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  • Writer's pictureLaura Schlater

How to Know When It’s Time for a New Chair

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

We choose two of the three members of our dissertation committee: our chair and our committee member. Because we’ve hand-picked them, we want to believe in them, and to believe they, in turn, believe in us, want us to succeed, and will help us get there.


I had no trouble securing a chair—well, sort of. He was intrigued by my topic and interested in working with me. He had never served as a chair before, but was just about to take the necessary training so he could. Because I struck out in finding a committee member, I contacted the program director and went with her recommendation.


The week before my dissertation course was scheduled to start, I received an email from my chair. Although he had completed training, the school wouldn’t allow him to serve as a chair yet, only a committee member. I was in full panic mode. My program director suggested switching my committee members’ roles. Class started in five days. What choice did I have?


Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

From the beginning of my relationship with my new chair, it was never a good partnership. She didn’t understand my topic, asking for changes completely out of the realm of what I was trying to do. She nitpicked my punctuation (me! a professional writer and editor! punctuation!)—and she was wrong every time. Over the course of two quarters, I never got her to read past the beginning of Chapter 2; all she did was criticize my writing, my grammar, and the words I used. Lucky for me, the school had recently hired a professor who was the perfect match for my topic and I was able to change chairs quickly.


This is all to say that sometimes, the people we put on our committee turn out not to be the right fit, and that’s OK. What’s important is that we recognize this incongruity as soon as possible and save ourselves months (if not years) of frustration, suffering, self-doubt, tears—and wasted tuition.


Based on my own experiences, as well as those of students whose dissertations I have edited and horror stories I have heard, here are some signs it might be time to get a new chair:

  • Your chair never gives the impression they’re interested in your topic—or your success.

  • Your chair’s feedback consists of mostly nonspecific sarcasm without suggestions for how to improve.

  • Your chair questions your ability to complete your capstone and doesn’t suggest any resources.

  • Your chair regularly exceeds the maximum two-week turnaround time.

  • Your chair doesn’t follow the university’s template and guidelines.

If you’re in any of these situations, I urge you to take a closer look at the student-chair relationship. It just could be time for a new chair.


I can’t help you find a new chair—but I can ensure your words and formatting are at their very best before you put them in front of your committee. Contact me for personalized, professional dissertation editing help at any stage of the process!

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