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Faculty and Student Guidelines for Completing the MPH Thesis - Roles

Roles and Responsibilities of the Supervisor Committee and Student
  1. The Master's Supervisory Committee
  2. Student Responsibilities  
A. Masters in Public Health Thesis Committee (The Master's Supervisory Committee)
(These guidelines apply also to students pursuing the Master of Science (MS) degree.)

The Supervisory Committee for students aspiring to the Master's degree in Public Health must consist of at least two faculty members, a chairperson and one other committee member. The chairperson must be a member of the University's graduate faculty, and hold a faculty appointment in the School of Public Health, preferably in Health Services. Adjunct faculty in Health Services can qualify. On a 2-member committee, the second member does not need to be a member of the graduate faculty, nor of the SPH, and can be drawn from almost any of the faculty of the University. In addition to regular and adjunct faculty, clinical and affiliate faculty can qualify, if approved by the MPH Graduate Program Director. Non-faculty, or faculty at another university, may serve on UW master's committees. But because the Graduate School requires one-half of committee members to be on the graduate faculty, this would result in a 3 or 4 member committee. (The best practice is to have only 2 faculty; others who make a contribution can be acknowledged in the thesis credits section and/or in any publication that results from the research.) All members of the committee must sign the signature pages of the thesis.

It is generally expected that the chairperson of a master's supervisory committee be selected from the faculty in the concentration the student has chosen, e.g., among the Maternal & Child Health (MCH) faculty if enrolled in MCH. The second member of the committee must be on the faculty in Health Services if the chairperson is not.

General questions on committee formation can be directed to Please notify the MPH Program Office at when your committee is formed, naming its members and indicating which is chairperson. Please also give a working title for your thesis and a projected date of completion.


The Chairperson has the overall responsibility for guiding the student through the process of the successful completion of a thesis which fulfills the requirements of the Graduate School, the School of Public Health, and the Department of Health Services. The Master's thesis should be evidence of the graduate student's ability to carry out independent investigation and to present the results in a clear and systematic form.

More specifically, the Chairperson's roles and responsibilities are to:
  • Guide students' expectations about what can and can not be done within the time constraints of their 2-year program.
  • Assess the student's ability to actually carry out all parts of the proposed thesis project and, if gaps are identified, advise the student on how to gain the skills necessary for completion of the thesis project.
  • Help the student identify an appropriate second faculty member for the thesis committee, if necessary.
  • Help the student negotiate with outside "players" (i.e. agencies) for thesis opportunities (i.e. access to data, opportunity to collect primary data). 
  • Help the student set up a timeline for completion of the various thesis key milestones such as chapters of the thesis and the oral presentation, if required.
  • Make sure all committee members have read and approved the thesis "proposal" (i.e. brief overview of problem statement, data collection and proposed analyses) early in the thesis process. Preferably the proposal should be presented in writing.
  • Negotiate with committee members the extensiveness of their roles (see below) on the thesis.
  • Read and give feedback on draft "chapters" within two weeks.
  • Advise student on designing the project, preparing the Human Subjects application, collecting and analyzing the data and writing up the thesis. Note that the chair must sign the Human Subjects application.
  • Monitor the student's progress. However, it is not the Chair's responsibility to "hold the student's hand." It is the student's responsibility to meet deadlines. 
  • Convene and chair meetings of the committee.
  • Be a mediator when conflict arises. Chairperson has final word.
  • Work with other committee members to achieve consensus on the acceptability of the thesis and to determine an appropriate grade.
  • Sign the Graduation Request (warrant).
  • Grade the thesis. 
Second Committee Member
  • Read, give advice and sign off on the initial thesis proposal.
  • Negotiate the tasks for which s/he will carry primary responsibility in guiding the student (if necessary).
  • Work individually with student on the thesis aspects for which the committee member carries primary responsibility.
  • Attend meetings requested by chairperson.
  • Advise the student outside "formal" meetings.
  • Read drafts forwarded by Chairperson and provide comments to student and Chairperson.
  • Give input on time-line in light of his/her own availability, time constraints, and the amount of work required for the part of thesis the 2nd member oversees.
  • Give feedback to the student within two weeks.
B. Student Responsibilities

Although it is expected that the student receives a great deal of help and support from his/her committee members, the student is responsible for carrying out the thesis. S/he is expected to take the lead in setting up all aspects of the thesis project and to complete the project in a timely fashion. It is important that students begin thinking about the thesis project (and what may be required to conduct such a project) during the first year of graduate school. 

Thus, it is the student's responsibility to:
  • Formulate and communicate thesis ideas to his or her academic advisor during first year of graduate school.
  • Discuss with academic advisor (and later with Chair and/or second committee member) what classes may be needed/useful for execution of specific thesis projects.
  • Explore leads to gain access to data for thesis.
  • Approach faculty members who have relevant, complementary expertise regarding the thesis project and ask them to be on the committee.
  • Fill out the Human Subjects application and conduct the other necessary research activities required for completion of the thesis.
  • Get thesis committee together PRIOR to executing the thesis project. Students NEED input and approval from both committee members BEFORE they actually conduct their thesis project.
  • Set up (with help of committee members) a realistic time-line for completion of tasks.
  • Stick to the agree upon time line. *
  • Communicate REGULARLY about your progress (or lack thereof) with committee members and make sure that all members receive revised and realistic timelines. *
  • Provide the Chair with interim products as requested.
  • Communicate clearly about when feedback is requested but make the requested deadlines realistic based on Committee members' work/travel schedules.
  • Write up the thesis according to the guidelines set by the Graduate School (See the Style and Policy Manual for Theses and Dissertations).
  • Submit final draft of entire thesis to committee members by at least 6 weeks before the intended graduation date (roughly November 1 for autumn, February 1 for winter, May 1 for spring, July 1 for summer). If the full draft has not been received by that time, the student should expect to graduate the following quarter.
  • Conduct an oral presentation of research findings, if required by track or program.
  • Obtain signatures on the thesis cover pages and warrant from committee members.
  • Submit the thesis to the graduate school.



* Note: Committee members are NOT required to approve a thesis that is incomplete to meet a pressing deadline imposed by the graduate school.