Thursday, September 7, 2017

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to have efficient meetings with your supervisor

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


Depending on the habits of your supervisors, he/she may be popping his/her head through your door every day for a quick chat, you may be meeting on a weekly basis, or only by appointment. Typically, you will have more meetings in the beginning, while your supervisor helps you with getting started, less meetings in the middle of your PhD trajectory when you are crunching numbers and doing experiments, and more meetings towards to end, to discuss your thesis chapters.

Even if your supervisors checks on you almost daily, you will need to have meetings at regular intervals to discuss in more depth about your research. If you want to get the most out of your meetings, a bit of preparation goes a long way.

Here are the different ways in which you can prepare yourself for an efficient meeting with your supervisor:

1. Send written material ahead of time


Give your supervisor at least one week of time to work through some documents prior to the meeting if you meet less frequently, or give him/her three days if you meet (almost) weekly. If you send material ahead of time, your supervisor will be able to read about your current progress, and will be able to point out what you are missing, and perhaps give you some feedback on your writing.

Written material can be a great starting point for discussions, not just about the contents of your work, but also about where you could possibly present or publish your work. The earlier you start writing, the earlier your supervisor will be able to help you find your writing voice, and will be able to comment in more detail on your thoughts.

2. Present your main insights with a short presentation


A presentation with five slides, mostly visual information, can be another excellent starting point for your meetings. Summarize the material of the written document that you sent, so that you can quickly remind your supervisor about what you are working on, and what you have discovered in the last weeks. Keep text on your slides to a minimum - you don't want to give a formal presentation to your supervisor, but projecting sketches, plots, and other visual information, or formulas, can be a good starting point for discussing your progress.

3. Develop a template for recording your meetings and expectation


At the beginning of your PhD trajectory, develop a template that you can use for your meetings. You can see an example of such a template in the figure below. Make sure you include a short agenda, list the references you want to discuss, leave space for taking notes of what you discussed during the meeting, and then agree on your actions for the next meeting.



4. Show options that you are thinking about

If you are stuck in your research, don't go to your supervisor hoping that he/she will hand you the solution on a golden platter. Since you are most into your research, you are expected to come up with solutions. When you are stuck, don't just accept the situation. Be creative, and think about possible solutions. Once you've outlined possible solutions, jot down a few ideas about the benefits and limitations of each of these solutions. With this material, discuss with your supervisor about the steps you should be taking next in your research. Don't take a passive attitude.

5. Briefly touch upon your planning

Discuss your planning during every meeting. Make sure you reserve at least 5 minutes of time during the meeting to discuss possible delays you have, and what your tools are to make sure you graduate on time. Discuss your short-term goals, your medium-term goals, and long-term goals. Your short-term goals can include the timing of the portion of research you currently are working on. Your medium-term goals can include a short discussion about which conferences you should attend, and where you should publish your research. Your long-term goals will be the discussion about your overall progress and if you are still set for graduating on time.

6. Come up with ideas and suggestions

Don't expect your supervisor to decide how you should carry out your research, which conferences you should attend, and where you should aim to publish your work. Come up with ideas and suggestions yourself. Show that you are growing into an independent researcher. Propose attending conferences, propose to submit your work to a certain journal, and, as discussed above, always have solutions in mind when you are faced with challenges in your research. Make sure you are in charge of your PhD progress.

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