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PhD in Human Services: Find a chair & committee member

Formulate your idea

It is important to have a very clear description of your topic or area of interest and why it is important enough to warrant a PhD dissertation. In order to do this you need to become thoroughly familiar with the literature on that topic. The sooner you start reading the relevant material the better.  That means reading outside of class so that by the time you get to the dissertation you will already be somewhat of an expert on what others have found in their research related to your topic. In other words, from Day 1 of your Foundations course you need to READ, READ, READ and take good notes on what you read. You will not write about everything you read, but you will not know what to write about and what to leave out until you get the end of the process.

Residencies and the research sequence (RSCH courses) will help you prepare to write your prospectus which is a proposal to write a dissertation proposal. It is never too early to start jotting down ideas in each of the sections of the formal prospectus document which can be found by clicking on the link below; however, at some point you will need to generate a well-written, scholarly prospectus. Residency 1 will help you identify and learn how to use many of the sources Walden has developed to help you succeed.

See the PhD in Human Services Dissertation Process Documents.

During Residencies 2 - 4 you will work on your prospectus and we have a course in our program called Writing a Quality Dissertation (HUMN 8550) which will help you write either an annotated outline for your prospectus, or, if you prefer, a draft of the formal document. Please keep in mind, however, that even if you write the full draft and you earn an A in the course it does not count as approval of your prospectus. Only your own committee and program director/research coordinator can formally approve a prospectus.

Your prospectus will probably change as you work directly with a chair and a second committee member and as you find, read, analyze, and synthesize additional relevant literature. However, if you start with a good draft, based on sound knowledge of the literature, you will be able to come down running when you form your committee.  It will also make it easier to find a committee if your draft prospectus is well thought out and well written.

Search for a dissertation chair FIRST

Your chair will be your primary contact person and mentor during the entire dissertation process, so it is a good idea to find your chair first; however, it does not always work that way.  You will meet faculty members at residencies and have them in classes and you might decide you want to work with one of them as your chair. Sometimes the person you ask will not be able to chair, but would be willing to serve as the second committee member. However, we still recommend you find the chair before formally requesting the second member. Also, just because someone agrees to serve does not mean they will be able to do so.  The program director and/or research coordinator have to balance faculty workloads so we sometimes have to deny a request.

Some students use the prospectus to help find a chair.  Some prefer to use a shorter document called the premise.  The premise includes a section from the prospectus called the Problem Statement and a brief description of the type of study they want to conduct. A premise is typically 1 - 2 pages in length while a prospectus is typically 8 – 10 pages. You will generate a premise during the early part of HUMN 8550 on the way to developing a prospectus. A guide to writing the premise and the prospectus can be found by clicking on the link above.

In the Human Services program, both the chair and the second committee member need to approve the formal prospectus before it can go to the program director or research coordinator for final approval. The chair and second member will work together to help you generate a high quality document. Please talk with your chair about how and when to bring the second committee member into the process. Different chairs approach the dissertation process differently and your chair will direct the entire process.   

When you are ready to search for a chair and/or committee member

  1. In HUMN 8550 you will write a premise early in the quarter.  Your instructor will collaborate with the program director and/or research coordinator to identify possible faculty members who might be appropriate chairs based on your premise.  You might also have identified someone you would like to chair your dissertation and have talked to them in class or at residencies.  One of your assignments will be write a preliminary letter of inquiry to each of the potential chairs asking about willingness to serve and telling them why she or he would be a good chair for your study.  You will attach your premise to that letter.  It is important this letter be tailored to each recipient. 

Sometimes this will result in finding a chair or even a second member, but sometimes it will not. If you don’t have a chair lined up by the end of that course, you should contact the program director ( and send him the most recent copy of your prospectus or, if you prefer, your premise.  He will either help you identify potential chairs or he will ask the research coordinator to help.  A strong, well thought out, and well written draft prospectus speeds up this process.  Think of your premise and/or draft prospectus as an advertisement for the kind of student you will be.  If it is poorly written, not based on extensive knowledge of the literature, or not well thought out, it makes it harder to find someone who will chair. The quarter after HUMN 8550 most students take an advanced research course (RSCH 8250, RSCH 8350, or RSCH 8450) and the quarter after that they enter the first quarter of dissertation.  That typically gives students enough time to find a chair.

  1. In Human Services, your chair must come from the Human Services or the Social Work programs and we recommend your second member also be from either Human Services or Social Work.  However, we do allow second members to come from other programs.  That typically happens if the student needs a content expert or a methods expert that is not available within the Human Services or Social Work programs and this is the exception rather than the norm.  It also requires approval of the program director of the program with which the outside member is affiliated. This is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.

Either your chair or your second member must be a content expert and the other one must be a methods expert.  Your chair can be either content or methods, but more often than not, the chair is the content expert on the committee.  Also, keep in mind, the content of your dissertation should relate in some way to your specialization.

  1. Keep track of the faculty you contact, including their responses or note the lack of a response. You may send follow up emails.
  2. When you contact prospective faculty members, emphasize your shared interests as reflected in your premise or prospectus so you can ‘sell’ faculty member on your proposed research idea. The more clearly you describe your study via a scholarly premise or prospectus, the more likely it is that faculty members will consider being your chair or second member.
  3. Be sure your writing is of the highest quality. If your email and attached premise or prospectus contain inaccuracies, typos, grammatical errors, or format errors, faculty members will be less likely to accept your invitation to serve.
  4. If a faculty member declines your request, do not take it personally. Often they are managing workload issues and it takes a substantial amount of time to chair a dissertation or even to serve as a second member of a committee. The program also limits how many dissertation committees on which faculty members can serve based on other workload issues such as teaching and/or residencies.  Most Walden faculty members work part time for Walden and therefore have other professional commitments and responsibilities which limit the number of committees on which they can serve.

Process once you obtain a chair or committee member

  1. Once you have obtained your chair and/or committee member, send them the Committee Member Nomination Form which can be found on the link below.  Make sure you fill out your part of the form before you send it to the faculty members.  Also, send a copy of your premise or prospectus to the research office at

See the Dissertation Supervisory Committee forms.

  1. The chair and/or committee member will complete their part of the form and send it to the research office for final approval. If the second member is from another program, the faculty member must send the form to the appropriate program director for approval.  In that case, the other program director will send it to the research office if approval is granted.  If it is not approved, the program director will inform the potential second member who is responsible to let you and the research office know they will not be able to serve. 
  2. When all completed forms have been received, checked, and logged by the research office, staff members will send the program director a request for approval of the committee.  The program director or the research coordinator will review the committee for appropriate content and methods expertise and will also review the members’ workload to determine availability.  If all that checks out, the program director or research coordinator will send approval notification to the research office.  The research office will then send official confirmation of approval of the chair or of the committee as a whole.  Please keep in mind that only the research office can issue the formal confirmation of approval.  Also, approval of your committee does not mean your prospectus is approved. The prospectus approval process has to go through the MyDR system described in your student portal.
  3. Once the nomination has been approved, you will be automatically enrolled in your chair’s section of dissertation (HUMN 9001) for the next term. Ideally, your search for a chair should start during HUMN 8550 and be completed in the term just prior to when you want to enroll in your first quarter of HUMN 9001.  Please do not wait until the last minute.  If you have not obtained at least a chairperson by halfway through the quarter prior to when you want to start dissertation, please let the program director ( know so either he or the research coordinator can help you find someone.