Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who is "my student"?

The way that dissertation committees work is that one faculty member is the chair of the committee, and is joined by some number, usually two, of other faculty members. Sometimes, as at Michigan, there also has to be a committee member from outside of the student's department. Other times, as at some Canadian and European universities, there is some sort of external review process involving faculty from outside the university.

It is very clear that the chair of the dissertation committee can refer to the student as "my student". The complexity, and thus this post, arises in regard to the other faculty members on the committee. On the one hand, there is a concern that the chair might offended if one of the other faculty members referred to the student in question as "my student". On the other hand, a student might be offended (or at least dismayed) if a professor who was on his or her committee but was not the chair declines to refer to the student as "my student".

I usually only refer to students for whom I was the chair as "my student" and refer to other cases with language such as "I was on so-and-so's committee". Thus, at the risk of offending some students, and at the cost of awkward language, I avoid the possibility of offending my colleagues. But is this really the best way to proceed? I wonder. Indeed, I am not even that clear on the rules that other faculty members use, but have resolved to pay more attention to this in the future.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Students face an analogous problem. Clearly, your dissertation chair is "my advisor". But what about the other committee members? Do you risk offending your chair by being overheard referring to someone else as "my advisor"? Etc. On the other hand, my policy of referring to three different professors as "my advisor" has led to some slight confusion with my peers, so it's probably non-standard.