The selection of a Chairperson is the single most important decision you will make during the dissertation process. An excellent Chair will mentor, support, and supervise you throughout the process and get you through the difficult times because they care about you and your research.

You want to feel confident that your Chair really cares about giving the support you need, as well as sincere interest in your topic.

All schools directly state or indirectly imply that the dissertation is the student’s independent research.

When evaluating a potential Chairperson, consider these personal characteristics:

  • your level of rapport with the person
  • your level of trust and comfort with the person
  • availability – their response time via email and telephone calls
  • ease of setting and keeping appointments
  • their willingness to listen to your ideas and problems
  • their reputation with other doctoral learners
  • their knowledge of your topic – When the Chairperson is very informed and well read in your research area, there is a higher possibility that they may be difficult to please. Therefore, a Chair who is enthusiastic about your topic and yet gives you greater decision-making options is usually easier to work with.
  • the amount of freedom and independence they will allow you to demonstrate.
  • their frequency of positive and encouraging comments.

When selecting a Chairperson, you have to start with clear ideas about the characteristics you desire in them.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want clear guidance?
  • Do you want their expertise?
  • Do you want access?
  • Do you want freedom?
  • Do you want flexibility?
  • Do you want support?

There are other questions you can consider.

If you have great confidence in your own abilities and level of knowledge on your topic, maybe access, freedom, and support would be ideal characteristics in a potential Chairperson.

I would place great emphasis their willingness to talk in person or on the phone before you send them your Prospectus or Concept Paper.

When you contact them, let them know that you are searching for a Chairperson and mention your topic and method.

Also make it clear that you are a self-starter, highly motivated, and have an excellent work ethic. 

Then LISTEN. Listen to what they say and how they say it. Rely on your intuition as much as your critical thinking. If you like what you hear, offer to send your Prospectus.

Remember that it is just as important that you want them as a Chairperson, as it is that they are willing to be your Chair.

Don’t be too quick to decide.

Wait a day or two. Think about it. Then you can make a better decision.

After you talk with one or two faculty, you may want to have a brief session with me. We can discuss what you have learned about them and how comfortable you feel with each one.

A great Chairperson is the closest thing to a guarantee that you will complete you dissertation – assuming you do your part and have a good work ethic. A poor Chairperson becomes a barrier and a deterrent to completion. You want a great one. Take the time to search all available options before you choose the key person who will manage you and your dissertation. There are caring and competent Chairs. You want to find the one that’s right for you.