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Do’s and Don’ts for Preparing for Your Thesis Committee Meeting: Part 2

A group of business people having a meeting in an office.

From planning the date to structuring your presentation, these tips from current and former Ph.D. students can guide you through the process and help you prepare for a productive meeting that will set you up for a successful year. This post is part two of two, focusing on how to execute a successful meeting presentation. Read the first post in this series here.

DO: Keep an open mind and actively listen.

You are in a vulnerable position when you present your hard work to your committee, and it can be easy to feel defensive or frustrated by suggestions. My classmates advised not taking it personally, as the committee is looking at your work with an analytical eye so that you have the best possible thesis. Sometimes this means telling you that a project is not going anywhere, or that you need more replicates. Keep an open mind and try not to reject suggestions immediately. Keeping a notebook with you to write everything down immediately, and then review later, can help.

Now, you may wonder what active listening is. My lab mate explained it to me once, that rather than simply thinking of what you will say next while listening to someone else speak, you try to solely focus on their perspective and advice. This is useful in all parts of your life, but especially the Thesis Advisory Committee meeting! Not only will this help you understand their suggestions, but it will prevent you from seeming too defensive or stubborn.

DON’T: Leave logistics to chance.

This may seem silly, but test out all of your equipment well before the meeting. I learned this the hard way, when my laptop would not sync up with the screen and we had to move rooms. Needless to say, I spent a very panicked 10 minutes scrambling to find the right adapters and trying to transfer all of my worksheets and my computer, all while attempting to seem professional to my committee. Make sure you’ve tested out all the IT parameters, and be sure to print all forms beforehand and bring copies. Preparing ahead of time will help you stay calm and focused.

DO: Bring snacks!

Finally, after all of the other logistics are complete, make sure you bring some food. A two-hour meeting can seem particularly long if people get hangry. Bring small, bite size snacks (with plates and napkins) for your committee members to munch on. My classmates have told me that small snacks are the way to go, as larger items like bagels or sandwiches can be complex to put together and people may not eat them. Your committee members are on your team in the end, so be sure to make the meeting pleasant for them.

Now, with all of this advice, you should feel quite prepared for your meeting. All meetings are different, and if yours doesn’t go as well as you had hoped, just remember that a lot of the Ph.D. process is persistence. Any gaps in your data can be filled with hard work and more experiments, and each day is a new chance to find something new. My PI always says, “The sun always rises on a new day.” Know your data, and believe in your skills — you can do this!

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