My supervisor wants us to meet 3-5 times in a week with another PhD student of his. Every meeting is on average more than couple of hours. I don't know about the other student. But I feel like we are wasting too much time in meeting; it's hurting my productivity. How can I tell my supervisor to keep the amount of meetings and duration limited? To make matter worse, he also wants us (me and other PhD student) to meet separately besides these meetings. I am spending on avg. 12-15 hours per week doing these meetings.

I can answer questions why I think these meetings aren't productive, but that may turn into rant and I may put them into another question. So I want to keep it short and precise; let's just assume these meetings aren't productive for me.

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    I would think the number of hours your supervisor is willing to spend with you should be the main source of information here. During your phd your prime goal is to learn not be productive?
    – chris
    Oct 18, 2014 at 19:15
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    @chris "During your phd your prime goal is to learn not be productive?" That sounds like a whopper of a trick question. Learning and productivity go hand-in-hand, and the OP could easily have phrased his question by saying that the 10 or more hours of meetings per week are impacting his learning. Oct 18, 2014 at 20:23
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    @chris During your Ph.D, your goal is to learn, be productive, and to do research--in approximately reverse order. As one professor I know put it: "One mistake you make make is to learn too much.", with the implication being that the student learnt at the expense of researching.
    – geometrian
    Oct 19, 2014 at 6:47
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    What do you do during these meetings?
    – Tara B
    Oct 19, 2014 at 9:28
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    I think all the current answers are wildly speculative, as we do know know or can only guess 3 relevant infos: (1) is your advisor also in these meetings? (2) what do you do in these meetings? why does your advisor value them and you do not? (3) how does the other student feel about these meetings?
    – xLeitix
    Oct 19, 2014 at 10:47

5 Answers 5


I think this is a time to be direct and honest: just say you are spending too much time in meetings and it should be reduced. Say what you should be doing instead. A reasonable person should not be offended and should know that meetings can hurt productivity.

I also recommend considering changing the way the meeting works to align it with your needs. When I am in a meeting, if nobody is taking charge, I will try to be a leader and give the meeting some direction. Remind participants of the agenda. Add the things you want to do to the agenda. But be tactful.

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    I agree. The way to tell your advisor this is to tell your advisor this. I see no alternative. Oct 18, 2014 at 20:53
  • Just direct and honest. He is advisor/not a chief, so you can exchange your idea as with a friend.
    – Nam Nguyen
    Oct 19, 2014 at 18:32

Volunteer to prepare the agenda for these meetings. The day before, send everyone email asking for agenda items. If you get none, suggest to your supervisor that the meeting be canceled as there are no items to discuss.

If you do get items, make sure "Adjournment" is the last item on the agenda.

Edited to add: There are two groups for whom time is literally money. They physicians and lawyers. I spent my first career working for one such group. I learned that meetings need not be a time sink. As I've said in a comment, the way to make meetings productive is to have an agenda and stick to it. Meetings run by people who know what they're doing accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish and stop. This is what Anonymous Physicist and Dave Clark called "aligning the meeting with your needs."

One of the things that chaps my buns about academia is waste-of-time meetings. Happily, I am low on the academic totem pole and not tenure-track, so I can blow most of them off.

Another edit: I never had a meeting with my own dissertation chair that did not have an agenda. I prepared them and he seemed happy to have them. Early meetings were formal and ended when we reached the end of the agenda. Toward the end we met at a Chinese restaurant and the meeting gave way to lunch, but we never rambled.

Last edit, I promise: What I am suggesting is the difference between telling the advisor/supervisor that the meetings do not fulfill the needs of OP and telling the advisor/supervisor that, but following up with a suggestion that my experience says will improve the meetings and may result in fewer of them.

