Graduate Committees

The GAAC (Graduate Admissions and Advising Committee)

Instead of having one faculty member responsible for graduate studies, the Department of Planetary Sciences employs a committee of five faculty members and the head of academic affairs to serve on the Graduate Admissions and Advising Committee, or GAAC. They are primarily responsible for reviewing graduate applications and admitting students into the department, as well as being general counselors for each of the graduate students. They conduct the following mandatory interviews and are available on request to meet with an individual student or group of students that wish to discuss graduate issues.

The current GAAC members for 2013-14 are Adam Showman (chair), Shane Byrne, Isamu Matsuyama, Tami Rogers, Tom Zega, and Mary Guerrieri.

Initial interview

The GAAC will interview each incoming student during the week before classes begin. The purpose of this twenty-minute meeting is to determine if deficiencies exist in your first-year academic program, so you should have an idea of what classes you will take (if you haven't already registered for them). During or following the interview, the committee will:

  • Certify that you are qualified to pursue a graduate program (this will substitute for and fulfill the University Qualifying Examination requirement) or recommend remedial courses if you have an inadequate background. Upon successful completion of these courses, you will be qualified for graduate work.
  • Decide whether you have satisfied the Departmental language requirement or recommend suitable courses that will lead to a successful fulfillment of this requirement.
  • Accept petitions for waiver of core course requirements.
  • Recommend the assignment of an academic advisor.
  • Discuss with you your choice of minor.
  • Answer questions regarding academic requirements. However, the committee members usually do not know a lot about the academic requirements, so it's probably better to discuss this with the grad students.

Third-year review

The Graduate Admissions and Advising Committee will meet with you during the week before classes of your third year to review your progress. All components will be considered, including performance in courses, Journal Club, research, and other Departmental activities. Following this interview, the faculty will determine whether you should continue in the doctoral program. As an alternative, they may recommend that you continue in an MS program or withdraw. A record of the actions of the faculty will be forwarded to the Department Head's office for placement in your files. In exceptional cases, such as failure to take core courses in sequence of their availability or being on academic probation for two consecutive semesters after the first year of study, the above process will be repeated. Any student on probation for three consecutive semesters will normally be asked to withdraw from the graduate program.

Ph.D. Committee

In addition to your advisor, the Ph.D. committee consists of two other members of the faculty of the Department/Laboratory and two members from your minor Department. The committee will generally consist of a total of five members. The Graduate Admissions and Advising Committee, in consultation with you and your dissertation advisor, will nominate members of the committee to be approved by the Department Head and the Dean of the Graduate College. The Ph.D. committee will be established during your second or third year of study and formalized with the Application for Preliminary Oral Examination and Committee Approval. form. The responsibilities of the Ph.D. committee are as follows:

  • To evaluate the Ph.D. dissertation proposal
  • To meet with you
    • when the committee is formed
    • once per year following successful completion of the Oral Preliminary Exam for up to three years (see #Committee Meetings below)

    • once per semester thereafter
  • To read and evaluate your Ph.D. dissertation prior to its approval for submission to the graduate college
  • To conduct the Final Dissertation Defense

Committee Meetings

Annual meetings with your committee are required after you pass orals. There is no established format or content; the only output that's required is that the committee (or at least most of them...) sign the Dissertation Progress ReportDissertation Progress Report (PDF).

Different advisors seem to have very different ideas of what this meeting will be. Some students prepare slides and some just get together and chat. Meetings can range from a quick check-in to an hour long discussion or more, depending on how up to date your committee is on your work. One student's advisor treated the meeting like orals all over again. sad However, that experience seems unique. If you're unsure of your advisor's approach to these meetings, just ask them what they expect from you.

Since you have to do this, you might as well try to make it useful for you. It can be a good annual checkup for yourself - What have you accomplished over the last year? Are you on track for your desired graduation schedule? If you have any questions for your committee, this is the time to bring them up. Ideas include: specific things to include or omit from your dissertation, potential directions for new research, ideas for collaborators, postdoc leads, feedback on your timeline to graduate.

  • For your first annual meeting, if your committee is different from your orals committee, it might be a good idea to put together a few slides on your research to familiarize them with your planned dissertation topics.