Wednesday, September 09, 2009

PSA: How to schedule a dissertation meeting

In the last three or four weeks I've had five grad students email me trying to set up meetings of their dissertation committees. Let's call these students A, B, C, D and E. Student A's email read:

Dear members of my committee,
I want to have a meeting of my dissertation committee on SpecificDay at SpecificTime.

Students B thru E all sent emails along the line of:

Dear members of my committee,
I want to have a meeting of my dissertation committee. When are you available?

No, no, no, no, no. Neither of these approaches will do. In fact, these are exactly how NOT to go about the process.

Let's start with student A. The odds of all of your committee members being available at the specific time and date you chose are quite small. In fact, I'm not available then. So now what? You choose another specific time and date? What if I or another committee member aren't available then? How many rounds of this will we have to go through?

Students B thru E. What timeframe are we talking about here? Sometime in the next week? Two weeks? Month? Year? Decade? Millennium?

Okay, so we can probably rule out millennium. And decade. At least for students B, C and D. You guys should have graduated and be long gone by then. E on the the hand...

Even if you pin it down to specific period, say sometime in the next two weeks, do you really want me to send you a list of when I might be available? My calendar currently looks like something Jackson Pollock created on the floor, as do, I suspect, the calendars of all your other committee members.

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Pollock's No. 5 1948 is a reasonable representation of Odyssey's calendar.

Why, oh why are you creating so much work for your committee and for yourself?

As a public service here's how you should approach the process:

  • Send a preliminary email asking if everyone is in town during the period you're hoping to have a meeting in.
  • Based on the results of the preliminary email, provide a list of five or six times and dates and ask your committee members to indicate which they are available for.*
  • Based on the replies, choose a time and date that works for everyone. Let everyone know as quickly as possible so they don't inadvertently fill that slot with something else. If there isn't one, try again.

    Simple isn't it?

    * If your committee is composed of computer savvy faculty you could go high-tech and use something like

    Ambivalent Academic said...

    I send a list of sp. dates/times and request an indication of when committee members are *NOT* available.

    By asking when they *are* available I always get at least one response that indicates that member's "preferred" scheduling option which, in keeping with Murphy's Law, is always the date/time that at least 2 others are *not* available.

    By requesting the times that they are *not* available, I can block off dates/times until I find a consensus option. Sometimes, if I'm lucky there is more than one option and I can pick the one that is most convenient for *me*.

    Also, it's always easier to schedule your meeting during the first two months or so of the mandatory meeting period. Everyone always piles their committee meetings into the 3-4 weeks before the deadline for having one in a given term and it is nearly impossible to get a quorum. Blech.

    Odyssey said...

    When they're NOT available is a good way to do it.

    And here quorum is the entire committee - so leaving it to the last week or two means you're royally screwed. Of course that doesn't stop some students...

    JollyRgr said...

    Oh come're two of you will ever be available simultaneously, let alone all live in your own worlds...:-P

    Goose said...

    JollyRgr does have a point!

    Odyssey said...

    Shhhhh! Jolly and Goose, keep quiet about that. We want the grad students to at least have the illusion that they might be able to get us all in the same room at the same time. Wouldn't want to demoralize them more than they already are...

    mew123 said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Odyssey said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
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