Committees & Responsibilities


The prospectus, thesis supervisory, and thesis examination committees

Three committees are involved in each student’s PhD: the prospectus committee, the thesis supervisory committee, and the thesis examination committee.

Common to the first two is the student’s supervisor, whose wide-ranging responsibilities are detailed below. Students usually seek out a supervisor after they have completed their coursework; the graduate chair is always available to help with this process. In some cases students arrange to have two persons serve as equal co-supervisors.

The prospectus committee comprises either the supervisor and two advisors, called prospectus advisors, or, in the case that the student has two co-supervisors, the co-supervisors and one prospectus advisor. The prospectus committee serves both to advise the student in the writing of the prospectus and to examine it; see below for a more detailed account of each member’s responsibilities and here for a description of the prospectus exam.

The thesis supervisory committee comprises either the supervisor and two advisors, called thesis advisors, or, in the case that the student has two co-supervisors, the co-supervisors and one thesis advisor. The composition of a student’s thesis committee is ordinarily the same as her or his prospectus committee, but this is not a rule. A student’s project may change in scope or focus, for example, in a way that her or his interests are better served by assembling a committee on which one of the thesis advisors was not a prospectus advisor. The thesis committee serves to advise the student in the writing of her or his thesis; see below for a more detailed account of each member’s responsibilities.

The thesis examination committee comprises one member of the student’s thesis committee, not a supervisor, and by convention that member who was least involved in the writing of the thesis; a member of the department not on the thesis committee; a faculty member from another department at Western; and a faculty member from another university (typically from a department of philosophy).

Supervisor’s responsibilities

  • to supervise the writing of the prospectus, and decide, with the student, the format of the thesis (monograph or integrated article)
  • to discuss possible prospectus and thesis advisors with the student and work with the student to form the prospectus and thesis supervisory committees
  • to organize the prospectus defense
  • to meet with the student at the beginning of the ABD phase to discuss the plan for writing the thesis, including: (1) the (rough) anticipated date of final submission; (2) the role of the thesis advisors; (3) the frequency of meetings between the supervisor and the student; and (4) the schedule for submission and return, with comments, of thesis chapters
  • to meet with the student regularly, as per the plan
  • to meet with the student each year to review and sign her or his annual report
  • to read drafts of chapters and provide timely feedback (ordinarily 2-4 weeks for a thesis chapter and 4-6 weeks for the penultimate draft)
  • to coordinate distribution of chapters to the thesis advisors and work with the thesis advisors to provide feedback to the student
  • to provide guidance to the student on how best to respond to feedback from the thesis advisors, especially when students receive conflicting advice
  • to decide when the thesis is ready for defense
  • to ensure that the thesis conforms with SGPS formatting requirements
  • to arrange for an external examiner
  • in consultation with the grad chair and grad assistant, to arrange the exam and public lecture, and complete and submit the Proposed Thesis Examination Board form (here)
  • to assist the student on the academic job market


Prospectus advisor’s responsibilities

  • to serve as a member of the prospectus examining committee
  • to assess the prospectus and offer suggestions to help develop a plan forward for writing the dissertation including recommendations of literature to be reviewed
  • at the supervisor’s request, to offer suggestions in the writing phase of the prospectus
  • at the conclusion of a successful defense of the prospectus, to participate in open discussion to recommend a supervisory committee


Thesis advisor’s responsibilities

  • to read drafts of chapters and provide timely feedback (ordinarily 2-4 weeks for a chapter, 4-6 weeks for a penultimate draft)
  • to assist the supervisor in developing a plan for the thesis and recommend relevant literature
  • at the supervisor’s request, to assist with the monitoring process and progress report
  • to be available to students upon request to explain feedback and generally offer constructive advice to help with the successful completion of the thesis


Student’s responsibilities

  • to select a supervisor for the thesis, normally by the end of the first year of the program (with, if requested, the help of the graduate chair)
  • to discuss possible prospectus and thesis advisors with the supervisor and work with the supervisor to form the prospectus and thesis supervisory committees
  • to seek guidance from the supervisor about the writing of the prospectus and the format of the thesis (monograph or integrated article)
  • to write and defend the thesis prospectus in a timely manner, normally by the end of the second year of the program
  • to meet with the supervisor at the beginning of the ABD phase to discuss the plan for writing the thesis, including: (1) the (rough) anticipated date of final submission; (2) the role of the thesis advisors; (3) the frequency of meetings between the supervisor and the student; and (4) the schedule for submission and return, with comments, of thesis
  • to meet with the supervisor regularly, as per the plan
  • each year, to do the PhD annual report, have it reviewed and signed by the supervisor, and submit it on or before the due date
  • to meet deadlines set in consultation with the supervisor for drafts of thesis chapters or of the thesis itself
  • to give the supervisor and thesis advisors a reasonable amount of time to reads drafts and give feedback on them (ordinarily 2-4 weeks for a thesis chapter and 4-6 weeks for the penultimate draft of the thesis)
  • to work with the supervisor to decide how best to respond to feedback from the thesis advisors, especially when the student receives conflicting advice
  • to respond judiciously to feedback from the supervisor and from the thesis advisors
  • to write a thesis that conforms with SGPS formatting requirements
  • to give the supervisor and thesis advisors a reasonable amount of time to produce reference letters for scholarships, jobs, etc.