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Should I attend group meetings? In our group meetings, scientific issues (experiment or results) are not discussed, participants only tell their situations (I will have a paper) or material, economic issues are discussed.

I am currently a PhD student and I will complete my second year in next September. I do not want to attend group meetings in any way. There are only two PhD students.

Since the first group meeting I have felt very bad because all I could say was that I was reading articles, I had not started my experiments. Then I started my experiments, and our group leader asked me 'are you still in the lab?' It was like pinning. I don't know, maybe that's his style. But attending group meetings makes me feel bad because I am the most inexperienced member in the group.

I have no problem with my advisor, I also had good results with my work which will be published.

In one of these meetings, the group leader said that to me 'She needs tutoring', but we have never met him except for dinner. I don't think it's fair. I am doing my doctorate in Germany and as someone from Bosnia, I don't know their culture. I cannot decide whether to attend the meetings or not.

11 people, others are professors or doctors.

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  • 6
    Is the meeting just three people - the PI and two students - or are there others? Who "needs tutoring"?
    – Buffy
    Apr 26 at 12:44
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    "Shout I attend group meetings?". YES
    – Alchimista
    Apr 27 at 9:17
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    Count them as mixed blessings, events that occasionally might be stressful yet helpful as lessons in how to get along with others professionally. And who knows you might actually share an insight with someone else, or learn from a colleague. Apr 27 at 13:09
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    Basically if the supervisor says that certain people have to attend the meeting, then you have to attend them, even if they seem like an annoying waste of time.
    – Tom
    Apr 27 at 13:52
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    I'm surprised none of the answers so far have addressed the "are you still in the lab?" and "she needs tutoring" comments. It sounds to me like a significant part of why you feel bad in group meetings is because other people in those meetings are making dismissive or derogatory comments towards you, and that's not OK - if you get along with your advisor well, maybe you could ask them to tactfully raise this on your behalf with the people who are making those comments. There is also the matter of whether your group leader would behave that way if you weren't a female student from Bosnia.
    – kaya3
    Apr 28 at 11:33
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Most commonly, PhD students are required to attend group meetings. Often, the supervisor can make whatever rules about group meetings the supervisor wants to make. Ask them.

The group meetings ought to help you become less inexperienced. If it's not working well for you, tell your supervisor about it. If that does not help, discuss it with another faculty member who is familiar with local practices. You might also get help from a counseling office or office for international students.

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    They can also help with becoming more comfortable with the culture.
    – Buffy
    Apr 26 at 13:05
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    Note that group meeting styles (and frequency/regularity) vary enormously between groups. Some can be very useful indeed, others are not very helpful to the newest members. When they happen it is usually expected that all members of the group attend as much as possible.
    – Chris H
    Apr 27 at 12:49
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I had the same problem and I am German doing my PhD at a German university. I was the newest member and did not understand anything of what the others presented. So I was pretty bored at the beginning.

But I realized, I need to change something. So, I started to ask questions to the other group members, which to be honest, needs some courage (Here is a video by Simon Sinek that explains exactly this fact). You can ask something like: "Sorry, the question must be stupid, but I wonder..." or "Sorry, I am not familiar to this topic. Can you explain to me ...". You could, for example, ask what the paper is about that one of your group members publishes.

Even if they think you might be not very clever, at least they see that you try to understand something.

A nice side effect is that after some time you understand more and more and it will get less boring. Also, you can stop asking after a certain time, as many questions will be answered more or less automatically by yourself.

A downside is fore sure that - as the topics are less relevant from a scientific point of view - it is really not important to you in your current situation.

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    This is an almost-good answer. Yes, OP should attend and ask questions. But OP should NOT apologize for asking questions or say things like "the question must be stupid". And OP should not expect that the concepts will be explained in the group meeting itself. Perhaps a better wording would be "I'm not familiar with XYZ concept. Which researchers can you recommend me to read to get an introductory overview of XYZ?"
    – shoover
    Apr 26 at 22:05
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    Maybe this is a cultural thing, I am German too and it sounds for me more polite to start with some phrase on the line "maybe a basics/stupid question, but..." Apr 27 at 12:53
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    Another German here:: I agree that the first couple of questions can (and should to be honest) be direct, but by question 3 I would certainly start with something along the lines of "Apologies, I have another question" and question 4 I would keep for the next meeting. You don't want to be the person that drags out meetings for everyone. In the same vein, it is fine to ask someone if they would be willing to explain something outside the meeting if you get the feeling that it's taking to long. Apr 27 at 13:32
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    @Marianne013 What you're saying applies in America also. Asking to meet outside the meeting when there are too many questions is common practice and is seen as being considerate to the group. Apr 27 at 19:34
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    @shoover this is just a matter of phatic communication. In German some extra constructions are often used for politeness, and they are usually transferred to English. Apr 29 at 5:48
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Group meetings are a generally a good way to learn about what is going on, get new ideas and receive feedback.

