if you like.

  • Have me be on your proposal committee.
    The department/university rules are odd in that the dissertation committee can have almost zero intersection with the proposal committee. This makes me feel like a rubber stamp. If you want me at your defense, have me at your proposal. If you must break this rule, prepare to give me a private proposal with enough lead time that you can deal with any comments I might have.

  • Have at least a year between your proposal and defense.
    Otherwise it's not really a proposal. Again, I want to be engaged, not a rubber stamp.

  • Have clearly delineated future work and a realistic timeline.
    The timeline should have at least four or five elements to be non-trivial, and it should be connected to what you declared as your future work. It should be realistic (neither too long nor too short) based on what you've done and will do, and should not underestimate the length of time required for writing a dissertation and making defense slides.

  • Have slide numbers on all presentations.
    This verges on nit-picky, but it makes it much easier to have discussions.

  • Make clear in the documents and presentations what's new and what's known.
    This is incredibly important but often difficult to do. But I need to know what your contributions are versus what was known before.


credits: design and font inspired by Seth Able's LoRD, some images converted to ANSI using ManyTools, original drawing of me by anonymous.
last updated on six october, two thousand seventeen.