an EdD student interviewing a faculty chair
Program Insights

How to Choose a Faculty Chair for Your Dissertation

By The Room 241 Team September 14, 2018

So you are on your way to earning your doctorate. Hats off to you! Earning the highest research degree is no small achievement. You’ve dug deep, explored various subjects, engaged in passionate discourse with classmates and colleagues, pushed through intellectual challenges, and found a way to manage your work-life priorities. Now you’ve reached the highly anticipated dissertation phase, and the time has come to choose a faculty chair for your dissertation.

Choosing the best possible faculty chair for you and your topic is an important part of the research candidacy. Concordia University-Portland’s doctoral program supports candidates in choosing their dissertation advisor so that each individual has a faculty member who fits well with their research project. You’ll select a faculty chair from the pool of full-time Concordia University faculty who have been appointed to serve in this capacity.

So how do you make such a big decision? Not to worry future Dr., we’ve got you covered. We’ve gathered information, spoken to Concordia’s faculty chair coordinator, Anne Grey, EdD, and collected a range of helpful tips from our EdD students and alums. Read on to learn more before taking this step in your doctoral journey.

What to expect from your faculty chair

Your faculty chair’s primary responsibility is to supervise and guide your dissertation work. Together, you’ll build a formal dissertation advising relationship. Your chair will coach you on your research methods, provide you with feedback on chapter drafts, and prepare you for your defense. Essentially, your chair is going to be in the research trenches with you.

Faculty chairs guide cohorts until graduation and help build collaborative teams of candidates working as scholar-researchers. These teams help you become more independent doctoral candidates as you move toward your fully independent dissertation research. While your faculty chair is there to guide you, each one brings their own unique expertise and communication style to the table, so it’s important to choose carefully. Here’s how we suggest selecting someone.

Step 1: Do your research

You have an array of faculty members to choose from, each with their own interesting backgrounds and areas of expertise. Where do you start? Rachael, an EdD graduate said she first read their biographies and then “researched the successful dissertations that they chaired.”

Doctoral student Bola suggests looking for “someone who specialized in your area and is familiar with your method” of research. You can also rank the qualities that are most important to you. Consider their “educational passions and interests,” like EdD student Allison did. “Look for someone whose experiences and expertise match up with what you want to study,” says EdD student Brittiani.

Dig into the academic background of your potential faculty chair and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this faculty member have experience with my topic?
  • Are the successful dissertations he or she has chaired what I would regard as exemplary?
  • Does he or she prefer qualitative or quantitative research methods?

Step 2: Contact potential chairs

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of potential faculty chairs, your next step is to contact them via email, explain your topic, why you think they may be a good fit, and ask any initial questions you may have.

Then set up a phone conversation. This will reveal more about his or her background in relation to your topic, and what your professional dynamic would be like in a potential advisor-advisee relationship. It’s important to note that all of this depends on Faculty Chair availability.

Lisa, another EdD student, says to “think critically when choosing your dissertation chair. Have deep conversations with each person in the pool you choose from. Take into consideration flexibility, how their responses fit with your academic needs, and if you think you may be compatible. Ask questions before coming to a conclusion.”

After speaking with your potential chair, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Could I easily brainstorm with this faculty member, contact him/her with questions, and receive the type of guidance I’d like to have?
  • How quickly did he/she respond to my initial email?
  • Have I had any feedback from this faculty member before? If so, was it constructive?
  • When we discussed my dissertation topic, was this person excited or intrigued by it? Did they ask questions or bring up subtopics that interested me?

Because your chair plays such a crucial role in this process, it’s not only important to choose a faculty member you think can guide your dissertation work, but also someone with whom you feel you can maintain a good working relationship.

Step 3: Analyze, keeping expertise and mentorship in mind

As an expert researcher, the faculty member can guide you to develop your topic. Your research method should also not be overlooked. Be sure that this faculty member is supportive of the quantitative or qualitative methods you’ve chosen to utilize in your dissertation.

As a mentor, your potential faculty chair should have a professional personality that fits with yours. You’ll want to find a communication style that works for both of you. Unfortunately, none of them are mind readers, so select someone you feel comfortable with since you’ll need to communicate your needs and expectations every step of the way.

“Building trust takes time and needs work,” says faculty chair Anne Grey, EdD. “It all comes down to trust. Candidates need to trust that their faculty chair’s guidance will help them get to the finish line. The dissertation process is complicated, as it requires independent work while getting feedback on the project.  Receiving feedback from someone you do not trust is difficult. Sometimes candidates feel that they are not moving at the pace they would like, but once candidates have that breakthrough, then they soar.”

Recent EdD graduate John Paul says he had a “fantastic connection” with his chair saying, “Dr. Weschke was both the taskmaster and a kind advisor. Her patience, love, care, and attention to detail is what got me through it.”

You want someone who supports your research and is invested in your success. Makeba, who earned her EdD in 2017, said her supportive chair helped her discover what she was capable of achieving. Hear more about her dissertation experience in a clip from our recent interview with her.

Every dissertation experience has inevitable highs and lows, but it is undoubtedly an opportunity to grow. “All of us who have gone through this journey can attest that it was not easy,” says Grey. “But persistence and hard work will pay off when you walk across the stage to get your degree.”

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