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The Role of a Dissertation Chair in Graduate Student Success

A dissertation chair, also known as a dissertation advisor, plays a crucial role in a graduate student’s academic success. This position is responsible for guiding, instructing, and supervising students through their research and writing of a dissertation or thesis. In this article, we will discuss the key responsibilities and qualities of a great dissertation chair and how to choose the right one for your academic aspirations.

Responsibilities of a Dissertation Chair

A dissertation chair is responsible for a range of activities related to graduate student success. These activities typically include:

  • Supervision: The chair supervises the entire dissertation process, from proposal to final defense. They provide guidance, feedback, and constructive criticism to the student at each stage.
  • Mentorship: The chair acts as a mentor and provides support to the student in their academic pursuits.
  • Guidance: The chair helps the student navigate the complexities involved in writing a dissertation. This includes helping the student develop and refine their research question, methodology, and literature review.
  • Support: The chair provides support to the student throughout the dissertation process, offering encouragement, motivation, and advice as needed.

Qualities of a Great Dissertation Chair

Not all dissertation chairs are created equal. A great dissertation chair possesses certain qualities that make them an effective mentor and leader. These qualities include:

  • Communication skills: The chair should be an excellent communicator, able to clearly and effectively convey feedback to the student.
  • Expertise in subject area: The chair should have a deep understanding of the subject area and should be able to provide insight and guidance based on that knowledge.
  • Availability: The chair should be readily available to the student, able to provide feedback and guidance in a timely manner.
  • Time management skills: The chair should be able to balance their responsibilities and prioritize their time to ensure they can give the student proper attention.
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How to Choose the Right Dissertation Chair

The process of choosing the right dissertation chair can be overwhelming, but there are steps you can take to make the process easier. We recommend that you:

  • Research: Look into potential chairs’ academic backgrounds, experience as a dissertation advisor, and their success with previous students
  • Ask for Recommendations: Talk to former or current students who had the same chair and get their feedback on their experience.
  • Interview Potential Chairs: Schedule a meeting with potential chairs to discuss expectations, goals, and their approach to mentoring.
  • Consider Personal Compatibility: Choose a chair who you can work with smoothly, and share similar expectations and communication styles.

Challenges and Rewards of Being a Dissertation Chair

Being a dissertation chair comes with its own unique challenges and rewards. Some challenges include managing time efficiently, communicating with students clearly, and maintaining their objectivity. On the other hand, the chair may feel fulfilled when they see students succeed after much hard work dedication. Here are some tips of advice for any aspiring dissertation chair:

  • Be clear and concise in communication as possible.
  • Break the dissertation process down into smaller tasks to accomplish more.
  • Focus on the student’s strengths, and use it to their advantage.


A dissertation chair is a vital support in a graduate student’s academic journey. They provide mentorship, guidance, constructive feedback, and support to help the student complete a rigorous dissertation writing process. By selecting an effective dissertation chair who has experience and the necessary qualities, students can overcome challenges and achieve academic success.


How do you choose a dissertation chair?

To choose a dissertation chair, it is important to look for someone who has experience and expertise in your subject area, strong communication skills, is available when needed, and is compatible with your personality and work style. You can research potential chairs, ask for recommendations, interview potential candidates, before making your final decision.

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How much time does a dissertation chair require?

The amount of time a dissertation chair invests in their student’s dissertation process depends on the individual student’s needs and level of progress. Generally, chairs commit about 8-15 hours/week to their students.

What is the role of a dissertation chair in a dissertation defense?

The dissertation chair plays a crucial role as the principal advisor to the student during the preparation of the dissertation defense. They play an active role in evaluating the student’s ability to conduct research and communicate results to the specific committee.

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