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Advising and Feedback

This page answers common questions that students have asked about advising and feedback.

Until you reach candidacy, your advisor will be a member of the Graduate Studies Committee who is responsible for all students in a given year of study.  Upon reaching candidacy, your advisor will be the chair of your dissertation committee.  It is the student’s responsibility to assemble a dissertation committee as soon as possible after candidacy.  The Chair of Graduate Studies is available to advise you on this process. Please read more about departmental regulations concerning the composition and responsibilities of members of the dissertation committee. Please read more about Rackham’s regulations concerning the composition of the dissertation committee.

How do I find a cognate member for my dissertation committee?

Because the UM is a leader in interdisciplinary scholarship and has an outstanding faculty with wide-ranging interests, there are many faculty outside the department who have an interest in philosophical topics, or do empirical research that bears on philosophical questions. If you have not already established a relationship with a faculty member in an outside department who would be useful in your research (for instance, an instructor in a cognate course), ask the chair of your committee and/or the chair of Graduate Studies to help you identify a likely cognate member.  Don’t leave this to the last minute.  Although your cognate member need not be present at your prospectus examination, you should obtain a commitment from a cognate advisor as soon as possible thereafter.

Professor X is on my committee, but I would prefer Professor Y to fill X’s role.  Can I change advisors or their roles (for example, switch a chair to a third member)?

Students may change the composition of their committees at any time, or their respective roles, provided they obtain the consent of the new members and of any continuing members who are asked to play a heightened role, and file a change of dissertation committee form with the approval of the Chair of Graduate Studies. They need not ask permission of their current committee members to drop them from the committee or reduce their role on the committee, although courtesy requires that they notify them of such changes. However, students planning to make drastic changes should carefully consult with relevant faculty to determine whether this is advisable.

The chair of my dissertation committee has left the UM!  Can he or she still be my chair?

A faculty member who has left the university can not serve as sole chair of your committee, but may serve as co-chair or as a regular member.

My cognate advisor has left the UM!  Can he or she still be my cognate advisor?

No.  You must quickly identify another UM faculty member who is willing to serve as your cognate advisor, and submit a new dissertation committee form.

I have been working closely with a philosopher who has an appointment outside the UM.  Can this person be on my dissertation committee?

Yes.  Non-UM philosophy faculty may serve as regular members or co-chairs, but not as sole chairs of dissertation committees.

May I have 4 members of the Philosophy Department on my committee at the same time?

No.  Dissertation advising is a scarce resource and must be conserved, lest the energies of popular committee members be dissipated on too many dissertations.

How often should I meet with my committee?

The dissertation committee must meet with its advisee at the prospectus exam and the dissertation defense.  Usually, the philosophy members alone (without the cognate member) also meet at an initial pre-prospectus meeting at the time a student first assembles the committee and seeks advice on first steps toward a prospectus.  Annual meetings of the philosophy members are advisable at the end of winter term, to prepare the advisee for a productive summer.  However, this latter function may be assumed by the chair or co-chairs alone.  Students should meet with their chair or co-chairs at least once per term.


Graduate students receive information about how they are doing in the program from 5 main sources: (1) transcripts; (2) instructor comments and grades on individual papers and exams, and possibly on overall performance in a course; (3) the October review of graduate students, as conveyed by their advisor; (4) candidacy decisions; (5) dissertation committee members.  Of all of these sources of feedback, the transcript is by far the least useful.  Qualitative feedback from faculty instructors and advisors regarding a student’s strengths and weaknesses, with advice on steps needed to improve performance, is much more important.  The following questions tell you what you should do to improve the quality of feedback you receive.

I've got all A's and A-'s on my transcript.  I’m doing fine, right?

Course grades have low informational value.  Because grades at the graduate level have a very restricted range (nearly all grades fall between A and B+), they are unable to convey much useful information.  In particular, the A- grade may indicate anything from "fine, but not great" to "there are some real problems here, but not enough to be alarmed about (if it is only in a single course)."  Sometimes, grade patterns can be informative:  a bunch of straight A’s is a good sign; several B+ grades a bad sign.  A transcript that contains almost no grades above A-, especially in the most recent courses in one's field of specialization, may be a cause for concern, as it indicates that the student has not done much stellar work.  Students should rely more on qualitative comments on their papers, comments their instructors have given them on their overall course performance, and feedback from the October review of graduate students to get a sense of where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and where they need to improve.  Make appointments with your advisors and course instructors to learn more about your performance.

It’s been more than a month since I turned in a paper for one of my classes, and I still haven’t heard back from my instructor!  What should I do?

Department regulations require that faculty responsible for evaluating a student’s work return written or oral feedback to the student within one month of receipt.  To encourage prompt feedback, students should request an appointment with their instructor to talk about their work before one month has passed, or as soon as possible if one month has already passed.  If their request is ignored, students should bring this matter to the attention of the Chair of Graduate Studies, who will intervene to help the student.

It’s been more than a month since I turned in a chapter to one of my dissertation advisors, and I still haven’t heard back! What should I do?

Make sure you and your advisor share an understanding of what your advisor’s role is on the dissertation committee.  Committee chairs are responsible for close supervision of their advisees, but the other members of the committee have less responsibility to read work and provide feedback.  Third readers and cognate members, in particular, have no obligation to be closely involved in dissertation writing.  If your advisor understands that he or she is committed to a more active role on the committee, follow the steps above to get feedback.

It’s mid-November, and I haven’t heard about the results of the October review of graduate students.  What should I do?

Make an appointment with your advisor to learn about what was said about you.  If you are a pre-candidate, bring this matter to the attention of the Chair of Graduate Studies.