Monday, February 20, 2006

Ask Science Woman: How do I prep for a committee meeting?

Modified from an email from Microbe-girl, a friend with way more than her fair share of trauma in doctoral progress so far:
"I am meeting with several of my committee members tomorrow to discuss my data. the data is not totally analyzed and is not looking too pretty so far. The problem I have is that this is my first "data meeting" and I am not sure how to prepare or what to have together....I was just wondering how you've presented [data to your committee] or how formal of a meeting these things are."

Here's my stab at a response. What would you tell her?

"I think a key thing is doing some sort of preparation. Even if I am just feeling totally lost as to what the data is telling me, I try to have some sort of "narrative" or plan as to which order I am going to present things and what I am going to say about them. (maybe something like: prompted by this question, I did this analysis, and here's the graph, and I see this trend, but I don't know what it means, so I tried looking at the data this way...)

I usually bring copies of all key graphs for each person at the meeting - that way they can draw on them if they want. Graphs are definitely better than tables. I also usually have some extra graphs/stats/tables in reserve for just me, in case the conversation goes in a different direction than I had anticipated. Doing this means that I often spend the afternoon before a meeting trying to think of all the different graphs/stats that people might ask about and at least taking a quick stab at doing them.

If you are going to cover a bunch of stuff, it might be worth typing an outline or some bullet points for your committee members to keep in front of them. In my mind, having an outline and some graphs for your committee makes it look like you are accomplishing something even if you feel like you are stuck.

I've also found its hard to take many notes in a meeting and I need to have notes. So its best for me if I can have an hour or so immediately after to the meeting to just try to write down the suggestions and make some sense of them. I'm guessing a tape recorder would be really helpful, but I've never dared try something like that."

What advice do you have Microbe-girl?

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