College of Science & Engineering

Thesis Committee


The Thesis Committee functions to:

  • Guide and oversee your planned coursework.

  • Evaluate and approve your proposed thesis topic.

  • Give advice during the research and writing of your Master’s thesis.

  • Conduct the oral examination of your formal thesis defense.

  • Approve the thesis submitted to the Graduate School.

In general, your Course Approval Committee (see section 3.4) will be the same as your Thesis Committee, but it doesn’t have to be the same.


The Thesis Committee is composed of three or more members.

  • The thesis advisor, who must be tenure-track faculty from Biology.

  • At least two other committee members from the University faculty, one of whom must be Biology Graduate faculty.

In some cases, co-advisors are assigned (Marine and Estuarine Science Program). You may select additional committee members from inside or outside of the University, though certain restrictions apply. For a complete explanation of committee member eligibility refer to the Graduate School’s thesis guidelines. Your thesis advisor acts as the chair of your Thesis Committee and is your primary source of guidance and counsel. You select the additional Thesis Committee members in consultation with your thesis advisor. The Thesis Committee must be approved by the Biology Graduate Program Advisor and the Biology Department Chair before it is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School. This approval takes place with the submission of the Thesis Topic Approval Card, which you can find at the Graduate School’s website. Note that the Thesis Committee can, but need not, have the same members as the Course Approval Committee (see Section 3.4).

Establishing a Thesis Committee

Your thesis advisor was assigned when you were accepted into the Biology Graduate Program1. The rest of the your committee should be selected with the assistance of your thesis advisor during your first quarter at Western. When choosing potential committee members, you should consider faculty with expertise in areas related to the proposed research. Once several potential committee members have been identified, you should contact each potential committee member and arrange a time to meet and discuss that person’s potential availability and willingness to serve in the context of your proposed research plan. The goal of this meeting is to determine whether the committee member can provide the time and skills needed to aid in the success of your proposed research. Think of these initial meetings as interviews - you can make a final decision after you’ve reflected on the merits of having different faculty on your committee. In seeking potential committee members, it is also a good idea to chat with current graduate students about what it is like to work closely with a faculty member.

Sample questions about potential Thesis Committee members that a beginning graduate student could ask the thesis advisor and other graduate students2 include:

  • What role is the individual likely to take in the development of the project?

  • Does the individual appear have the available time, particularly when it is most needed by the graduate student, over the next two years?

  • Does the potential committee member provide thoughtful, critical, and supportive guidance?

Initial Meeting with Course Approval Committee

After you have established a Course Approval Committee (generally, but not necessarily the same as your Thesis Committee), you will need to convene an initial, hour-long meeting, which all committee members must attend. This initial meeting must occur before the end of the first academic quarter. The first item on the Course Approval Committee’s agenda will be to discuss your background and preparation related to:

  • Departmental academic standards for entering graduate students.

  • The proposed coursework (i.e., Plan of Study, see Section 4).

  • Advancement to candidacy (see Section 5.2).

  • The proposed research project.

Prior to the first meeting, you should provide your Course Approval Committee with a list of relevant upper-division courses already taken, and 400-level and graduate courses that you propose to take.

Your Course Approval Committee will evaluate your academic preparedness, consider the courses needed to facilitate your research interests, and evaluate your proposed Plan of Study. At this meeting your proposed Plan of Study (i.e. required coursework) will be completed and approved (see Section 4).

This initial meeting and the creation of a Plan of Study should be done as early as possible. We recommend that incoming students discuss course options and a general plan with their advisor before registering for the fall quarter of their first year. The Plan of Study can be amended later with the approval of your Thesis Committee once that committee is assembled, and the approval of the graduate program advisor and the Graduate School. This strategy will minimize the potential for missing out on important classes that may only be offered in the fall every other year.

Subsequent Meetings with Thesis Committee

All graduate students are required to have regular committee meetings, following the schedule outlined below.

Year 1

Fall -

Meet to discuss plan of study, to be signed by the Course Approval Committee

Winter -

Meet to discuss thesis topic (approval indicated by signatures of Thesis Committee) and to begin proposal development. Students should bring to this meeting a bulleted list of information about their study system, questions of interest, and methods to be used.

Spring -

Meet to have proposal approved (indicated by Thesis Committee signature). Proposal guidelines, listed in Section 5.4.1, will be discussed in Biol. 501 (see Section 4.1 for description of this course).

Year 2

Fall -

Meet with Thesis Committee to take stock of progress to date, and to plan the remaining analyses and develop a plan for finishing the thesis.

Winter -

Review results, discuss with Thesis Committee how best to integrate those results, and consider whether additional analyses are needed.

Year 3 (if necessary)

Follow the schedule outlined under year 2.

The purpose of these requirements is to ensure that you are getting frequent feedback from your Thesis Committee to allow you to finish your degree in a timely fashion. Thus, you should follow the above schedule to ensure you make suitable progress toward your degree. A record of these meetings will be kept in your departmental file. In some cases,like plan of study approval, thesis topic approval, and proposal approval, the signatures of the thesis members on the relevant document will be the record of when a particular meeting was held.

Note that you should view these requirements as the minimum frequency with which you should meet with your committee. The Biology Department encourages you to schedule additional committee meetings, and to meet individually with committee members (as well as other faculty with relevant expertise) to address issues for which you need their advice.

Changes in Committee Members

The assignment of your Thesis Advisor and Thesis Committee is generally viewed as permanent. However, unusual circumstances may arise that make a change necessary. As soon as any concerns arise, and before making any decisions regarding changes in committee members or thesis advisor, you should meet with the Graduate Program Advisor, the Biology Department Chair, or both, and submit the changes to the graduate school.