Preparing for a Scientific Meeting for PhD Students

The noble art of preparing for a scientific meeting is perhaps not the most exciting skill in your career, but fruitful meetings are definitely an important component of a successful PhD project. This week I flew to Leeds to visit the Virtual Pathology team with my medical project partners. So, an anatomist, a surgeon and a pathologist walk into a meeting room… This doesn’t sound like the start of a great joke, so I’ll stop myself right there. What I would like to discuss in this blog post however are some tips for having successful meetings. In your PhD there will be many meetings to be had, so you might as well make the most of them. Of course there are several types of meetings: the regular meetings with your supervisory team to discuss your progress and plans, meetings with your project partners to discuss project progress and then there are meetings with other scientists to discuss the possibilities for collaborations.

Almost Again

Whatever the occasion of the meeting, always make sure you are prepared:

  • Consider the goal of this meeting and prepare accordingly. For instance, if this is a progress meeting, make sure you have an overview of what happened since the last meeting.
  • Take note of who else will be attending the meeting. If you know this will be a crowd of medical researchers, it would be in your best interest to keep your ultra-technical detailed software geekery thoughts to yourself. Focus instead on how you can add value to their work and how they can add value to yours.
  • Prepare a short presentation. Even if this isn’t asked of you, make sure you have one ready anyway. When the opportunity knocks to show and discuss your work, don’t let it pass you by or catch you by surprise. In time you’ll have a good repertoire of recent presentations to Frankenstein from, so this shouldn’t take too much effort.
  • If you’re doing a live demo, make very sure everything is in working order on your laptop and do your demo a couple of times beforehand to iron out the kinks.
  • If there are specific things you’d like to discuss in the upcoming meeting, make a list of these to bring to the meeting.
  • If this is a recurring meeting, check your minutes or notes of the last meeting.
  • If you’re the one organizing the meeting, you can consider making an agenda to mail around to participants beforehand as well as date/time/location reminders.

We Ride

When the time has come to have the meeting, there’s a couple of things you can do to be an active participant:

  • Dress appropriately for the type of meeting you’re having.
  • If you’re able to listen and write at the same time, please take notes. Whether you prefer a laptop or the good old pen and paper for this is up to you, but taking notes helps you to focus and provides you with a tangible summary after the meeting.
  • Pay attention to what is discussed and add to the discussion when you have something to contribute.
  • If you’re in charge of the meeting, try and keep it concise. No one is served by having meetings drag on for hours: the participants will lose their energy and interest and there is a steady decline in productivity. If more discussion is required, make an appointment for a follow-up meeting instead.
  • At the end of the meeting, discuss what the next required action steps are for each of the participants are and, if required, pick a date, time and location for the next meeting.


After the meeting is all wrapped up, take some time to process the information:

  • Now would be a good time to read the notes you made and turn these into minutes of your meeting. Bob Laramee has written a great protocol that works well for most regular meetings. Depending on the type of meeting, other participants may or may not appreciate being sent your minutes, so use your judgement on whether this is required or appreciated.
  • From your notes, distill your TODO items and enter them into your task management system.
  • Archive your meeting minutes and notes for future reference.

p.s.: Please excuse the long blogging hiatus, there’s a perfectly valid reason though that involves sitting next to a hospital bed for the better part of last month.

1 comment

  1. This is a priceless recommendation for the meeting participants!
    To make it slightly simpler, from my personal experience I would advise to leave the writing of the complete minutes to the project manager. She/he usually distributes them shortly after the meeting asking for possible improvements
    to be implemented within a few days. Then the minutes become an
    official document for future references. Myself I never wrote more
    than a few lines of my “code” at any project meeting. Meanwhile,
    clarifying your own action points deserves the highest priority during
    a meeting.


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