The graduate students of my institute want to establish a regular meeting (two hours, once a month) just for themselves.

All of us are happy to have this regular opportunity of sharing ideas & joys & sorrows with regards to research life. However, we are still uncertain about how to ensure that we will have a good agenda for each meeting.

Are there any "best practices", any recommendations on how to best organize such regular meetings? Is it possible to generalize whether there are some agenda structures that usually go well, and others that usually go badly?

For example, would it make sense to have two (voluntary) research-related presentations per meeting, and to leave the rest of the time for feedback & and informal discussions?

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    You seem to be going about this backward, establishing a (two-hour!) meeting and then deciding what to do with it. Why not start with what you want to get done? Do y'all need more talk practice? Is that a high priority? Sep 30, 2022 at 15:07
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    It sounds like you already have an agenda prepared for your first such meeting, namely to set the agenda for subsequent meetings.
    – d_b
    Oct 1, 2022 at 4:37
  • @AzorAhai-him- I think there's the guts of an answer in that comment. Until they identify the general aims, why decide the duration or frequency ? Maybe no meetings are needed at all - it's not like they'll have lots of time on there hands in the first place. Maybe all people need is a few informal words around the water cooler. Oct 1, 2022 at 22:44
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    @StephenG-HelpUkraine I was hoping anpami might respond and provide some context. Oct 1, 2022 at 22:56

2 Answers 2


In my institute (for context: western Europe, with both experimental and theoretical labs), PhD students would elect one or two delegates or representatives, generally for a one-year term. Their role was to represent PhD students during meetings with PIs and administrative staff, but also to organize monthly PhD meetings. Here is an example of what the agenda of such meetings looked like:

  1. Opening
  2. Announcements a. Staff changes b. Events c. Others
  3. Agree on today’s agenda
  4. Comments on minutes previous meeting
  5. Election of New PhD representative of the institute.
  6. Reparation of the cooling system in the library.
  7. Problem with the postdoc email list.
  8. Discussion on installation of a vending machine in the institute.
  9. Organisation of the PhD and Postdoc retreat
  10. Questions and comments
  11. Set date for the next PhD meeting
  12. End

It is worth noting that our "PhD meetings" were actually for both PhD students and postdocs. Their point was to discuss daily-life problems, and not to do scientific presentations (as most of them were already organized within the institute). The atmosphere was pretty relax, often finishing with a beer on the campus.

  • 1
    Can you estimate what percentage of people actually participated regularly? Or was it a few dominant people?
    – Buffy
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:30
  • Just a few of us sadly (approx. 10%), and indeed most of the time always the same people, while other informal events (e.g. nights out or week-end retreats) gathered almost all PhD students. In my institute, all students have good relations with their PIs, and most issues could be solved within each lab (without the need for an institute-wide monthly meeting). In our case, informal meetings without an agenda, as you mentioned in your answer, would have been sufficient. Oct 1, 2022 at 13:23

The doctoral program where I formerly worked had something not quite like this, though it included both faculty and students. Once a month the students involved in their research (that is, later, not earlier stages) could present their work to the group and get feedback. There wasn't a real agenda, other than that anyone could present and mention any blocks they might have and get some advice from those present.

But an alternative might be to have one (or maybe two) students do something like that with only other students present. This assumes that the meeting focus is on the research and also that people can easily grasp one another's work.

When I was a doctoral student (long ago) my advisor had one other student at the time, a friend of mine. We only grasped the coarse details of one another's work, so this wouldn't have been very valuable without the advisor (and maybe another faculty member) present to comment.

But if the main thing is to share "joys and sorrows", why not just schedule a lunch every month and people can just shoot the breeze, complain about the profs and the job prospects and such like. No agenda necessary except the choice of venue.

One other thing we did back then that was good for networking was a weekly softball game for grad students and their spouses. That was, of course, cross disciplinary, though within the (large) math department.

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