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Dissertation Committee

The Graduate Council of the Faculties, in consultation with the Council of Graduate Deans, has updated the University’s policy about the composition of dissertation committees, effective June 2017. The revised language is intended to clarify University rules about who can serve on a PhD student’s dissertation committee. The new policy has been published in the Pennbook and can be viewed below and at:

—Beth A. Winkelstein, Vice Provost for Education 

Dissertation Committee Composition and Meetings

Upon advancement to candidacy, each student has a Dissertation Committee consisting of at least three faculty members (including at least two members of the graduate group). At least half of the members of the Dissertation Committee must be members of the graduate group at the time of appointment to the committee. Faculty who are not members of the graduate group may serve only with the written approval of the graduate group. The authority to approve membership on committees may be delegated to the graduate chair. A graduate group may establish additional requirements, such as a requirement for outside reviewers on the Dissertation Committee. 

The Chair of the Dissertation Committee must be a member of the Standing Faculty in the graduate group. If the Chair of a Dissertation Committee leaves the Standing Faculty before the dissertation is completed, then a new chair from the Standing Faculty in the Graduate Group must be appointed as chair. The Dissertation Committee chair is responsible for convening committee meetings, advising the student on graduate group and university expectations, and assuring the graduate group chair that the group’s requirements have been met. The Dissertation Supervisor may serve as Chair of the Dissertation Committee, but is not required to do so. 

The Dissertation Supervisor is the person primarily responsible for overseeing the student’s dissertation research. A student may have both a Dissertation Supervisor and a Dissertation Co-Supervisor, or two Dissertation Co-Supervisors, if that responsibility is shared equally.

Dissertation Supervisors, and Dissertation Co-Supervisors, must be members of the Standing Faculty at Penn, with special approved exceptions. A member of the Associated Faculty (such as Research Faculty or Adjunct Faculty) may be permitted to serve as a Dissertation Supervisor with prior approval of the Vice Provost for Education on a case by case basis. The Graduate Group Chair may petition the Vice Provost for Education, in advance, for an exception. In such cases, a member of the Standing Faculty in the graduate group must be appointed as the Dissertation Committee Chair.  

Questions about the policy may be sent to