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The primary function of the dissertation committee is to help guide the student through the PhD, especially the research component.  The committee also administers the doctoral oral exam and monitors the student’s progress. On this page:

Committee Structure

Summary of committee makeup:

  • At least five members. The advisor(s) and chair count toward this number.
  • A majority a members must be faculty in Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology.
  • One member is designated as chair (see below). This should be a senior member of the GMB faculty. The chair has a critical role in ensuring that both the student and advisor adhere to GMB policies and to good practices in graduate training. Thus, it is more important that the chair have a strong record of graduate training (as an advisor and/or member of other committees) than be an expert in the student’s dissertation research area.
  • Other members should be on the UNC graduate faculty or can be faculty at other institutions (GMB does not pay for members of other institutions to travel to Chapel Hill, except for parking costs). Members from other institutions must be appointed as temporary graduate faculty at UNC. The Student Services Specialist can do this process.

Committee members are chosen by the student, in consultation with the advisor(s). Committee makeups must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.  Exceptions to the rules above require approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and of The Graduate School (this approval will be obtained by the Director) prior to establishing the committee. Upon approval, the DGS signs the Report of Doctoral Committee Composition.. This form should be filed with the Student Services Manager prior to the first committee meeting.

It is recognized that research projects may go into unanticipated directions as they evolve.  Therefore, it is permissible to make changes to the committee, including adding additional members or making  substitutions.  Changes must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and reported to the chair of the committee, the Student Services Manager, and affected committee members.


  • The first meeting must be held before the end of spring semester of the 2nd year of graduate school (end of 1st year for MD-PhD students), unless an extension is requested from the Director of Graduate Studies (e.g., for students taking extensive coursework or TAing that semester).
  • The oral exam meeting (typically the 2nd meeting) must be held before the end of the first semester of the 3rd year (i.e., December; end of 2nd year for MD-PhD students).  See the GMB Oral Exam Policy for more information.
  • After the oral exam, committee meetings must be no more than one year apart until the 6th year, at which time meetings be no more than six months apart. Students that are overdue for a meeting will receive a grade of L (low pass) for GNET 994 – Dissertation Research. Six credits of L in any courses renders a student academically ineligible to continue in graduate school. In addition, students that are not in compliance with this policy will not be considered for awards that require nomination by the program, including Graduate School awards and the Lineberger Graduate Student Award.
  • The final meeting must be held within four months of the anticipated defense date (see GMB Dissertation and Defense Policy).

Dissertation Committee Meetings

With the exception of the oral exam, which is described in the GMB Oral Exam Policy, the structure of each dissertation meeting should be decided in advance by the student and the chair.  Typically, the student prepares a presentation of about 30-45 minutes that describes the project, progress, and goals.  The student might also be asked to prepare a written document outlining their progress and goals, to be distributed to the committee before the meeting.  In some cases, especially for senior students, discussion of this document may substitute for a presentation.

At the start of each meeting the student will leave the room briefly to allow the committee to discuss progress, strengths, and any weakness that need to be addressed.  After the student returns, the advisor(s) will leave the room so the committee can have a discussion with the student. These discussions are to be considered confidential and should be not be discussed with the advisor unless the student has given explicit consent.

When the committee is re-assembled, the student goes through the presentation and fields questions from the committee.  Except for the oral exam, the purpose of the meetings and questions is not to test knowledge or understanding, but to guide the student; however, challenging the student or engaging them in the Socratic method may often be the best way to promote their development.  The committee meeting is also a good forum for the student to ask the committee questions and solicit advice about how to proceed. Meetings should include an explicit discussion of goals for the next year and other aspects of training that might be important to the student.

Per Graduate School rules, the full committee must be present for the oral exam and the final defense. Other committee meetings are not required by the Graduate School, but by GMB. It is preferable to have all committee members present, but if this is not possible then a meeting can be held as long as no fewer than three members are present.

Documentation of Committee Meetings

Each committee meeting must be documented through completion of a Dissertation Committee Meeting Report. There are different reports for the first meeting, the oral exam, and all subsequent meetings. The student must obtain the proper form (see below) prior to the meeting, fill out the top section, and then send it to the committee chair and the Student Services Manager; a hard copy should also be brought to the meeting.  The chair fills out additional sections during the meeting. The completed form is returned to the Student Services Manager (either the student or the chair can do this), who distributes a copy to the student and advisor(s). Disagreements with the content should be brought to the attention of the chair and/or Director immediately. If no disagreements are registered, a copy is placed into the student’s record. This is distributed to the committee prior to the next meeting.

