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Brief Answers to Common Faculty Questions

The following are short general descriptions of areas commonly asked about by faculty. (More detailed content is available on the students’ website; see left side links)

Exam/Thesis Committee Meetings

Almost every meeting (exam or ‘regular’) begins with the student being asked to leave the room briefly for discussion, followed by the student being invited back and the advisor(s) being asked to leave briefly. This allows the committee to confidentially assess how the student is doing, and determine if there are areas of deficiency to emphasize to the student for future growth. A unified message from a committee to a student may have more impact then from the advisor alone.

Due to the inherent power imbalance in the mentor-mentee relationship, with the advisor absent, the committee can make sure that there are no non-scientific issues that need to be addressed. There also may be administrative obstacles within the lab (insufficient frequency of mentor-mentee meetings, etc.) that the committee can identify for improvement. The committee can help ensure the mentor-mentee are interacting in a way that maximizes the likelihood for success. Remember, the committee serves as a support system for both the mentor and mentee. The student should also feel comfortable contacting any individual thesis committee member for assistance/guidance outside of meetings. If any member of the committee feels there are serious or atypical issues of concern, do not hesitate to consult with the director of graduate studies (DGS). There are links to many support services at UNC on the student webpages.

Thesis Committee Composition

The University requires a minimum of 5 committee members (the thesis advisor + 4 other faculty). The “majority” (e.g. 3 of 5) of the committee must be members of “the degree-granting program” at UNC (Neuroscience Curriculum). Committee members can also come from other universities but must get a fixed term appointments (easy to do by request with the student services manager). The Chair of the committee cannot be the advisor and must be a Neuroscience Curriculum member. Committees with more than 5 members are allowed, but do consider the scheduling difficulty that may arise with larger committees. Committee composition can be changed at any time with simply student-advisor agreement and the DGS signature.

Following Committee Meetings

After the meeting, the student should compose a paragraph or two summarizing the meeting with particular focus on items (experiments) the committee recognized as important and productive as well as items the committee felt the student should de-emphasize. In particular, a brief description of committee suggested future plans/experiments (future focus) should be highlighted. If the committee suggests any timelines for the next seminal event (e.g. thesis proposal defense) this should also be included. The student emails the document to the chair as soon as possible (within 3-5 days) for approval/edits from the chair, and then emails the document to the rest of the committee and the student services manager to keep it in the student’s file. This document is provided to the Student Mentoring and Oversight (SMO) committee and is important for student progress reviews.

Exam Definitions

Qualifying exam” – technically “Report of Preliminary Written Examination” taken at the very beginning of year 2 of UNC matriculation. (based upon an assigned original research publication by an exam committee)

Thesis proposal defense” – technically “Report of Oral Examination” and “Report of Approved Dissertation Project” (2 signatory pages). ¬†Ideally occurs no later than end of Fall semester of year 3 of UNC matriculation. (the oral defense of what the student proposes to work on in the future for the thesis)

Thesis defense” – technically two components: the oral committee only private defense “Report of Final Oral Dissertation Defense” and the written “Report of Final Written Dissertation”. (For the Neuroscience Curriculum, although the main oral defense is private and occurs in advance of the public seminar defense date, the document is not signed until immediately after the public seminar. The written defense signatory page can be signed any time after the private defense in which the committee member is satisfied with the written thesis; however, this too is typically signed immediately after the public seminar defense.)