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Dissertation Committee Formation and Forms

Committee Formation

*Completed committee forms must be submitted to gradstudies@american.edu by December 6, 2017 for the Fall semester. For the spring semester, forms must be submitted by April 30, 2018. Forms will not be reviewed in May 2018.*

American University's Graduate Academic Regulations state that doctoral students consult with their academic advisor or major professor to nominate a dissertation committee. Each committee member must agree to joining the committee. The nominated doctoral committee is reviewed and approved by the department's Doctoral Program Director and the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies.

Proposed members of the doctoral committee are nominated to provide supervision and expertise in the implementation of the dissertation research project. The Doctoral Dissertation Committee Approval Form is used to formally designate the chair and members of a dissertation committee. Each committee must have a minimum of three committee members; however, most committees will consist of four members. The Graduate Academic Regulations provide extensive guidance on the composition of doctoral dissertation committees in section 9.4. Doctoral students and their major professors should review relevant sections of the Graduate Academic Regulations prior to nominating a doctoral dissertation committee.

The review and approval of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee Approval Form by the Dissertation Council is intended to ensure that proposed dissertation committees contain members who are research active and have expertise in the proposed research topic, relevant methodologies and intended data analyses. In addition, the approval of proposed doctoral dissertation committees is intended to be a check of adherence to the current AU Graduate Academic Regulations.

Additional Submissions

The doctoral student should work with their academic advisor or major professor to create the following additional submissions:

  • An abstract of the dissertation proposal. The abstract of the dissertation proposal should include a concise summary of the following elements: (a) the scope and significance of the research topic; (b) a brief summary of current literature supporting the significance of the proposed research topic; (c) the proposed research question and hypothesis (as applicable); (d) the proposed research methodology for the evaluation of the research question; and (e) the analytic plan for proposed data collection. The abstract must be no more than five (5) pages long but may be much shorter if the relevant information is provided.
  • A copy of relevant research assurance certifications (e.g., from the IRB, IACUC or the IBC) and research training certifications (e.g., RCR, human subjects trainings)
  • A rationale for the inclusion of the each of the proposed dissertation committee members. The narrative description should briefly summarize the proposed committee members' (a) areas of research expertise, (b) current research activities and (c) anticipated roles in the implementation and completion of the dissertation research project. The rationale must be no more than three (3) pages long, but may be much shorter as each proposed committee member may only warrant a paragraph of justification.

Additional submissions will be accepted as a PDF or Microsoft Word document.

Getting signatures and submitting the documents

All forms are writable PDF documents. You need to fill out all text before obtaining digital signatures. Once a form is signed, none of the text can be changed. As a result, we strongly recommend getting verbal agreements from your committee members before asking them to sign a document. Like a physical document, you need to obtain signatures one person at a time since digital signatures cannot be cut or copied. The applicant needs to send it to one individual by email, have the individual sign it electronically, and then receive the document back by email with that individual's signature. The student should then send it to the next individual. For more information about digital signatures, click here.

When all documents are ready, email the approval form and the additional submissions to gradstudies@american.edu. The Dissertation Council will return a decision within two weeks regarding approval of the committee.

Adding or changing committee members and adding external readers

Every doctoral dissertation committee must have one reader external to the department in which the doctoral student is a candidate. The external reader may also be external to the university, as warranted. External readers do not need to be determined at the inception of the dissertation committee, but must be decided prior to the defense by the chair of the committee.

To add an external reader or to make a change to the committee membership, complete the Change in Doctoral Dissertation Committee Approval Form.

Questions regarding the Doctoral Dissertation Committee Approval Form and supporting materials can be sent directly to gradstudies@american.edu.


Use the forms (in writable PDF format) to name your dissertation committee or make changes to the members of your committee. For Fall 2017, you MUST submit your forms by December 6. For the Spring 2018 semester, please submit by April 30, 2018.

Dissertation Committee Form and Instructions.
Please note that this form has changed!

Dissertation Committee CHANGE Form.
Please note that this form has changed!