Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Building a committee

One of the tasks a PhD student must complete is assembling a committee. The committee is an amalgamation of a set of mentors to help guide you plus a jury of your superiors to judge you.
Just like the alien council in Disney's Lilo and Stitch
The committee is responsible for everything, from what courses you take, to techniques you use in research, to constantly questioning and pushing your knowledge level. This goes on until they finally decide to allow you to defend and, hopefully, bestow the title of PhD upon you. At my Uni, we are required to have at least 3 in-house committee members and 1 from main campus. For my master's, my adviser told me who would be on my committee. But now, for my PhD, my PI wants me to decide which of the faculty but he has veto power.

The first two out of three in house were easy, there is my adviser and the other plant PI we do lab meetings with every week. However, picking the last two is a more of a task! For starters, I only know a few faculty as we are only required to take a single class per semester and there is not a lot of social interaction in the department. Then there is the fact that I have never been to main campus so member 4 is the extremely hard one. While I can find out research interests on the webpages, personality complementarity is not easy to decipher via a few pixels and lines of code.

I've asked around for help on how to pick committee members. The most common piece of advice is to find people who complement and add to my project. For example, if I'm going to have a project heavy in bioinformatics I should probably find someone with that knowledge. They can then be a sounding board and assist with that part of the project. This is fantastic advice, but probably works better if you have a clear idea of what all of your chapters are going to be! Thankfully, I have until May to get my committee formed.

Anyone out there ever put together a PhD committee? Any things you wished you had looked for, or alternatively things you thought would be important that were not?

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