Having Productive Meetings with your Faculty Adviser

Whether you meet with your faculty adviser weekly, every other week, or monthly, it is important to think about how to make these meetings as efficient and useful as possible. Over the course of your graduate career, you will work closely with your adviser and other faculty members and using these meetings wisely will help you accomplish much more during your time in graduate school.

Be Prepared

Before each meeting, think about what you would like to discuss at the meeting. Writing out a short agenda or plan can help you make sure that you address all of your questions. This will also ensure that you have all the important information with you. Do you need a form signed? Bring it with you. Would you like feedback on a manuscript? Check with your adviser about how much time he or she needs to review it and provide it to him or her well in advance.

Your adviser may have items they wish to discuss with you as well, but keeping your own list will ensure that any questions you have are not overlooked.

Respect Each Other’s Time

It’s no secret that both graduate students and professors are very busy and finding time to meet can sometimes be a challenge. With that in mind, it is important to be respectful of each other’s time. Be punctual. Stay on topic. You or your adviser may have another appointment afterward, so be considerate of each other's schedules. Try to avoid conversational tangents and try to focus mostly on the important topics you need to discuss; doing so will keep you from running over your allotted meeting time.

If you have a short question for your adviser that does not require an immediate response, use email. Taking care of these simpler tasks over email will shorten your agenda when you meet in person and help those meetings run more smoothly. For more tips on using email effectively, see our previous article on tips for using email.

Take Notes and Follow Up

In addition to bringing an agenda to the meeting, take notes so you know what was discussed. After each meeting, send an email to your adviser summarizing the main topics discussed or any decisions made. This email will allow both you and your adviser to check that you both left the meeting with the same information. If there is a misunderstanding, this will give you a chance to correct that before the next meeting. It is far easier to check for understanding and do your work right the first time than have to redo it. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Use This Time to Plan for the Future

This screenshot shows an example of the first page of a completed IDP for A. Student.  In this example, the student has identified their strengths (e.g writing, data analysis, etc.) and development needs (e.g. supervising and grant writing, etc.).  The student has also begun to identify short term goals specifically related to those development needs.  For example, to improve his or her supervising skills, he or she plans to

As well as discussing your research progress or classes, a new semester is a great opportunity to think about your degree progress and to discuss your career plans with your adviser. You may have some questions about your degree progress. For instance, are you on track to graduate when you want? Or what are your plans when you graduate? As Rick Reis noted in the “Three Keys to Graduate Student Success”, it is never to early to the begin thinking about the future.

One way to do this is by writing out an Individual Development Plan (IDP). An IDP is a structured form for assessing your skills and knowledge, including any potential gaps, and outlining your career and professional development goals. This process can guide your plans for the future and will clarify what you need to do to achieve your goals. Specifically, completing an IDP allows you to:

  1. Define your career goals
  2. Identify needed skills and knowledge
  3. Evaluate your current skills and knowledge
  4. Write professional goals
  5. Monitor your development and create new goals as needed

Additional information on constructing an IDP is available here . Talking about your progress and plans with your adviser will help you prepare for your life after graduate school and ensure that your adviser understands your goals and how he or she can help you achieve them. Remember, if you plan to complete an IDP and discuss this with your adviser, you should mention this to your adviser in advance, so that they can prepare for the conversation as well. Your adviser will probably appreciate that you have given some thought to these issues ahead of time.