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Tips on Getting Feedback on Your Thesis or Dissertation

All grad students:

All of you either are currently, or will soon, be writing a MA thesis or PhD dissertation. As you know, an important part of that process involves getting feedback along the way from your committee members. I thought I would provide a brief memo to all of you suggesting how to best manage that process. As you know, faculty members are frequently busy with a wide variety of tasks in addition to advising your thesis. So, with any set of committee members, you may face problems in getting feedback promptly from one or more members. That is an unfortunate problem but one which you may face.

Here is my strong suggestion on how to ensure you get the feedback you need (and the best feedback possible) from all your committee members:

a) ask each committee member clearly at the start of the process as to how much feedback they will be able and willing to provide. Some may be willing to read two or three drafts of every chapter, while others may only be willing to read the whole draft of the dissertation at the end of the process. There are no rules about how much faculty should read, so you need to negotiate with each member what will work best with them.

b) ask your committee members what their preferred process for giving feedback is -- that is, do they like to provide written or oral feedback; do they want 2, 3, or 4 weeks, between when they receive a draft and when they give you feedback; do they want drafts as hardcopies or attachments or both; etc.

c) a good rule of thumb, if you don't have anything else to go on and unless it conflicts with what your committee member has told you, is to provide a draft on which you want comments (usually a printed copy is better than an attachment, saving the faculty member the trouble of printing it), request that you get comments back in three weeks, and set up an appointment in three weeks to meet with them and get oral feedback in addition to any written feedback they may have provided. The meeting helps provide a clear deadline for the faculty member to provide feedback by, helping it move to the top of their agenda.

d) make sure that, when you get feedback, you respond to it clearly and well in the next draft of that chapter. There is nothing more frustrating than providing feedback to which a student does not respond -- you do not have to change things exactly as the professor says (although that is often a good idea!) but you do have to respond to the suggested changes, at a minimum, explaining why you don't think those changes should be made. In short, ignoring feedback is not a good approach.

e) realize that, while you need feedback on your work, you can ALWAYS keep moving forward on some aspect of your work while you are waiting for feedback. Schedule your writing accordingly, specifically planning that it will usually take at least a month from when you submit a draft to get feedback from all your committee members. So, after submitting a draft of Chapter 3, make sure you get right to work on Chapter 4 (or 6 or whatever). That way, you are making the fastest progress you can make and aren't held back by delays in receiving feedback.