Supervisor meetings – top tips for distance students

1 – How often to meet?

Organising meetings with supervisors as a distance can be tricky – diaries can be difficult to line up and find a convenient time, especially when you have a large supervisory team. The frequency of meetings will depend on the availability of your supervisors, what stage your work is at and your own schedule. At the start of my project I had meetings fortnightly. Now later on, meetings are around every six weeks as I’m mainly writing. Asking for ad hoc meetings when issues arise also keeps me on track. Discussing this with your supervisors is key, as they may want a more structured approach to meetings. Regular email updates also keep everyone informed when arranging a meeting is getting difficult, especially pretty pictures of experiments in progress!

Setting a date for meetings can be tricky

2 – Meeting structure

When you cannot just pop down the corridor to chat about an issue or exciting new data, a new pressure is put on Skype or phone meetings. This is when a clear structure will make sure you cover everything you need to discuss. An agenda or to-discuss list is vital here. It might seem overly formal to come with a typed out agenda but a simple list of points would work just as well (mine are usually written between meetings as I make progress or come up against an issue). Then you can tick them off through the meeting to ensure you have covered everything – simple but effective!

Working out what you want to talk about can help meetings cover everything you want to discuss

3 – Utilise your supervisory team

This is something that took me some time to work out. Your supervisory team will contain a range of expertise, which will be utilised differently in different chapters/experiments. For some periods of time you may need more support from one supervisor and then another. As long as everyone is kept up to date with your progress it’s OK to utilise different skills at different times.

4 – Getting feedback

When you’re getting comments via email the sea of tracked changes or comment bubbles can be intimidating, especially if you can’t pop into your supervisors office to ask for clarification. I have a way to avoid being discouraged by looking at each comment twice. The first time respond to each comment with what you’re thinking e.g. ‘OK add this in’ or ‘hmm not sure about this’. Then go for a cup of tea or look at it the next day and see how you’re practically going to address it. This way you take the pressure off yourself to come up with a solution when you read each comment for the first time.

Don’t let this intimidate you

These are my tips but feel free to add your own – what tips do you have for distance PhD students?


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