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Advice about Undergraduate Thesis Committees

If you’re thinking of asking a faculty member to sit on your honors thesis committee there are a few things you need to think about beforehand.

Is your project’s timeline realistic? Can you finish in time to graduate? In some programs, students will have to take additional courses for the honors program and you will have ample opportunity to think about your project. Use this time to also think about your timeline and who you will ask to sit on your committee.

How busy are you? Will you make your deadlines? Remember that your committee is also very busy and that they are counting on you to meet your deadlines and habitually missing deadlines is a poor reflection on your time management and is an inconvenience to your committee. Essentially you are telling your committee that their time is also not important and this is not a smart tactic to take.

Are the committee members a good fit for your project? Do the committee members have a good reputation for mentoring students and guiding them through the process? You will work closely with the committee for several months. Then, at your defense you will want to make sure that they understand the project and are there on your side to help you think critically about the project.

Try to surround yourself with a strong support network of friends and peers in the department who will also understand what you are going through with the thesis. The thesis can provide you the first taste of what graduate school is like and you want this to work for you.

Use the resources (if any) available at your university. See if there is a Writing Lab or Writing Center to help you with the writing process. Your committee could offer you writing advice, but other committees might focus more strongly on the concepts and encourage you to work with someone else for the writing. These are things you will need to discuss with your committee.

Likewise, find out what the department culture is. Is the Chair the “heavy” and the second committee member only comes on for the defense? You will need to ask these questions. I would suggest that you also get input from your Chair about who they think might be a good second committee member. You might propose a few names, but be open to the Chair’s suggestions. Faculty are more aware of other colleagues’ workloads or even their assessment’s of students, so your Chair might suggest that you pursue alternative options. S/he might know of a perfect fit in another department. Also, your Chair might not really have any investment in who the second committee member is—again you will need to have this discussion with the Chair of your committee.

This might sound harsh—but faculty do not have to sit on Undergraduate Thesis or Dissertation committees. We can pick students who we want to work with  and mentor, and some faculty are notoriously burdened with too much committee work. You want a good mentor who has time for you, so ask wisely. Please do not take offense if you get a decline or if a faculty member explains that s/he is on leave and not supervising. This is all part of the undergraduate thesis process. We have every right to decline and most times it is not personal.

Do make sure that you talk about the honors program experience with current students who working on their thesis or major research undergraduate project. Your peers can work as an invaluable resource during this process. Good luck!


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