The Advisory Committee
The University of Maine Graduate School requires that master’s students have advisory committees of three members, generally chaired by their Advisor. For the MAIS degree, the primary advisor is typically the track coordinator. The two other members would generally by faculty from MES, or possibly other departments. In some cases it might be permitted to have a committee member from outside the university, if approved by the Graduate School (see the section entitled “Record of Qualifications” below).
In the MAIS degree, the committee’s role is somewhat restricted. This is because unlike regular academic departments, the faculty who teach in Maine Studies and the other MAIS tracks do not get compensated for their service on student committees, and it is not part of their teaching duties, which are based on a union contract. In short, this means that their role comes later in the degree, is more limited in scope, and is respectful of their time and other obligations. This will be discussed below.
When (and How) Do You Create a Committee?
The Program of Study form, which must be submitted to the Graduate School by the time the student completes their first 12 credits, includes a section listing advisory committee members. However, it is very difficult for many students to know who will be on their committee that early in their degree. Therefore this section is often left blank at this point, and only completed later when a revised POS is turned in, often just before graduation.
For the MAIS program, including the Maine Studies track, the main work of the committee takes place only at the very end of the student’s degree, when they are close to completing their Master’s Project. It is at that point that the committee weighs in with their comments and suggestions about the project. They also attend a presentation or defense, as described below. This all helps to ensure that committee members, whose work is completely voluntary, are not unduly burdened by their role.
The bottom line is that you will likely create your committee in the final year of your program, as you work on your master’s project. Your advisor/program coordinator can help you identify potential committee members if needed, and can work with you on how to approach them and define their role.
Who Can be on the Committee?
In addition to the MES Coordinator, who acts as chair, the other two members of the advisory committee may be Maine Studies faculty or other members of the University of Maine faculty who are approved by the Graduate School to serve on graduate student committees. It is also possible to have one committee member from outside of the university, although this requires additional approvals from the Graduate School. In most cases, it is best to have committee members who are already familiar with the student and willing to serve in this capacity.
As you think about your committee, consider instructors who have influenced your thinking, perhaps even leading to the project you are working on. Such faculty would be the most logical choices for committee members. Others might be faculty whose work interests you, but with whom you have not taken any courses. Keep in mind that a request from an unknown student to serve on their committee might be politely turned down. Also bear in mind that UMaine faculty have considerable obligations to their home departments, who might not allow them to serve on committees for MAIS students.
Some MAIS students have turned to faculty from other universities, especially if they had a close working relationship with them in the past. This is sometimes possible, but is not a preferred option, for several reasons. If you do wish to explore this option, keep in mind that all such faculty must be vetted and approved by the UMaine Graduate School, using something called the “Record of Qualification” (ROQ) form. Some UMS faculty already have gone through this process. Others might be reluctant to do so, and going through the process does not guarantee that they will be approved by the Grad School.
As stated earlier, the main role of the MAIS advisory committee is to oversee the final stages in the student’s degree program, especially giving final approval for the master’s project. It is not their job to advise the student on other elements of their program, or to provide detailed and lengthy feedback and criticism of documents. Committee membership is on a strictly volunteer basis, and students must consider this when asking anything of members, including the initial request to serve.
The Maine Studies Coordinator will generally act as an intermediary with the committee, managing their role as appropriate. Part of this entails deciding when projects are sufficiently complete and of a high enough quality to send to committee members. In the past, some committee members have felt overwhelmed by the volume of emails and multiple draft versions of documents from students. Given that potential committee members are a limited resource on our campus, the Program Coordinator will seek to protect their time and help students manage their expectations, leading to a satisfying outcome for all parties. Questions about the appropriate role of committee members should be addressed to the Program Coordinator.