What to Consider for a Thesis Chair/Committee

Because I knew for certain I was going to pursue an advanced degree, I decided to write a thesis near the end of my undergraduate career. It was not an easy feat I will admit, however I chose a thesis committee that consisted of professors I have taken classes with before, and who knew my style of writing fairly well. Thanks to this experience, I learned how important it is to think carefully about the professors you want for your thesis committee/chair. I have provided a few points to take into consideration when deciding on who to include in your thesis committee. Writing a thesis is no easy task, so it is important to consider who would be the best fit for your committee to provide you feedback and understand your topic clearly.

Thesis Chair:

Does the professor have experience with the topic you are writing about?

Theses can be based off of papers you have already written for a class, the goal is to expand on your ideas and add new sources and information. That was the case with my undergraduate thesis. I wrote a paper for a class I took near the end of my undergraduate career. I exceeded the length requirement and learned that I still had a lot to say about my topic and more sources to include. Finding a chair was easy, the professor I had for that class eagerly agreed to direct my thesis and serve as the chair. 

That is one way to find a thesis chair. Another is to consider the area of study that the professor specializes in. You wouldn’t want to have a communications professor serve as the chair for your thesis on the works of Edgar Allan Poe for example. The professor you choose must have experience with your topic of interest. You also wouldn’t ask a professor who specializes in American literature from the eighteenth century to serve as chair to your thesis on nineteenth to twentieth century British literature. This is not only important to your credibility as a writer but to the feedback you will receive to strengthen your paper as well. 

Does the professor specialize in your topic?

It’s important that the professor you ask to be your thesis chair has a massive amount of experience with the topic you are choosing to write about. It would be even better if you choose a professor that specializes in that area of study. It can provide a lot of help to you as a writer as well because the professor can provide very specific feedback and questions that other professors who are not very familiar with your topic may not.

Has the professor served as a thesis chair before?

Experience is important and something you should seriously consider when finding a professor that is right for your work and will best serve your thesis. It is okay to ask a professor to serve as your thesis chair if they have not done so before, but be sure that they are the best fit for the position. A professor with loads of experience will serve you better however, as they know what to expect from a thesis and a thesis defense and can help you better prepare for such a tall task. 

Thesis Committee:

Have you worked with the professor before? Are they familiar with your work?

It’s important that you find professors to make up your committee that understand your writing style and strategy. This is your paper, the way you format the paper is entirely up to you. However, if a professor is not familiar with the way in which you write or if they prefer one specific style of writing, it will cause difficulty when editing as well as finalizing your thesis. That was my main area of concern when finding two other professors to make up my thesis committee. The professors I ended up choosing where very familiar with my writing style and understood the format with which I wrote my thesis. Their feedback helped me develop a paper that I was very proud of and helped me improve as a writer. 

You also want to find professors who will push you to do better, even if you have a decent draft. I learned in my sophomore year of undergraduate school that writers, no matter what they are writing and no matter how old they are, never stop writing or revising. It wasn’t until my senior year of undergraduate school, and working on my own thesis, that I found out how true this statement is. I had the pleasure of working with professors who have suggested many things for my papers that turned out to be great advice or just what I needed to hear to complete my work. It is important that you recruit professors who push you to be all that you can be. My own writing is improving and is far superior from the papers I have previously written in undergraduate school, but it is far from perfect. Finding a professor that understands this and wants to help you succeed is crucial to you as a student and writer. Also having a thesis committee full of professors that you know support you helps to keep you calm when fixing your thesis and preparing to defend it. It certainly relieves unnecessary stress.

Has the professor worked in thesis committees before?

This relates to has the professor served as a thesis chair before, but both areas of consideration are extremely vital to forming your committee. You’ll want professors who have previously served in thesis committees because they will have the knowledge and skills necessary to assist you in your own thesis process of revision and debate. 

Can they offer you helpful feedback and/or the help you need?

As well as wanting professors who will push you to be a better writer, you want to make sure that the professors in your committee will provide you with useful feedback, or the kind of feedback you believe will best serve your thesis. You want to be sure that the professors in your committee understand your topic and where you want to go with it so they can provide constructive feedback that you agree with. This type of feedback will act as a missing piece to your paper, sometimes those serving on your thesis committee will look at your paper differently but provide you with the direction that you felt has been missing from your paper. A great feeling this is, which is why it is important to make sure you find professors who see your topic the way you do and agree with the points you will be making. As a result of this, their constructive feedback will be the most helpful to you.