First and foremost, the director (sometimes referred to as an advisor or chair) should be a specialist in the area of interest. Students should choose a director who will require nothing less than their best work and for whom they will be willing to do their best work. Degree candidates invariably work closely with their thesis or dissertation directors, so the director should be someone from whom the student can take constructive criticism and with whom he or she can get along. The Graduate College stipulates that only full graduate faculty (in distinction to teaching or adjunct graduate faculty) may direct Ph.D. dissertations or M.A. theses.
Thesis committees must have a director from within the English department and at least one other faculty reader; dissertation committees must have a director from within the English department and at least two other readers, at least one from within the area of specialization (or a closely related area) and perhaps one from outside of the specialization or outside of the department. Upon request of the student and approval of the director, dissertation committees can have a maximum of five members (a director and four readers). If the thesis or dissertation draws significantly upon another discipline (such as history, for example) then a student may consider selecting a qualified reader from that discipline. All readers, including those from outside the discipline or university, must have graduate faculty status.
Common courtesy indicates that a student should approach a professor in person if possible (Zoom or Teams meetings are acceptable if the professor prefers), rather than by e-mail or note, to inquire about directing or reading a thesis or dissertation. The members of the committee are being asked to make a commitment that will require a significant investment of their time for which they are not significantly recompensed by the university. Students should also be aware that agreeing to serve as a director or reader for a thesis or dissertation does not obligate the professor to stick with the project to the end. A student should approach the potential director at least one semester prior to registering for Doctoral/Master’s Reading, thesis or dissertation hours.
Under certain conditions, in-person approaches to potential directors or readers may not be practical. You should develop a polished one-page description of your thesis or dissertation concept, carefully proofread, to attach to a formal e-mail asking the professor to consider serving as director or reader for your project and requesting an in-person, video conference, or phone appointment to discuss the possibility of working together.