Meeting with your committee can be a daunting task. Often, the prospect of rounding up a number of experts, and then sitting in front of them and talking about your research, can be terrifying. Here are a couple tips that might help make your first (and all the rest) of your committee meetings more productive and a little less scary.

Don’t wait for them to contact you

You are doing something wrong if you are getting notes from you advisor asking where you’ve been, or suggesting that you should set up a meeting to discuss your progress. Your committee will be impressed if you take the initiative to set up your meetings without prompting: it demonstrates that you are making progress, are motivated to finish, and are taking the lead on your research. It also means that your project is one less thing they have to worry about.

Use Doodle

You can spend weeks trying to find a time where everyone on your committee can meet. Doodle is a handy online service that lets your meeting attendees tell you when they’re available and when they’re not, so you can select a time that works for everybody. For those of you with technologically challenged committee members, never fear: it’s very simple.

Set an Agenda and have a Plan

When you write your email to set up a meeting, make sure to include what items you’d like to discuss. Remember: this is your meeting, so you get to set the agenda. With that said, inquire if there is anything that they want added to the agenda. Try to make sure everything can be addressed in an hour.

Set Deadlines for Items that Need to be Reviewed

If there is something you need reviewed, make sure it is attached to your initial email, and give your committee adequate time to review it. If you want comments back before the meeting so you have time to review them, be sure to set a specific date for when you need them. Don’t give them a, “when you have time”, because they most likely don’t have time. If you give them a deadline, however, they will make time. This also means that, if they miss the deadline, you have every right to remind them of it, without feeling guilty.

Schedule Something Afterwards

Four experts in a room can lead to a lot of discussion, and can make it easy to get off track. Having an agenda lets you keep your meeting on target, and having something scheduled after your committee meeting means that time is of the essence: you have to get this meeting done in an hour because you have somewhere to be afterwards. That will help ensure everyone stays on task.

Record it

There is no doubt that a lot of information will be shared during your committee meeting, and little chance you will write it all down. It is also difficult to take detailed notes and lead a meeting at the same time. Invest in a recording device or use your smartphone to record the meeting. This way, you can play it back later to remind yourself of the important things that are said. Of course, make sure everyone in your committee is okay with you recording the meeting. I’d recommend Evernote for recording and note taking, as it work with your computer, smartphone, or whatever tablet you may have.

Leave with Actionable Items

If you’re not coming out of committee meeting with an answer to the question, “What are the next steps?” you’ve just wasted your time. Make sure that you have a clear idea about where you should be putting your energy, what your next deadlines are going to be, and a sense about how to achieve these goals.

Remember: It’s Your Meeting, Your Research, and You’re in Charge

It can be very easy to let the control of the meeting slip to one of your committee members. This is understandable: they’re experts, they have a lot of experience, and they can be intimidating. But remember, it’s your meeting, your research, and your committee. They are there to help you succeed, and your meeting has failed if you leave it without achieving the items you wanted to get accomplished.

Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help your next committee meeting stay on track, be efficient, and be worth everyone’s valuable time. That way, you can get back to writing.

What other tips do you have? Leave them in the comments below!

[Image by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr and used under Creative Commons License]

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11 Responses to Hacking your Committee Meeting

  1. Kat says:

    I used Doodle to schedule my thesis defense at it worked great! I highly recommended utilizing every tool possible to coordinate during the process. Great tips Terry!

    • Terry Brock says:

      Doodle has been a lifesaver. The first time I used it, I made sure I stopped in each faculty member’s office to see if they needed help using it, but most of them had figured it out (not all of them are tech savvy). Since then, lifesaver.

  2. Andrea says:

    Terry: I LOVE this post. So much useful information. My advisor was great at preparing me for my first committee meeting, but I still felt like I had no idea what was going on. I wish I had thought to record it, because there were so many ideas flying around I could barely keep up with my note-taking (and I am a fast typist). I wrote up my own experience as well in what I have dubbed “The Festival of Awkward Series” because I find these bureaucratic type interactions extremely odd. They just don’t follow any other type of social interaction. Here’s the link to my post:

    I will be forwarding on your post to my friends, for sure!

    • Terry Brock says:

      Andrea – glad you enjoyed it! I have started recording every meeting I have, and I use Evernote to do it. So I pull out my cell phone and start recording when I’m even in a one-on-one meeting. it helps me concentrate more on the content of the meeting, so I can really think, as opposed to just typing or writing frantically. I start taking notes whenever there are next action items that I need to jot down, or a specific reference, name, number, etc. Otherwise, I tape it.

      Committee meetings are very strange. I heard a lot of things about them from others before I had mine, and it took some time to figure out how I wanted to do them. That’s the nice thing about them being structurally ambiguous: it gives you more freedom.

  3. Terry Brock says:

    via @katrinagulliver on the twitter: How not to hack your committee meeting:

  4. alex.galarza says:

    Recording the meeting is KEY. Unfortunately for me, digital voice recorder ran out of battery two minutes into my meeting and I never noticed. So, in addition to recording your meeting, make sure you check your batteries!

    • Terry Brock says:

      hm. Yeah, checking every once in a while to make sure it’s still on is good. Possibly run a audio recorder and a recorder on your computer just to be safe!

  5. Fayana Richards says:

    I love Doodle. This tool was essential when I had to schedule meetings when half of our research team was in Massachusetts and the other half in Arizona.

  6. […] to the list of useful resources for grad students: GradHacker. Recent noteworthy posts have been on hacking your committee meetings, coming to grips with not knowing the answers anymore, and the dual-career job search. While it […]

  7. […] in your negotiations in the comments. *Be sure to check out Terry Brock’s helpful tips on Hacking your Committee Meeting. These tips, especially about taking initiative and setting an agenda, can be applied to many […]

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