HDFS Degree Committees

MS students form a Master’s Committee, while PhD students form two committees over the course of their tenure here, a Prelim Committee and a Dissertation Committee. Committees have the responsibility of overseeing your progress in the department with respect to a range of hurdles or benchmarks including the completion of your coursework, the development of a research/dissertation proposal, your oral defense of your research, and for Ph.D. students, the defense of the preliminary examinations.

The Graduate School sets minimum requirements for the composition of all degree committees, found on the Graduate School website, and defined further in UW-Madison’s Faculty Policies and Procedures. Note that the Graduate School offers an online tool to help you determine whether the proposed committee would meet the formal criteria.

Your advisor is the Chair of your degree committee and must be a member of the Graduate Faculty (see Graduate School policy above). In special circumstances a co-chair situation may be worked out so that a member of the committee works together with your advisor to chair your committee. In consultation with your advisor, you select the other faculty members to invite to your committees.

Although it is recommended that you form a committee as early in your graduate career as possible, in practice, it is usually easier to invite members to a committee after you have become better acquainted with faculty through classes and once you have settled on a specific research topic. In selecting committee members, do not expect that all of the faculty members will have a specific expertise in your chosen research topic. We are a small department and our faculty expect to serve on committees where their own research may not be directly relevant to yours.

While committee members are generally all members of the Graduate Faculty, when there is a rationale for inviting someone outside of the Graduate Faculty to serve on a committee (e.g., faculty from another university, retired faculty, scientists, research associates, academic staff, professionals) the HDFS Executive Faculty can approve the outside member. Submit the following information to the Chair of HDFS via email, for approval by the HDFS Executive Committee:

Student’s name:
Committee type (MS, PhD):
Name of non-graduate faculty appointee (attach CV):
Current affiliation of appointee:
Rationale for the appointment:
Attach the non-graduate faculty member’s CV

When you determine the membership of your Committee (Master’s, Prelim or Doctoral), you should complete the Graduate Student Advisor and Committee Form and submit it to the SoHE Graduate Program Coordinator. If a circumstance arises that requires changing the membership of a committee, the decision should be discussed with your advisor, the relevant parties should be informed, and the change should be noted in the department’s official records by submitting a revised Graduate Student Advisor and Committee Form to the SoHE Graduate Program Coordinator.

For Graduate School policy on forming your committees, please go to the Graduate School website: Academic Policies & Procedures.


Masters Committee

Your thesis committee will serve to guide you in the process of developing your research thesis and they will evaluate your work. In addition to completing a “Master’s Thesis Evaluation Form” (Qualtrics link that can be shared with committee members), they will review your checklist and verify that that you have completed all course requirements, and ultimately they are the ones who will sign your MS degree warrant. The chair of your committee (also your advisor) must be a Graduate Faculty member and from HDFS. The HDFS Master’s Thesis Committee will consist of at least three members (two of whom must be Graduate School Faculty).


Prelim Committee

PhD students are required to form a Prelim Committee, which is responsible for preparing your preliminary examination within the department guidelines and evaluating your written and oral performance with the use of the “HDFS Preliminary Examination Assessment Form” (Qualtrics link that can be shared with each committee member). Further, the committee is responsible for reviewing your coursework and making sure that all degree requirements have been met. The committee consists of the chair of your committee (also your advisor) and at least two other members who must be Graduate School Faculty.


Dissertation Committee

Your dissertation committee, also referred to as the “Final Oral Examination Committee” by the Graduate School, will serve to guide you in the process of developing your research dissertation and they will evaluate your work at both the proposal stage and the final defense. They are the ones who will complete the “PhD Dissertation Evaluation Form” (Qualtrics link that can be shared with committee members) and sign your degree warrant and welcome you as a Doctor of Philosophy. Including your advisor, the HDFS Dissertation Committee consists of at least four members, three of whom must be members of the UW-Madison Graduate School faculty or former UW- Madison Graduate School faculty up to one year after resignation or retirement. Permission from the HDFS Exec Committee is required to include a person who is not a member of the Graduate School faculty, it is not automatic. At least two must be “HDFS faculty”, and one of the four members must be from “outside SoHE” (often from the minor field). A faculty member holding a joint appointment in HDFS with a primary home in another department may serve as either an “outside” member or as one of the HDFS members. See additional information under “Degree Committees.”

It is common for students to ask all three members of their Prelim Committee to continue on their dissertation committee and then invite at least one additional member to their committee. Circumstances can arise that require a change of committee membership between the proposal and defense stages, but in general this is discouraged unless you are changing topics from your prelim focus. If you do change the membership of your committee, you should complete a revised “Graduate Student Advisor and Committee Form” and inform all parties.



School of Human Ecology Graduate Programs Handbook Copyright © 2022 by Michelle Holland. All Rights Reserved.

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