Every thesis student must form a thesis committee. The committee is responsible for helping the student set the goals of the thesis and for evaluating the end product.

A thesis committee consists of your thesis Supervisor and at least one other person. In most cases, you would have a Supervisor and a Reader who are both current departmental faculty members. Most students also have a co-supervisor who is a departmental graduate student or postdoc.

Many committees include other departmental or non-departmental researchers, but there are some complicated rules for determining eligibility (described below). If you are not seeking to include a non-current departmental faculty members on your committee, you can skip ahead to the description of the roles of the different committee members. If you have any questions about who may serve on your committee, please see the eligibility rules below and/or check in with the UGO.

Rules for Forming Your Committee

Please note: The rules about exactly who can serve on a committee and what the roles of the different committee members are differ across departments, so do not rely on second-hand information from friends about other departments!

  1. Every thesis committee needs at least two members from two different labs, at least one of whom is a current departmental faculty member (assistant, associate, or full professor).
    Note: All professors in the department may serve on thesis committees, including new professors; however, faculty on leave usually will not agree to serve on a thesis committee

  2. Every thesis committee must include a supervisor. Only current departmental faculty member (assistant, associate, or full professors), asterisked member of the Board of Honors Tutors, and (pending departmental approval) departmental lecturers and college fellows are eligible to serve as supervisor.
    • In some cases, your supervisor may not be your primary research advisor (See #3).
  3. If you are primarily or largely being supervised by another researcher who is not eligible to act as supervisor, or if you are getting extra support from a graduate student or other researcher, they may be able to serve as a co-supervisor. You will still need an eligible person to be your official Ssupervisor.
    Note: It’s okay if the co-supervisor is doing the majority of the advising, as long as the Supervisor is there to offer support as necessary and be involved in the prospectus meeting and thesis grading. The following types of researchers are eligible to be co-supervisors:
    • Approved non-departmental graduate student (pending departmental approval; submit petition in your thesis application and consult with undergraduate office).
    • Other approved advanced (Ph.D. or equivalent) researchers (pending departmental approval; submit petition in your thesis application and consult with undergraduate office).
    • Non-asterisked Board of Honors Tutors members.
    • Qualified departmental graduate students (To be “qualified”, graduate students must have passed their second-year project before you hold your prospectus meeting, have the approval of their own graduate advisor, and be involved in only one other thesis project; please consult with the UGO).
    • Approved departmental lecturers or college fellows (Check with UGO to determine approval).
  4. Thesis committees also include a reader. If you have a supervisor and a co-supervisor who are in two different labs, then your supervisor can also act as your reader, and a third member is not needed. You will need an additional reader if:
    • Your Supervisor is not a departmental faculty member.
    • Your co-supervisor is in the same lab as your supervisor.
    • You have no co-supervisor.
    • If your Supervisor is not a departmental faculty member, then your reader must be.
    • If your supervisor is a departmental faculty member, then your reader may be anyone who is eligible to be a supervisor (departmental faculty, asterisked member of Board of Honors Tutors, or approved departmental lecturer or college fellow).
  5.  It’s up to you to find your own supervisor(s). Most students also find their own reader. However, the department will assign you a reader if you do not find one yourself. It is likely that this person will be outside your main field of interest.

What do Committee Members do?

This is a general breakdown of the roles and responsibilities of a thesis committee. If a prospective or current committee member wants specific information about the requirements, you can refer them here.

All Committee Members...

All committee members participate at the beginning of the thesis process by reading your prospectus and participating in your prospectus meeting. All committee members also participate at the end of the thesis process by reading your thesis, providing comments, and participating in your thesis defense. Therefore, you should make sure that all committee members will be available:

  • To read your prospectus and participate in the prospectus meeting at a time that fits into your timeline – must be a single meeting for all members, and must take place before the deadline (usually early October; see calendar).

  • To read your thesis promptly after it is submitted (usually the week before spring break) and submit comments to the department in a timely manner.
  • To participate in the thesis defense (usually during the poster session in April).

Supervisors and Co-supervisors... 

As a committee member, supervisors and co-supervisors are responsible for all the duties listed above. Supervisors and co-supervisors are additionally involved throughout the process. The exact level of involvement varies from thesis to thesis, however, it is expected that each thesis student has a supervisor and/or co-supervisor with whom s/he is in regular contact and who is available to consult and supervise. Supervisors are also responsible for completing and filing the Mid-Year and End-of-Year reports.

It is common (and perfectly acceptable) for thesis students to primarily consult with the co-supervisor; however, the faculty supervisor is still ultimately responsible for the student and project and should be available to consult and supervise.

Note: If there is a graduate student or other person who you think may end up on your committee (but you are not sure), make sure they are present at your prospectus meeting. All committee members must get together for a single prospectus meeting. If you add a person to your committee who was not at your prospectus meeting, you will need to hold another meeting with the full committee.


Readers must read the prospectus, participate in the prospectus meeting, read the thesis, and participate in the thesis defense. While some thesis students consult with their readers during the year, especially if plans change dramatically, there are no additional responsibilities in being a thesis reader.