On the other hand if the meetings drag on and everyone is bored, some of the more senior members might make suggestions to improve things (eg everyone just gives a 2-3 minute update).

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Attending group meeting is a must-do I believe in most cases.

I had zero experience at the beginning and I have/need to attend, it's a learning opportunity (but seems not your case)

I agree with Physicist. Most important thing is you need to keep a good relationship with your advisor. He/She can easily help you in many ways. So, talking with him/her about your concerns may work, just be cautious when talking about this kind of issue

You got something publishable. This is great. You should be more confident

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Another reason to attend group meetings, that has been hinted at but not spelt out is that academia is as much about building relationships with people as it is about doing your own work. We often have to attend a lot of meetings that we don't think are very productive, or there are other things we need to be doing more. However, at these meetings we don't only achieve the stated aim of the meeting, but also build our relationships with the other's present.

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When I was doing my PhD, I had to attend group meetings. The start was confusing as I didn't know anyone other than my supervisor. After a few meetings I had developed a certain amount of 'historic' knowledge based on previous meetings so I could start making tenuous questions. Don't worry - everyone starts with nothing and eventually become a familiar face. Just remember how you feel now, for when the next new member attends, and do your damnest to be welcoming, if you can.

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Being new is always a challenge, both socially (new to the group), as professionally (new to the type of work or the field). Group meetings, however, are a transferable skill that is a requirement almost anywhere. Not just because that's what people say, but because sometimes it's just the best way to spread knowledge, news, or help each other out. While I understand your desire to avoid any such meeting, consider focusing on one or two such meetings a week to allow yourself to grow more comfortable in those environments, and develop your communication skills.

I'm Dutch, from the Netherlands, which means I have a fair understanding of German culture, and Germany in general. Yes, to many people the Germans (as well as the Dutch) come across as abrupt and rude. In most cases, however, the negativity is not meant. Additionally, you are joining an existing group of people who are used to each other, and as such they'll talk more, talk louder, and will have dropped some of the usual politeness that is generally used when talking to strangers in order to avoid confrontation and offense.

Lastly, I'd like to confirm some of the excellent advice given in the other answers. Carve out your own place by asking questions and sharing news of your own. I can guarantee you that while the others in those groups know much that you don't right now, as time goes by there are more and more things you will know that they don't.

Remember, your primary academic relationship right now is the one between yourself, your research, and your advisor.

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Attend, but try to take advantage through initiative.

Should I attend group meetings?

Yes, even if they suck. And it sounds like your group meetings do suck. (I'm not sure what you mean by economic issues - those actually sound interesting to me; but the rest of it.) If for no other reason - for upkeep of your social and formal relations to group members; and to pick up on interesting tidbits of news.

I was in a research group once which was similar: People would say almost nothing that helps anybody else, and wouldn't even ask for help or collaboration themselves. So it was a bit like prisoners going through their roll call. Plus, accomplished, senior researchers would say how they have a paper here, and a paper there, and some prestigious visit or duty elsewhere, an appointment, etc. - and I would get bummed out.

There are only two PhD students.

That can be intimidating, since you take half the "heat"... but on the other hand, it means that it is easier for you to bring up issues in the name of your academic "class".

Which brings me my next point: Don't wait for others to ask you things at the group meeting. Try to use it to your advantage. Examples:

  • Bring up a technical subject about which you don't know who to consult - even to the point of putting up a couple of slides or doodling on the whiteboard; at the point where you're stuck or things get hairy, ask the room for pointers. Obviously they wont give you a lecture about it on the spot, but it's quite likely you'll get references to papers, or webpages, or offers to come talk to them about it, or they might even tell you to talk to someone from another department.
  • Discuss an economic issues that Ph.D. candidates face (without making it entirely personal).
  • Talk about an interesting piece of relevant news - maybe something your read on HackNews; or even something that's... this is a bit delicate to phrase... somewhat political but not hard-core partisan, and relevant to academics.
  • Suggest a subject (or a guest) for a colloquium or other kind of talk (not one to be held at the group meeting), see what people think, and whether someone else would be interested in helping you set this up.
  • Ask someone to elaborate on something they mentioned in passing, which is potentially interesting to you.

Since the first group meeting I have felt very bad because all I could say was that I was reading articles, I had not started my experiments. Then I started my experiments, and our group leader asked me 'are you still in the lab?' It was like pinning.

Think about what would happen if, instead of him asking you, you would have used your turn to say: "I want to ask you guys about this problem I'm stuck with in the experiments. Blah blah blah." - essentially you would be talk about the same thing but the atmosphere would be totally different, not like an interrogation.


I am doing my doctorate in Germany and as someone from Bosnia, I don't know their culture.

(nods head) ah, that's a lost cause, there's German culture overall, there's regional culture, people are from different regions, personal affect channels culture differently. If you try to figure out "the culture" you'll probably just get a headache. Or, I don't know, maybe people who did their Ph.D. in Germany will tell you something else.

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