5 essentials for that committee meeting


Congratulations. You now have five academics that have agreed to mentor you as work toward your degree. Although not usually the most socially adept barnacles on the rock, academics expect to occasionally find themselves dragged from their lab benches, their desks, and their comfy “thinking-chairs”, to work with you, as a group, to advise you on your path. Here are a few tips to make the meeting go smoothly.

1) Schedule prudently–Most faculty want to help, but are jealous of their time. Become a student of your committee member’s habits. Most academics I know struggle to have one “stay at home day”, usually Monday or Friday. Propose a meeting on those days at your peril. (Besides, Mondays are “digging out” days; Fridays are “try to maintain against physical and emotional collapse” days for many faculty). Tuesdays-Thursdays are often good. Another tip: schedule your meeting right before a faculty meeting–your committee was (probably) going to be there anyway, and you know you will finish on time.

2) Set a time limit and theme in the scheduling email–When you email your committee, mention the proposed length of the meeting and its theme–the basic reason for getting together. Your committee will want to know why collecting six busy people together in a room is a better solution to your particular need than, say, meeting with a key member over coffee and emailing everybody else a progress report. Stating the amount of time your meeting will take (and erring on the short end) will ingratiate you. Saying “I think it will only take an hour, but I’m reserving the room for two hours” is a sure way to kill enthusiasm.

3) Send out an agenda and required materials one week in advance–Sure, many of your committee members will read what you sent them while they’re walking to the meeting (if that) but if you want feedback, you need to give them time. The agenda is your blueprint for what you want to get done. It says you are on top of things. Your more anal retentive committee members will see it and look at you with undisguised awe.

4) Stay on target–Start the meeting on time. Work your way down the agenda with your eye on the clock. Take notes. When Professor Longstory starts talking about his days as school superintendent, politely steer the topic back to your agenda (asking someone sitting next to the professor a pertinent question usually does the trick). Get your advisor (whom, I am hoping, is not Professor Longstory) on board.

5) Summarize, summarize, summarize–You had a meeting for a reason. When you tick off an agenda item, verbally tick it off. With 7 minutes to go, review what you have accomplished, what remains to be accomplished (if anything) and ask if there is any unfinished business and how best to get that done. Circulate anything that needs to be signed. Thank your committee. And after the small talk, take your notes, touch base with your advisor, and then send out a summary of the meeting: what was decided and who owes what to whom.

Congratulations. You are on your way to being a department chair.

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