>What’s the role of the outside reader?

>Here’s a question that I think any of my readers who have been involved with a Ph.D. dissertation or M.A. thesis committee — for their own or others — can address.

What do you think the role of the “outside” reader is (that is, the person who’s either at another university or in another department)?

I’m on two committees gearing up for defenses soon. And in both cases, I was either brought in late as a replacement or else haven’t otherwise been involved in the writing in progress. And as far as *I’m* concerned that’s fine. I see my role as largely formal: I’m there to keep the “inside” people honest, and make sure wacky things aren’t going on. In the committee where I’ve been involved longer, I’ve also made reading suggestions, in part because the work really does overlap with my own field and knowledge, and the other committee members really didn’t know much about it. And actually, in the other case, it overlaps with literary studies as well, but other knowledgeable people have been involved, and I was only brought in this summer when the dissertation was already largely done. In that case, I think any advice I’d have to give would be way too late.

So, in both cases, I’ll show up for the defense and ask some questions to tease out things that maybe weren’t fully addressed in the writing, and some others that are kind of big picture and disciplinary (‘how is this an X discipline work and not a literary studies work?’ is probably something I’ll ask both of them, since both really do overlap with literary studies). But I’m not looking to stymie or fail them, or expect them to suddenly meet *my* expectations. I’m the outside reader, after all, not the director.

But one of the students involved — the one whose committee I didn’t join (as a replacement) until right before I left for the UK and who’s already largely done with the project — *wants* my feedback. I’m thinking of explaining to her what I see as my role — a pro forma one, especially given the circumstances — and assuring her that I won’t pull anything at the defense. If her director will sign off on the diss and pass her, so will I. Do you think that’s fair? I barely have time to read the thing, let alone give detailed feedback.

But in more ideal circumstances — where one is brought in from the beginning — what is the role of the outside reader?

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