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    This proposal seems rather passive-aggressive. I don't know anyone who wouldn't regard it as a clear indictment of the value of the meetings. It would be one thing if the OP were simply a member of a group that had by custom regular meetings, and then the OP has a legitimate right to try to persuade others that they may be meeting too often. But in this case, the OP's supervisor wants the OP to meet 3-5 times in a week. S/he didn't say meet that often "only if you have enough agenda items", so the suggestion to cancel the meetings is clearly against the supervisor's wishes.... Oct 18, 2014 at 23:33
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    This might be appropriate for administrative meetings but, honestly, it doesn't sound like this is the kind of meeting that's being talked about. Regular meetings involving PhD students are almost always a direct form of research collaboration. As such, the agenda has essentially one item: work together on the problem we're tackling at the moment. Oct 19, 2014 at 1:04
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    @Bob: My point is that if the advisor is there and is spending at least 10 hours per week on these meetings, very likely s/he finds them useful and does not think that nothing is happening during them. Having an agenda is not an inherently bad idea (in fact it's a good one, in general) but (i) the advisor may or may not want to do this and (ii) having an agenda does not guarantee that the meeting will be useful. Maybe the agenda item is always "spend two hours talking about X", where X is not what the OP wants to talk about for that length of time. He needs to speak up about this... Oct 19, 2014 at 1:07
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    "You may be right, but I'd bet, if not my last nickel, at least an age-appropriate beverage, that, based on OP's assessment, everyone including the supervisor would like to cut these meetings short." Why is it necessary to bet on someone's intentions when the OP can just ask them? The two of us have somewhat different life experiences but are both academics living in the same state in the US. The OP is a student in Bangladesh. I will bet you that neither of us has any special insight into him or his advisor. Oct 19, 2014 at 3:41
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    @BobBrown "Except possibly in academia" We are in academia. It says so in big letters at the top of the screen! Oct 19, 2014 at 7:26

I think it unlikely that you will convince them to reduce the number of meetings; from my experience, people do not realise that you can do with less, until they have experienced the productivity boost themselves. In my experience, requests for fewer meetings are typically turned down by people who believe in the management model that regular meetings act as engine of progress.

If it is a purely scientific rather than a "waffle" meeting, though, then I recommend, just enjoy it. That's what you are in university for, after all.

But if the meeting is really unproductive (which means, it doesn't advance neither your direct work, nor your knowledge), then this is a classic instance for "manage your manager". Avoid directly criticising the number/style of meetings. Even at more advanced stages than a PhD, one will be looked at a person that is not ready to play ball.

Rather, be proactive: By you deciding what you want out of the meeting, preparing an agenda, preparing a list of expected outcomes, and writing down a mandatory "action list" at the end (which is checked against at the beginning of the following meeting), you can focus the meetings and help organise the thoughts of your fellow participants. You have a certain control of the agenda, this way.

If you push on the action list in a disciplined form, especially if you yourself act with discipline on it, but it not acted upon by the others, it may make the others in the meeting uncomfortable and lead them, in turn, to ask for fewer meetings on their own. Plus, you will be seen as manager/organizer of the meeting, and a disorganised supervisor may actually appreciate that, if it's done in a careful way. Don't castigate others for not doing theirs, just ask them if they have done their part.


Since my comments trigger such negative rating, I might as well turn this into an answer :-)

The point I would like to make is focussed on the fact that you complain about your supervisor spending ten hours a week wanting to talk to you. I would like to say, as a former supervisee and a current supervisor, that you should consider yourself a priori lucky. Now it might be that your supervisor is also clueless, this I cannot judge. But think of this in the following way: the PhD is the last time in your life where you are being tought, in particular tought about how to do research, something books are not so good at doing. Should you consider a career in your field, you will have plenty of time to focus on being productive.

Think of your PhD -- and of the time your supervisor is spending helping you go through it, as an investment for future productivity. Of course you will most likely be faced with endless numbers of essentially boring meetings in your life. You might feel it is already the case, but a meeting with your supervisor should not be of this type. My advice would be change the nature of the meeting, not the number of hours dedicated to them.

On the more general issue of being productive in research, personally I do not feel research is about productivity. Engineering might be, but engineering is not quite the same as research. Some people obviously think differently, which is fine by me.

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    Is it clear that the advisor is even in these meetings? It's not sure to me from the question - and in reality it seems more likely that the prof. is not there all the time when the meetings happen 3-5 times per week and take multiple hours. I don't know a single Prof. with that much time.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 19, 2014 at 10:42
  • Well I was lucky enough to spend 4 hours a day with my supervisor
    – chris
    Oct 19, 2014 at 10:58
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    It is good that they have the time for their advisees, but you also need some time to actually implement the ideas that came out from the meeting and some time in between to think about it by yourself.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 19, 2014 at 15:34
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    Let's say that if one wants to be an advisor, he or she would better find the time for his or her advisee(s), otherwise there's something wrong. Oct 19, 2014 at 17:58

Tips on approaching your supervisor:

  1. Offer an alternative to the meetings: Perhaps meeting once a month, or a "lunch and learn". This sets you up as a solution oriented person rather than a "complainer".

  2. Give specific instances of what is not productive. I measure the value of a meeting on whether I changed something I do because of the meeting. If I did not change, then the meeting did not have an effect on me and the value of the meeting is questionable.

  3. Ask for an agenda for the meeting. This will force the person hosting the meeting to organize what they will talk about.

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