The Fastest Way to Pass Your Dissertation Defense? Write For Your Outside Committee Member

As you are writing your dissertation, you are probably dealing with some level of anxiety about your dissertation defense. One way to reduce your anxiety is to be pretty sure that you are meeting the expectations of each of your committee members. Aside from reading their minds, what is the easiest way to meet their expectations? Write for the outside committee member!

What does it mean to write for your outside committee member? Well, most of your committee members are faculty from your own department or your own field. While they will probably have some challenging questions of their own, your outside committee member will be the least familiar with your area of research. Therefore, they will probably have the most questions for you.

1. Consider their area of expertise

What methodology does your outside committee member usually use? What topics are they familiar with? Do they know anything about your theoretical framework or the primary scholars you are citing? If they are unfamiliar with any aspects of your scholarship, be sure to devote additional time and space in your dissertation to explaining these portions of your project.

2. Overexplain

Your committee chair, and even your other committee members, may be familiar enough with your methodology, for example, or the theories you cite, that you may not feel the need to explain them as you would to someone unfamiliar with the field. However, writing for the outside committee member provides two primary benefits. First, it sidesteps any questions your outside committee member might have about these foundational elements of your study. You don’t want to waste time justifying your topic at your proposal or dissertation defense. Second, it clarifies how you interpret these things for the other committee members, as well. Even if your committee members are familiar with the theories or scholars you are using, explaining how you will use these in your project, in detail, will get your committee members on the same page as you.

3. Have someone outside your field read your writing

If you’re not sure that you are explaining your ideas well enough for the outside committee member, ask someone else to read your project. This should be someone who is not in your field. What questions does the reader have? What do they think you need to clarify? These might be some of the questions your outside (or other!) committee member might have.

At the end of your graduate school journey, your committee contains the people who will ultimately decide whether you graduate. Take into consideration what they will need from you in order to feel confident passing your defense. A great place to start is considering your outside committee member. Clarifying material for them will help you clarify it for everyone.

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