We are a small group of researchers and we meet 6 times a year as a whole group. During these meetings, lab members talk about the current status of their projects. However, from my point of view, these presentations are always a bit too shiny or perfect, instead of talking about one's own insecurities (e.g. about the methodology used) or work in progress. Like this, we get to know what others currently are working on, but there is little exchange and we can hardly benefit from the knowledge and skills of the others.

I assume one option would be to meet more often, and of course, it is good to set a good example and talk about one's own project in a transparent manner. But what other features of a regular lab meeting could promote a culture of learning, where participants present and share their ideas openly and courageously? Does it need a certain structure or, on the contrary, just as little structure as possible?

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    My lab meets every week. Is six times a year a common schedule? That frequency seems more typical for a loose research collecting that spans multiple institutions than a lab.
    – Max
    Jul 3, 2021 at 7:47

5 Answers 5


"During these meetings, lab members talk about the current status of their projects." - are you sure that everyone is interested in everyone else's work? If that's not the case, these meetings are very annoying for people without an interest to a particular topic.

Actually, the entire thing is overrated and misevaluated. I understand that sometimes (quite often) researchers want to discuss their problems with other people. For instance, you want an advice from someone who's an expert in A and so you find such an expert and ask your questions on A. In doing so, you address two things: (1) you get quality feedback because that person is an expert, and (2) you make sure that the topic of your question (A) is interesting to that person.

Both of these things might not work if you're doing this via group meetings. There might be no experts in A among the attendants of the meeting, and also, people might be uninterested in what you're talking about, so it becomes a waste of time for both sides.

That was about presenting your work at group meetings for the purpose of learning. Another thing is when you use a group meeting to practice a talk. In doing so, one should realize that they are actually asking for a favor of giving feedback from everyone else, not blessing them with your infinite shiny knowledge. So the speaker is not supposed to await questions from the audience but conversely, ask the listeners whether this and that was clear, if something could be explained better and so on.

It's not easy to do, actually. When I started doing this, I got very little feedback because not everyone was understanding what did I want from them. Yet, after a few times I could see benefits for myself and my presentations.

Bottom line: rather often group meeting become a venue for "boasting" about your scientific results, and they really should not be. Ask yourself if this is really the case, and in case of doubts, discuss it with the other group members.

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    People who have no interest in the science done by others in their group are either in the wrong group or are doing science wrong, in my opinion. Good scientists are balanced, broad of interest and collegial. People who join my group as trainees will get a training with those characteristic as educational aims. Those who join as employees will be expected to try to live up to that as part of their job. The best ideas about something don't always come from someone who is an expert in A, and you don't always know that A is what you need until someone less connected suggests it. Jun 10, 2021 at 12:29

I applaud you for desiring an increased level of engagement and 'realness' in your meetings. In addition to meeting more frequently, I recommend structuring part of your meetings from a formative feedback perspective in which all participants are provided a natural avenue to voice their struggles/concerns in a way that fosters growth instead of judgement.

As one example, you could ask every participant to share their greatest successes experienced since the last meeting and the greatest challenges faced since the last meeting. Or, you could ask each participant to share what 'big questions' the group could ponder or ask participants to all share their most substantial unanswered questions.


Group meetings are an important and useful tool in academia, and you're right to try and improve yours. I think you've already hit on two key points - meeting more frequently, and modelling good behaviour, and I'll add a third.

  1. If your group meets every two months, there's a long time for everyone to forget what you're working on. Weekly meetings can be effective because they get built into the rhythm of the week, but some people find them too much. However, I would say a weekly meeting where one person presents is better than meetings every two months where everyone presents. We have a weekly meeting slot, and people volunteer to talk each week, without a rigid structure. Some weeks we cancel the meeting, if there is another deadline looming. And some weeks we start chatting with no agenda, and end up continuing for hours discussing an interesting problem.

  2. Modelling good behaviour is key - allow yourself to be vulnerable, ask for advice, show results which are not perfect but for which you need the insight of others. It's difficult to tell people they need to ask for help, but if you ask for their help, they will be less reticent to come to you. Explicitly ask for advice on future directions, conferences to present at, journals to publish in etc.