Report of First Committee Meeting (for the initial meeting with the committee; additional forms must be obtained from the Student Services Manager)

Report of Oral Exam (for the oral exam; additional forms must be obtained from the Student Services Manager)

Report of Committee Meeting  (for each meeting after the oral exam)

Report of Final Committee Meeting  (granting permission to schedule a defense within four months)

There are also forms required by The Graduate School. These can be found on their Graduate School forms page, but it is best to get them from John when needed. These include:

Report of Doctoral Committee Composition. This is one form with two parts. Part I lists your committee, including advisor(s) and chair. It must be signed by the Director of Graduate Studies to indicate approval of the committee.  Part II states that your committee approves of your dissertation project (The Graduate School will refer to this as “prospectus approval”). This is done at the oral exam. Each committee member must sign this form at that time.

The Doctoral Exam Report also has several parts: Report of Written Exam (I); Report of Oral Exam (II); Report of Final Oral Defense (III); and Report of Final Dissertation (IV). Each of these must be signed by your committee chair at the appropriate time (we have the chair sign the written exam part after the oral exam part, since dissertation committees are not involved in administering the written exam).

Responsibilities of Student

  • Adhere to the timing requirements listed above.
  • Get approval from the Director of Graduate Studies for the makeup of the committee and any deviations from the standard makeup.
  • Schedule regular committee meetings.  This includes finding a date that works for your committee members (at least a majority), finding a room in which to hold the meeting (the Student Services Manager can assist with this), and notifying the Student Services Manager that a meeting is scheduled (at least one week prior to the meeting date).
  • Prepare any written materials or presentation requested by the chair.
  • Obtain a copy of the appropriate from (above), fill out the top section before your meeting, and ensure that the final, completed form is delivered to the Student Services Manager. If we do not receive your completed form, you did not have a committee meeting.

Responsibilities of Advisor(s)

  • Ensure that students adhere to the current Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology policy regarding timing of dissertation committee meetings. Failure to follow this or other GMB policies may result in future students being ineligible for training grant support.

Responsibilities of Dissertation Committee Chairs

  • Assist the advisor(s) in overseeing the academic and professional development of the student.
  • Run all dissertation committee meetings, including the oral exam (see GMB Doctoral Oral Exam Policy).  This includes consulting with the student before each meeting to decide on a format and asking the advisor(s) to leave the room­­­ to allow the committee to address the student and vice versa.
  • Fill out the dissertation committee meeting forms. Go over the contents at the meeting, then send the completed form to the Student Services Specialist.
  • See the GMB Doctoral Oral Exam policy and the GMB Dissertation and Defense Policy for additional responsibilities.

Responsibilities of Other Dissertation Committee Members


Edit history

05/13/13   Changed first committee meeting timing to “before end of spring semester of year 2”.

06/30/13   Based on comments from several faculty and students, the provision for an option to ask the dissertation advisor to leave the room at the beginning of the meeting was changed to be a standard component of committee meetings.

08/04/13   Wrote new language to clarify the that the new timing requirements apply only to students that joined in 2013 or later.

01/28/14   Clarified rules for makeup of the committee and policy with regard to deviations from the standard makeup.

04/24/14   Added the Assessment of Academic Standing section, additional discussion of the role of the chair,  and made some minor clarifications.

07/14/14   Changed the section on documentation to accommodate adoption of new Dissertation Committee Forms.

08/12/14   Edited to discuss the new timing of one meeting per year.

02/02/16   Clarified that discussions that take place when the advisor is out of the room are to be considered confidential and not communicated to the advisor.

02/02/16   Added language about the minimum number of committee members that must be present for a meeting to be valid.

02/10/16  Changed the consequence of non-compliance from I to L in GNET 994 because the Graduate School no longer allows grades if I in 994 courses.

02/16/17  On 2/15/2017 the GMB Steering Committee voted to increase the required meeting frequency to once every six months for students in years 6 and higher.