Guidance Committee

Guidance Committee

Upon entering the graduate program, each student is assigned a temporary advisor. By the end of two terms in residence, all students must select a major professor. This may, but need not, be the temporary advisor.

The Qualifying Paper (previously called the second year research paper) must be approved by a committee consisting of the major advisor and at least two additional non-retired tenure line faculty. The Ph.D. guidance committee and dissertation committee must contain at least four non-retired tenure line faculty members, at least three of whom must be from the Department of Sociology.

Retired and emeriti faculty are considered with this group of “non-retired” faculty for the first two terms of their retirement. Temporary faculty or faculty who has been retired for more than two semesters may serve on committees in addition to the three or four regular faculty members required.

Each year, each graduate student is evaluated by his/her major professor and the department. These evaluations from the major professor should be discussed with the student and any concerns about the student’s ability to complete the degree should be addressed at this time. Students should expect to receive, and have a right to see, the evaluations from their committee and major professor. Students also have a right to communicate, orally or in writing, their own comments regarding their performance. For more information on advising and mentoring, please see Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Relationships.

All students in the Ph.D. program are encouraged to consult regularly with their advisors and form a Guidance Committee as soon as possible. All students in the Ph.D. program are required to enter their Guidance Committee information by the end of the third semester of their regular enrollment (not counting summer terms) in the Ph.D. program into GradPlan for approval. (For those who were initially taking English language training, this would mean within three semesters of completing their English language requirement.) Any student who had not met this requirement shall not be permitted to enroll until he/she has formed a guidance committee. If the student’s performance is otherwise satisfactory, the student may re-enroll once he/she has formed a committee and has a course of study approved.

It is the responsibility of the Guidance Committee to approve all courses which the student intends to take. Prior to completing the formation of the Guidance Committee, the student shall work out a list of all courses to be taken each term throughout her/his graduate program, in consultation with the major professor or temporary advisor.

When the Guidance Committee meets, it should not only approve a course of study, but comment on the student’s progress and prospects, strengths and weaknesses. If the committee has any concerns about the student’s ability to complete a Ph.D., it should communicate those directly to the student and the Graduate Program Coordinator.

The Ph.D. Guidance Committee also composes and evaluates the students’ comprehensive examinations, meets with the student to consider the proposed dissertation, reviews the dissertation, and conducts the final oral examination.

At any time, a student may change committee members, including the major professor. In particular, one’s Dissertation Committee need not be the same as the Guidance Committee for the pre-dissertation part of the Ph.D. program. To change committee members, a student will need to make this change through GradPlan, adding the names and/or removing names from the committee.

Frequently Asked Questions About Committees

Ph.D. Committees: Guidance Committee, Comprehensive Examination Committees, Dissertation Committees

What is the minimum composition of a Ph.D. committee?

The committee must contain at least four members. At least three must be regular faculty in the Sociology Department. The fourth can be in or out of the Department but must be regular faculty at MSU. Note further that while some faculty have joint appointments, all have a primary Department and this determines whether or not they are considered within the Department of Sociology.

("Regular faculty" has the rank of professor, associate professor, assistant professor, instructor or librarian and are appointed under the rules of tenure. Sometimes they are referred to as tenure stream faculty.)

Note also that at the oral defense of the dissertation, there must be a Dean's representative and this person must be a regular MSU faculty member from outside of the student's department.

If the Dissertation Committee already contains such an outside member, that member may be appointed as the Dean's representative. If not, the Dean's office will appoint a faculty member from outside the Department as Dean's rep.

Can the committee be larger than 4 members?


Can a regular faculty member appointed in another department, but with an adjunct appointment in sociology, serve as a member from the department of sociology?


What about emeritus (retired) professors?

They can serve both as committee members and committee chairs if the department chair approves. It is not recommended to begin a new committee with an emeritus professor as chair.

Can non-tenure stream faculty serve on committees as one of the required members?

Yes, but they must go through an approval process. The department chair must approve and request approval from the Dean of the Graduate School , who must also approve.

What about serving as additional members?

Persons who are not MSU regular faculty can serve on committees but the total number of such persons cannot exceed the number of regular faculty.

How does a student form a committee?

Start with a meeting with your advisor. Discuss with him/her your interests and career objectives and agree on a list of potential members. Contact potential members and ask them to serve. Be prepared in each case to provide information about your interests and objectives and the potential contribution of the faculty member to the committee. When the committee is complete, inform the Graduate Secretary. Forming a committee is the joint responsibility of student and advisor.

Can a student change their advisor or committee members?

Yes. Obtain a form from the Graduate Secretary. The form must be signed by the advisor (or new advisor) and the graduate program coordinator. It is recommended but not required that the student or advisor personally inform committee members who are being removed from a committee.

M.A. Committees: Second Year Paper Committees

What is the standard minimum composition of a second year paper committee?

Three. All must be regular faculty members at MSU. The student's advisor must be from the department of sociology and ordinarily at least one of the other two members must be from the department.

What about emeritus professors, non-tenure stream faculty, and the like?

The same rules apply as for Ph.D. committees.