Today was the first time I sat on an exam committee. The student is in another department, and although related to what I do, the topic was not exactly my bag. It was only a proposal exam, but I have to say that it made me a bit nervous because I didn't want to either run out of questions to ask the student or have questions that were not open-ended enough, etc. There were five people on the exam committee, leaving the distinct possibility that if I didn't come up with a bunch of questions and ended up being the last person to ask, my questions might have already been asked by others. Since I dedicated maybe about 3 hours of time to reading and thinking about the student's proposal, I walked wondering if I was going to look like an unprepared ass in front of four of my colleagues.
The break-down of the committee was two senior faculty, one just-recent-full-prof, a third year assistant prof and myself. I was the only person from my department, but that turned out to be a good thing. It also worked out that they topic of people's questions strictly correlated with career stage. The senior folks asked either broad philosophical questions or nitty-gritty knowledge-testing details about the sub-sub-topic of the proposal. My guess is that they glanced at the proposal briefly and figured "been there, done that". The recent full prof had clearly read the whole thing and asked question geared at getting the student to synthesize a couple of fields that the proposal cut across, as well as delving into specific methods. The two junior profs spent most of our time pushing the candidate on parts of the proposal we thought were most interesting and try to get the candidate to reach into areas related to the proposal, but closer to our work. I had no problem with question overlap because I do some very different things than the other people who were in the room, which was nice, and my questions generated a decent amount of discussion. As much as I have a lot of confidence in what I am doing, there's always that lingering bit of impostor syndrome that speaks up in situations like that, when I'm not quite sure what to expect or how it will all play out. Now that I've gone through one I'll know what the deal is next time around and not be as concerned about it.