Graduate Catalog
Policies, Procedures, Academic Programs
Graduate School Policies
Graduate Advisory Committees

Committee Functions

The student's Advisory Committee works with the student to design a Plan of Study, approves the Plan of Study, provides advice, conducts required examinations and regularly assesses the student's progress and accomplishments. Advisory Committee members are appointed by the Graduate School on recommendation of the Department Head or Graduate Program Director via submission of a Plan of Study listing the proposed committee Chair ("Major Advisor") and committee members.

Although all members of the Advisory Committee have a role in guiding the student’s program, the Chair of the student’s committee is solely responsible for assuring that supervision of the student’s program is conducted in accordance with the expectations and policies of the university, the Graduate School, and the program’s academic home.  For this reason, only Virginia Tech faculty members are eligible to serve as an Advisory Committee Chair.  In some cases, it may be desirable to appoint a committee Co-Chair, in recognition of that member’s disciplinary expertise or a existing scholarly relationship with the committee Chair; however, there remains but a single Chair (not two Co-Chairs) with authority to direct the student’s program of study.  Examples of committee members for whom a role of Co-Chair may be justified include faculty members from institutions outside of Virginia Tech who maintain an ongoing research collaboration or jointly-funded project with Virginia Tech faculty members who would chair the committees in question.

Committee Composition and Size

Advisory Committees will be composed principally of Virginia Tech-employed Graduate Program faculty members, who have the primary responsibility for the operation and integrity of graduate education programs in their departments, schools, and programs (“academic units”). These individuals are recommended by their academic units to serve as Graduate Program faculty members on the basis of having earned the appropriate terminal degree (or having gained equivalent professional experience), maintaining a record of scholarly productivity, and showing evidence of successful involvement with graduate education within the previous five years. 

Virginia Tech faculty members who meet the three criteria above can serve as Chairs, Co-Chairs, or Members of graduate student advisory committees.  Eligible faculty categories include the Tenured/Tenure-track, Clinical, Extension, Collegiate, Research, and Professor of Practice ranks as defined in the Virginia Tech Faculty Handbook. Virginia Tech faculty members who meet the first two criteria but have not previously had the opportunity to advise or supervise graduate students can, if paired with or mentored by an experienced Virginia Tech faculty member, qualify as Graduate Program faculty and can serve as Chair, Co-Chair, or Member on graduate student Advisory Committees. 

Department Heads/Chairs or Graduate Program Directors may nominate faculty members in their academic units for Graduate Program Faculty status by submitting the form at  You must be logged into your VT Google account to access this Google form.  A downloadable guide to completing the online request form can be found here.)

A student pursuing a Master’s degree must have an Advisory Committee composed of at least three members with qualifications described above, e.g., the appropriate terminal degree (Master's degree or higher). In some instances, it is appropriate to have fewer (minimum of 1) faculty members serving on the Advisory Committee when students are pursuing a coursework-only degree (e.g., MBA). Departments offering coursework-only degrees can petition the Commission on Graduate and Professional Studies and Policies for approval to reduce the size of the committee.  Doctoral candidates must have an Advisory Committee of at least four members with the qualifications described above. The student should also refer to the departmental policies and procedures document for any guidelines for graduate advisory committee service or composition specific to their department or program.

In addition to members of the Graduate Program faculty, other individuals can be appointed to serve as Members or as Co-Chairs under certain circumstances as noted under Committee Functions above, on graduate student Advisory Committees.  This category includes retired or Emeritus Virginia Tech faculty members, Virginia Tech employees (e.g., Research Scientists, Administrative/Professional Faculty, Instructors), and non-Virginia Tech-employed individuals including Adjunct Faculty, who are qualified by terminal degree/professional experience and scholarly productivity and who, by inclusion, can provide specific expertise to enrich the student’s program.  Recommendation that such an individual be appointed to serve on a graduate student’s Advisory Committee is made by the student’s home academic unit using the form linked above and approved by the Graduate School.

Identification of Committee Members

Selection of an individual student’s Advisory Committee membership, drawn from the Virginia Tech Graduate Program faculty and, if desired, approved non-Graduate Program faculty individuals, is performed jointly by the student and their Major Advisor and approved by the Graduate Program Director of the student’s home academic unit when the student's Plan of Study is prepared.  Graduate Program faculty members must constitute at least two-thirds of the minimum committee membership (e.g., at least two of the three members for master’s degrees and at least three of the four members for doctoral degrees).

Once the minimum committee membership total has been satisfied as described, individuals not meeting the criteria of degree/experience credentials, scholarly achievement, and graduate education experience may be added as additional Members of a student’s committee if, in the view of the student’s home academic unit, that individual can provide specific expertise to enrich the student’s program.  Approval of these individuals for service is likewise recommended via the form identified above.

In selecting members of their Advisory Committees, students and their committee Chairs should take pains to avoid situations that might create conflicts of interest for the student or be impacted by coercive relationships among the committee members or between the student and committee members.  It is of paramount importance that all committee members be free to evaluate the student’s work based on its academic merit alone.

Composition of the student’s Advisory Committee is communicated by the Graduate Program Director to the Graduate School in the form of the student’s Plan of Study, on which all committee members are signatories. 

Additional considerations

Faculty members are not permitted to serve as Advisor or committee member for family members (spouse or dependent immediate family member), nor for individuals with whom they have a close personal relationship, such as partner or extended family member, or a close professional relationship such as business associate or supervisor.  A faculty member with a significant financial interest in a company may not serve as Chair of an Advisory Committee for either a student funded through a university-sponsored project supported by the faculty member's company or a student employed directly by the faculty member's company. The faculty member with the conflict may serve as Co-Chair or committee member. If another Chair is appointed, that faculty member must be of equal or greater rank, must have no involvement with the sponsoring company, and must not be subject to undue influence by the faculty-owner. See Policy 13010 for a complete description of the disclosures and protections required in such instances.

Graduate students (including those Virginia Tech employees who are pursuing graduate degrees) may not serve on a graduate Advisory and/or Examining Committees.  Post-doctoral scholars or other advanced degree holders who have earned their graduate degrees at Virginia Tech will not be approved for service on Advisory Committees of students with whom they overlapped as students.

See also Eligibility of Faculty/Staff for Graduate Degrees ( for a description of steps needed to document the delineation of employment duties from degree-seeking research work.

Changes in a Student's Advisory Committee

Changes in a student's Advisory Committee will be granted only on approval of all committee members (new and old) and on recommendation by the Department Head or Graduate Program Director, after the Change of Committee/Advisor Request form is completed and signed ( ).  In the case that one or more members does not approve the change in the membership of the Advisory Committee, an appeal may be made by either the student or a faculty member to the Department Head.  If the Department Head considers the appeal to have merit, he/she may then ask the Graduate School for an exception to all members signing the form.

If the Chair of an Advisory Committee leaves the university or retires during the student's degree program, the department should consult with the Dean's Office in the Graduate School to determine the most appropriate continuing committee composition for advising of the student to degree completion.