Supervision and doctoral committee meetings are a necessary part of your PhD journey. They are a chance for your supervisors to evaluate the adequacy of your research project and monitor the progress of your work.
Or at least that is what we are usually told, right?
These meetings, however, are more than a mere report of your progress. They are the chance that all PhD students have to discuss their research plan, consider its strengths and weaknesses, and get advice from experienced academics in their field.
In essence, these meetings are essential to help you improve and carry out your studies.
To make the most of them, there are a few important things to remember. In this post, I’ll share them with you.
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You are responsible for organising the meeting
Make sure you organise your doctoral meeting well in advance and plan your agenda with time-realistic activities. A good way to do this is by rehearsing what you are going to present and then timing yourself.
Additionally, ask yourself if the information you are presenting is key to helping your mentors understand your research project, or if it is unessential. Remember that you want your committee meeting to give you advice, and you can best achieve this by focusing on specific problems or questions. Spending time on irrelevant information might give your supervisors and mentors the impression that their time is not being used effectively.
What should be on your agenda?
This depends on whether you are preparing your first meeting or subsequent ones. If this is your first meeting, it is always wise to allocate some time for brief introductions, especially if you have not yet had the chance to get to know the members of your doctoral committee.
Subsequent meetings might include a discussion on feedback that you received in previous meetings and how it has (or hasn’t) been helpful. In addition, you could include in your meeting an overview and standpoint of your research project, the training courses that you are taking or have taken, and the local and international conferences that you have participated in (or plan to).
Ask your main supervisor for the things to include or remove from the agenda and allocate some time for spontaneous discussion. Keep in mind that, depending on your university, the minutes of your meeting might need to be signed and sent to the graduate student office.
Help your supervisors and mentors prepare
Once you have organised your agenda and prepared what you would like to present, send your supervisors and mentors the agenda, together with a written summary of the things you have achieved.
The summary could include a short description of your research project, a timetable of all ongoing activities, and other documents that help them gain an overview of your progress. Consider the information that your mentors and supervisors need to know so that are best able to help you. For example, you could describe the type of data you have collected or expect to collect (in case they are not familiar with it), and the analyses that you plan to perform.
Lastly, do not forget to keep a professional tone in all communications.
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The final thing on your agenda
Finally, remember to put yourself on your agenda. It is your PhD. You are the one who will be immersed in the literature, designing studies, collecting and analysing data, drawing conclusions, and writing academic papers. The doctoral committee is there to help you, to turn your weaknesses into strengths, and to share with you the best of their knowledge.
Listen intently to everything that your mentors and supervisors tell you, and speak forcefully when you update them on your progress. Be aware that the questions they ask are there to guide you and improve your research. Similarly, everything you say not only updates the committee, it also lets them know about who you are and the type of researcher you are becoming.
Doctoral committee meetings should not add pressure to an already hectic PhD journey. Use these meetings wisely to move forward with your studies.
Dennis A. Rivera obtained a Master of Education at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and is now a doctoral student at UCLouvain. The focus of his research is on improving the pedagogical design of MOOC forums to promote task-oriented socio-cognitive interactions.
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