Selecting Your Dissertation Committee
by Melissa Rigney, PhD.

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Devoted to practical steps for completing your
doctoral dissertation.

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1. Ben's note
2. Selecting Your Dissertation Committee
by Melissa Rigney. PhD.
3. Inspired to Write? Contribute to the ABDSG
4. Request for Dissertation Friendly Resources
5. Words of Wisdom
6. Inspirational Quote


In this issue, Dr. Melissa Rigney shares the story
of how she selected her dissertation committee in
order to maximize the guidance and knowledge they
could supply her during the dissertation process.

If you know of dissertation friendly resources or if
you're inspired to write, consider contributing to the

We round out this issue with Words of Wisdom & an
inspirational quote.


Ben's Note

January 13, 2005

Dear ABD Survival Guide Reader,

Well, the new year is certainly moving right along,
isn't it? We're in the final stages of compiling
all the resources you have so generously been
sharing with us- so if you have any that you
think we should know about, please get them to this week so we can get
them up on the website in the first pass. Thanks
to all of you who have contributed, we appreciate

We are pleased to present this issue's feature
article which is written by Dr. Melissa Rigney,
a former ABDSG-er who has since received her
Ph.D. and has some helpful information to share
about selecting committee members.

Your advisor & committee play an important role
in helping you successfully navigate the
dissertation process- and we have some helpful
ideas for working more effectively with them.

It would be wonderful to have more of you write
for the ABDSG- so if the inspiration strikes, we'd
enjoy hearing from you.

See you in two weeks.


P.S. If you are a reader of the ABDSG and a
professional or academic interested in
adding a coaching practice to your primary specialty,
we have an eight month MentorCoach Training
Program by teleconference that will be held
on Fridays at 12:00 Eastern (NY Time)
starting 1/28/05. For information,

Selecting Your Dissertation Committee
by Melissa Rigney. PhD.

I graduated almost one year ago to the day. It took
me exactly seven years to complete my PhD program
and it took me almost two years to complete my
dissertation. My time frame from start to finish
is about average for a PhD in the humanities. My
road through the program was smooth and uneventful.
I managed to publish a peer reviewed article and
I presented at a number of conferences.

In a recent edition of the Chronicle of Higher
Education a former graduate student takes her advisor
to task for, in effect, ruining her career and her
chances at finishing her dissertation. Stories about
conflicts and miscommunication with dissertation
advisors are nothing new. Throughout my program I
heard plenty of rumors and gossip about professors
to avoid, students having problems with their
committee, and various students who were about to
be forced out of the program. I put little stock
in these tales because I was not experiencing
these problems. In fact, I had what might be
called a dream committee.

A few days before my graduation a colleague
congratulated me on the completion of my
dissertation. Just before turning to leave
she remarked, “It seems as if you are one of
the few people that had a smooth ride through
this program.”

This remark stuck with me and I began to think
about why my experience had been both positive,
enriching and, yes, smooth. In large part it
had to do with my choice of committee members.
I picked carefully. I was aware it was crucial
to select a group of people that were not just
knowledgeable in my chosen specialization, but
also supportive of my dissertation and my
research. When I first began the program I did
a number of things: I took time to get to know
my professors and I thought about whom I could
work well with, who would be supportive of my
work, and which group of people would work
together. I chose a team of four, all of which
I knew respected each other as researchers and
educators. I picked the chair of my committee
for both her expertise in the field, my ability
to work well with her, and my understanding that
although she wasn’t always accessible and had
multiple writing and editing commitments, she
was available for feedback if and when needed.
I also trusted her. I knew she would work with
me and her goal was for me to succeed. I also
knew my chair would take a fairly hands-off
approach when it came to my work and would give
me the time and space I needed to pursue my
research. As a disciplined self-starter, I
neither needed nor wanted a chair that would
spend her time looking over my shoulder or
micro-managing my work. I knew that our styles
would match and she would give me the help and
direction I needed when asked.

I added two members to the committee I knew would
be extremely accessible and would take time to give
feedback and read chapter drafts. These two
professors assumed a mentorship role and I knew
that I could trust them as advisors and as readers
of my work. The fourth member I chose because I
knew he would push me to produce my best work. I
needed someone who could give honest and tough
feedback and who would critique closely. As a team,
my committee had different strengths in different
areas. My dissertation was interdisciplinary and
each committee member brought varying personal and
professional abilities to the table. As a result,
each one was able to provide me with different
areas and levels of support.

I spent months thinking about and assessing various
faculty members for inclusion on my committee. I also
knew what I needed from my committee, what types of
personalities I worked best with, and I knew my own
work habits and capabilities. I didn’t automatically
seek out the top people in the field, nor did I always
isten to the graduate gossip. I looked around and took
into consideration my own personality, work habits,
and what it was I needed from a group of people who
would guide me through my dissertation. Ideally the
committee should act as part mentor and as part critic.
When you select committee members, keep these two
roles and functions in mind and assess each member
for their willingness and ability to support and push
you through the most difficult and most rewarding
segment of your program.

About Melissa Rigney. PhD.

Melissa Rigney received her PhD in Contemporary
Lesbian Literature and Film from the University of
Nebraska and currently teaches at Southeast Community
College in Lincoln, Ne. She continues to write and
publish in the area of Lesbian Studies and
Contemporary American Film.

She can be reached at:

Inspired to Write? Contribute to the ABDSG

We'd like to issue an open invitation for all recent
Ph.D.'s, faculty advisors, university professors,
consultants, graduate students and writing coaches to
share your personal insights and wisdom regarding the
dissertation process. If you'd like to write for the
ABDSG, please contact to request
our guidelines and list of possible topics. You can
also view our archives at
to see what we've recently published and/or to get some

We look forward to broadening our knowledge base through
your participation.

When you share what you know, we all benefit.

Thanks in advance-Ben & the ABDSG staff

Request for Dissertation Friendly Resources

In our ongoing efforts to make the ABDSG even more useful
for you, our readers, we're in the process of compiling
dissertation helpful resources in all categories. Do you
have editors, statistics consultants, software, books, or
other resources that you're using and are finding valuable?
If so, can you please share this information with Rachna
(, and she'll put together a
compilation of resources, posted on our website, so you can
find everything you might need - all in one place.

Again, please send any relevant and helpful resources to and please put ABDSG Resource in the
subject line.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Words of Wisdom

Get your citations in full the first time through,
and you won't have to run to the library (or on-line)
later, and you won't have to go through 200 pages
checking the format of each citation before you
turn in the final draft.

Inspirational Quote

"Good plans shape good decisions. That's why good
planning helps to make elusive dreams come true."
~~ Lester R(obert) Bittel

Your Own Coach
If you are considering whether to get your own coach
to help you reach your academic goals, send any

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG

Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University
of Texas at Austin. He is the founder of MentorCoach
( a virtual university training
accomplished mental health professionals to become
extraordinary coaches.

He is also founder of eCoach ( which
helps interdisciplinary professionals become coaches.

Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife and two
young children, and Walnut, their hamster.

I'm a dissertation coach and licensed psychologist
based in Maryland, with a doctorate from the University
of Denver. I'm the Editor of the ABDSG, as well as the
Author of "Get It Done! A Coach's Guide to Dissertation
Success" and "Get it Done Faster: Secrets of Dissertation
Success". If you'd like to learn more about me or my
books, please visit my website:
If you have questions about this newsletter, you can
direct them to

I'm excited to be working with you to meet your academic
goals. You can do it!

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