Daunting– that’s the word I could use to describe my first meeting with my faculty advisor – Awkwardis another – Why? Being a first-generation grad student, I was unprepared and/or unaware of how to make my meetings with my major professor efficient, effective and successful.
Over the years I have been a student of what makes successful meetings and to this day, I have faculty who will gladly come to any committee meeting I hold.
Why? I am prepared, focused, effective and efficient – I don’t waste their time nor mine. Faculty members just like grad students are busy with lots of professional and personal demands on their time.
Preparing for your meeting is an important step for success in getting to the finish line – graduation. Being prepared also reduces conflict and misunderstanding. The key is to start early.
Before your meeting you want to send a short email with 1 or 2 sentences describing the major objectives of your meeting – notice I said your meeting. You need to take control if you want to graduate. You can’t be passive. You want to be active.
Use the subject line of your email to catch your advisor’s attention. If you don’t hear back within 5 to 10 days, send your email again.
In that email send any materials or documents you need your major advisor to read and review. They need it ahead of time – so they can think and reflect. Not the day before – their schedules are tight so allow at least a week or several days.
Prepare an agenda complete with action items and questions or topics for discussion. Have 3 or 4 main topics/or questions to discuss.
Send minutes and a reminder email. This is helpful. Of course, you have figured out the date, time and location and you have included that in the email. The bottom line is – come well prepared – if you do, you will find that things move forward more efficiently. There still will be hurdles and challenges to address and you will be in a better position to do so.
During the meeting make sure you show up on time. Follow your agenda and ask clarifying questions. You will want to bring concrete things for your advisor to provide feedback.
Think about how your advisor might assist you. If there are professional as well as any personal issues that may influence how you complete the milestones – keep them informed. You don’t have to reveal your personal life and at times we all know that “life happens” (funeral, flu outbreak) and it is important to inform your advisor and not just disappear. Keep them informed.
Remember to ask questions. Your questions help them to be better teachers of you.
Focus on what your advisor is saying. They are providing feedback to assist you. Ask clarifying questions about the feedback. If they are giving you directions be sure to follow them. Nothing irritates an advisor more than to provide constructive feedback and directions and they are ignored.
Agree on the milestones you can meet. Record action items. Who is doing what and by when.
After the meeting post minutes. Even though you and your faculty advisor each took notes, it’s important to have minutes. You can send them out with the next agenda as well. By sending the minutes or a quick recap of the meeting, you can summarize action items. You can summarize the deliverables as well.
The Key to all thisis to start early. Have meetings even if they are only for 10 minutes. Meeting 1 x a week for 10 minutes can make a difference and move you closer to the finish line – graduation.
When in doubt ask even when not in doubt ask. You may find you have discovered an unclarified point.
Maintain on-going discussions about expectations with your advisor and yourself. Take home to reflect on your expectations and goals. They do change over time.
Remember you are preparing yourself to contribute new knowledge to your field. You are giving shape to a “new” you from consumer of knowledge to producer of knowledge. The adventure of discovery and meetings should assist you in that process.
Finally, remember your advisor is not a manager. It’s important to see your advisory as a catalyst and a facilitator.
You are in control of shaping your own graduate career. It’s up to you to get to the finish line and you will.