  3. You also need everyone in the group to take the meetings seriously, especially the group leader (which may or may not be you - I'm not sure!). This can be tricky with those who believe they are too busy or too infallible to need to discuss their work. We managed to get a group meeting going over the pandemic by pointing out the lack of informal interactions, and I hope it continues when we are back in person. This might still be a reasonable excuse where you are!

Some more ideas for ways to use a group meeting:

  • Discuss a new paper in your field, one that you don't understand or where you think the results are particularly important or controversial.
  • Invite someone from outside the group to discuss their work informally, or invite an outside expert to discuss your work.
  • Talk practice before a big conference - after the talk, provide detailed feedback on the presentation, speaking style, figure clarity etc.

I once tried to bring such group meetings in an academic group I was affiliated to and unfortunately I failed to. I should mention that at that time I had very little experience in research and in industry. The people attending the group were first or second year PhD students or masters students. Each of the students had their own issues and concerns which were more important than attending a research group study. One had to do course work and did not have time to read papers for the next session. The other was busy with providing proposals to receive scholarships for their studies. The other was under pressure to submit a paper in a deadline. So everyone has their own concerns which may prevent them from focusing on a voluntary group meeting.

Based on my experience, these may help a group study to succeed. These should not be relevant to your seniority level or research group but reading these may help you shape your group:

  1. Group members can set mutual interest goals for their meetings. Just meeting to read a paper may not encourage everyone to spend sometime for a voluntary work. But, if they feel that if they read that paper and do some research, program some codes, etc and the result will be some sort of report, publications or a paper, which will benefit their resume; this may help them pay more attention to the group studies.

This may even appear by exchange of skills. If they feel that they do not receive sufficient information from the group, they may pay less attention to it. But if they feel that if they teach something to the group, they will learn something new in return, this may encourage them to actively participate in it.

  1. Having a very big goal may not encourage group members to participate. For instance, if you have a goal to publish in a high impact journal, some group members may have weaker resumes, some other may not have experience of group work to publish, some may feel discouraged that they can not understand study materials the same as the senior members. So breakdown the hard tasks like reading a tough paper, publishing to journal or conference, reading a book, developing a code, etc to smaller tasks and assign them wisely to group members based on their understandings and seniority. Make them feel motivated and feel they have something valuable which is needed by group.

  2. Do not set tough regulations. Be flexible on the schedules, task achievements, members problems, etc. If somebody has lower interest in a topic, be flexible to change as much as possible or give them time to find and bring topics they like to the group.

  3. Do not act like a boss with 'must' keyword! This is bad trap a group organizer may fall into. More senior and established people like post-docs and professors may not have this problem but when it comes to fresh researchers, they 'may' show such behaviors which may be discouraging to the other mates. Choosing a group leader who is more appreciated by the members also helps. For instance first year students may not feel so responsible to a student at their own level but they may respect a postdoc more.

  4. Use technology as much as possible. There are very good online tools and software which may help you shape the group. Define tasks. Assign mates to each task. Share files and topics. These tools may increase group mates participation and their courage to contribute to the group.

Please note that I am writing this answer based on my experience with research students. So, for a group of senior researchers and professors, the environment may be much different. Their mutual goal may be advising junior students, applying for funding and writing papers instead of learning new skills and topics. So, each group may have his own problems and interests and you should adjust group with his own specific interests.


I've met two entirely different types of talks at group meetings:

  1. Talks where the speaker presents their work: besides providing an overview to everyone what is going on where in the group, here the audience may provide guidance to the speaker, but they usually don't learn that much for themselves.
    In te context of thesis research (which has an element of an exam, or really whenever the speaker expects to be judged on the content they present), these talks may be prone to be very polished in terms of showing results without discussing obstacles.
    You can encourage the guidance to the speaker element e.g. by asking all speakers to include not only a summary of what they did but also a slide with questions to the audience (I've been to a small conference that did this, and it was rewarded by very good discussion.)
  2. Talks where the speaker is asked to teach a topic. Here obviously the goal is that the audience learns something specific from the speaker.
    I've met this in annual retreats or as the need arose rather than in the regular group meetings - but there really isn't any reason not to have such talks also in normal group meetings.

I'd say if you want to have a talk of type 2, you'll need to explicitly state this - otherwise people will assume you want a talk of type 1.


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