The Journey to a Successful Committee Meeting

AUTHOR: Lisa Dyce & Ashley Bernardo

Every Spring, deep in the valley of Hamiltonshire, the snow melts, the days get a little bit longer, and the flower buds start to bloom. This time of year also signifies committee meeting season, the months in which Neuroscience students gather with their supervisors and supervisory committee to discuss and celebrate the past year’s academic achievements.


For some of you, this Spring will mark your first journey to a successful committee meeting. As seasoned students who have sworn into the Fellowship of graduate trainees, we’ve prepared a list of recommendations to help you along the journey of preparing, executing, and learning from committee meetings, whether it be your 1st or 111th trip around the sun! [Caution: heavy LOTR references ahead].

Part I (Before the Meeting):


Don’t fret! We know relaxing is easier said than done, but your committee is there to help you along the path to learning and success in graduate school. Remember that they have been in your shoes before and are bringing with them many years’ worth of knowledge and expertise. Think of your committee as Gandalf, guiding you along this academic journey (albeit with a brighter destination!).


Schedule well in advance. Reach out to your supervisor to find out when you should be holding your committee meeting, and then contact your committee. Handy tools like Doodle polls are a helpful, easy way to schedule meetings even during the busiest times of the year. Remember to meet the School of Graduate Studies’ deadlines for completing committee meetings each and every year and look out for Sandra’s email updates, too!


Book a room. One of the biggest advantages of our program is its interdisciplinary and therefore multi-site nature; however, this can make it difficult to collect as a group, especially if timelines are tight. Try to book a room that is centrally located and accessible for all of your committee members (think Rivendell), considering alternative options like Skype or conference calling when needed. Before your meeting, pay the room a visit to ensure that it is adequately prepared for all of your needs: check A/V equipment, look for passcodes, and connect your laptop to make sure that you are ready to go on the day of!




Ask your supervisor and committee what their expectations are ahead of time. Each committee is different, so your best move here will be to ask outright! The more you know about your committee’s expectations, the better prepared you’ll be. There was a grand total of 479 pages and an Oscar-winning film dedicated entirely to PREPARING Frodo and Sam for their journey to Mordor; you will also benefit from being that well-informed and prepared!

OPTIONAL: If you would like to, some students bring refreshments during meetings such as water, coffee, muffins or fruit trays. Please note this is by no means a requirement and is not expected of you by your committee; however, we wouldn’t be giving you all the nitty gritty details if we didn’t inform you of this often-used ritual. (After all, who doesn’t like a mid-meeting pick-me-up?)

Part II (The Preparation):

 

Submit your report at least a week in advance. (See #4 above: Ask your supervisor and committee what their expectations are well ahead of time as this may differ from committee to committee).

 

Prepare your slides, and consider practicing with your lab, supervisor, and/or friends ahead of time. The more comfortable you are with your presentation, the smoother it will be. Keep any fears of Gollum and Nazgûls at bay by running through your speech, answering questions, and fixing any bumps well ahead of your meeting.

Part III (The Meeting):


Introduce yourself. For some of you, this may be the first time that you meet your committee members in-person. Introduce yourself, including your prior education as well as any extracurricular activities and/or “fun facts” about you to help you and your committee bond in this supervisory fellowship!


Summarize and show off your work. Update your committee on your research and academic achievements to-date, setting up your project with a well-founded background to provide rationale, outlining your methodology, and sharing any recent findings. Consider using your CGS-M or CGS-D research proposal as a starting point to help you guide you along the way.


Propose your future directions and timeline. In case we have not stressed this enough yet, your committee is here to guide you (again, to success and not Mordor!); therefore, they will be instrumental in shaping and refining your research process and will provide you with feedback to help you grow and improve as an academic. 

The Amazon TV show (Post-Meeting):

Breathe… You crushed it (in a good way)! Remember this positive feeling and experience when preparing for future committee meetings, much like Sam encouragingly reminds Frodo of the “great stories” in which heroes and heroines push through tough times to fight for all that is good in the world!


Submit the report. This is where it can get a little bit confusing again as the process differs between Master’s and PhD students...


a)  Master’s students: It is your responsibility to deliver the signed form from your committee meeting to Sandra’s mailbox in the mail room on the first floor of the Psychology building (PC 112). If you do not do this, there will be no record of your meeting AND YOU WILL HAVE TO START THE JOURNEY AGAIN … Just kidding! In all seriousness, you do need to submit the form and will see this documented on Mosaic as a milestone.


b)  PhD students: As we have now moved to using electronic forms, if you or your committee have any technology-related hiccups along the way, you will also need to provide a paper copy to Sandra via the mailbox.


Keep a record of the form. You outlined the goals and corresponding timelines for a reason: these goals will help keep you motivated, accountable, and prepared for the journey to your next committee meeting. Take a picture (and put it on your fridge!) or scan it to your laptop in order to keep a record of your progress throughout the year.

 

Send thank you and/or follow up email if necessary. Sometimes, your committee may ask you questions that you cannot answer or make recommendations that you want to investigate. By sending a follow-up and/or thank you email, you can close any loose ends from your meeting and continue to build a supportive relationship with your committee members. 

We hope these tips help prepare you for your journey to a successful committee meeting! 

See you at the next Hamiltonshire bash (or journal club – whichever comes first!).