Dissertation / Comprehensive Exam Committees

Overview of the dissertation / comprehensive exam committee at MSU.

PhD candidates at Michigan State University receive mentorship through their guidance committees. For details concerning the responsibilities of the committees, and the responsibilities of the students toward the committees, please consult the Graduate Student Handbook.

In short, however, the role of the guidance/dissertation committees are:

  • Provide guidance to the student's academic progress, including:
    • Planning of course work and seminar participation, factoring the student's academic and career goals;
    • Preparing the syllabus for the comprehensive examination and administering the exam;
    • Providing feedback on, and approving the dissertation proposal; and
    • Reading the dissertation and administering the final defense.
  • Serve as secondary mentors in addition to (and backing up, when necessary) the dissertation advisor.

I will be generally happy to sit on the guidance/dissertation committees of students for whom I know I can make a positive contribution. (If your specialty is algebraic geometry, for example, probably asking me is not the best idea.)

Per the Graduate Student Handbook, students should form their guidance committee prior to the end of their third semester at MSU, and the dissertation committee immediately after passage of the comprehensive exam. Outside of exceptional circumstances, I will not agree to serve as a committee member at the last moment.

Guidance committee expectations

The general responsibilities of the guidance committee are described in the Graduate Student Handbook, of which the most significant is probably the administration of the comprehensive exam. I will generally defer to the chair of the guidance committee (i.e. the student's main advisor) for the format of the comprehensive exam. If requested, however, I will be willing to provide the student with a list of specific topics from which I will draw my contributions to the comprehensive examination questions, as well as a list of suggested literature from which to study.

I generally suggest to budget at least one semester worth of time studying for the comprehensive exam.

In addition to the general responsibilities listed in the Handbook, as a member of your guidance committee I will be willing to meet with you to discuss any mentorship issues and concerns you may have regarding studying at MSU. To the extent allowed by my status as a mandatory reporter, I will respect the confidentiality of our discussions.

Dissertation committee expectations

If you ask me to sit on your dissertation committee, I expect you to:

  • Update me every semester on your research progress, letting me know what is the main research program you are carrying out and at what stage of investigation you are currently.
  • Observe deadlines listed in the Graduate Student Handbook, specifically in regards to the filing of the dissertation proposal, completing the PhD seminar requirement, and fulfilling the requirements for your dissertation defense.

Additionally, while the Graduate Student Handbook states that a copy of dissertation should be presented to the committee at least three weeks in advance of the public defense, in practice I find that it often takes me a bit longer to read the theses in PDE subjects. Please make sure a completed copy of your thesis is available at least four weeks in advance of your defense.

In return:

  • I will read your dissertation proposal in detail and give comprehensive critique.
  • I will read your dissertation in detail and give constructive feedback; please expect to meet with me several times prior to your public defense.
  • I will also meet with you to discuss any mentorship issues and concerns that you may have. I will keep such discussions confidential to the extent allowed by my status as a mandatory reporter.