I am a postdoc in charge of handling our lab meetings.

We have two lab meetings per month. One is in person. I book a classroom and we buy some snacks, coffee and such. We usually have one or two presentations by some students / postdoc, followed by a discussion on related topics, and a roundtable if anyone has anything to ask to our supervisors. The other one is online. Again, we usually have one or two presentations and a roundtable.

It goes without saying that everyone in this lab prefers in-person meetings. I get only negative feedback about the online meetings:

  1. Most of us don't like the online format
  2. (Edit) We all work on different topics that don't communicate much, thus...
  3. ... most of us use this time to do something else like check emails, read articles, debug some code
  4. Nobody follows the presentation and the roundtable (because of 2.)
  5. When someone gets to present their work, they want to do it in person and not online (because of 2.)
  6. There is no real discussion after the presentations (because of 2.)
  7. Most students see these meetings as a way to catch our supervisors
  8. Online meetings do not achieve the same "social" aspect as in-person ones
  9. Most of us also have similar meetings (presentation + roundtable) with our respective industrial partners and our supervisors, so these lab meetings look like duplicates.

I tried to convince our supervisors to either convert online meetings into in-person meetings, or simply cancel online meetings. However, our supervisors want to keep these meetings this way: one online, one in-person.

Hence my question: since our lab meetings will not change, what can I do to improve online lab meetings?

  • 2
    Teach your students to deliver interesting presentations. Absent that, it's impossible. Commented Apr 10 at 1:41
  • Are people working on the same problem or do each of them have separate research problems?
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 10 at 11:33
  • @Buffy We almost all work on separate research problems. I should have mentioned this because it almost explains 2. Also I want to mention that we all have many meetings per week with our respective industrial partners and our supervisors, so these lab meetings look like duplicates.
    – DrSlowpoke
    Commented Apr 12 at 10:00

2 Answers 2


Learning how to focus on online meetings, and present online are skills we need to develop like any other of the professional skills we need to succeed in modern academia. Online workshops, meetings and conferences allow us to include academics who can't travel to in-person meetings for all sorts of reasons such as carer responsibilities, disability, financial etc, and to have more frequent contact with international collaborators. Online presentation skills may also be important practice for online job interviews - I have done a few internationally this way including for my current position.

I suggest making the current disengagement, along with the value of learning this skills, a discussion point to have at an in-person meeting. Gather some data about engagement so you can show (not tell) how ineffective these online lab meetings have become. Have the group brainstorm and discuss how they are going to resolve the issue as a team, and what the next steps are. Do you need a lab group code of conduct for not multitasking during online meetings out of respect for the presenters? Might it be a good venue for 'lightening presentations' of shorter length that are easier to focus on? Your role is as a facilitator, you don't have to solve the issue by yourself.


Tell everyone you want to have an experiment where, just once, everyone has to focus properly on the online meeting. The experiment is only for one meeting so it shouldn't be too difficult for them.

Then in that meeting you will find most of the other problems will disappear. And maybe everyone will see that the online meetings could be good, if everyone agrees to focus on them.

The point is that half of the problems are caused by 2. So if you can persuade them to stop doing 2 just once, they might see that the online meetings could work well.

  • Your answer should be a comment rather than an answer as it is not making an meaningful contribution responding to the question. Commented Apr 11 at 12:44
  • 1
    @NaveedAhmed It is an answer to the question. How is it not meaningful?
    – toby544
    Commented Apr 11 at 13:29
  • You wrote "Try to get everyone to focus properly " but did not elaborate or suggest how one could do so. You should come up with some innovative, constructive ideas that could enhance quality of your answer. Commented Apr 11 at 13:31
  • @NaveedAhmed OK. I have rewritten it.
    – toby544
    Commented Apr 11 at 14:48
  • Thank you very much indeed Toby. Hope it'd help OP. Commented Apr 11 at 14:52

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