Currently it is my job to schedule (Date+Time) my PhD defense which shall take place in approx. 2 months from now. Hence, I have to ask all committee members about their availability. How should I approach this task:

  1. Using a tool like doodle. I worry that this is too "modern" for some committee members.
  2. Proposing some dates and hoping that all members will accept one or more dates?
  3. Asking for their availability and trying to find an intersection set. But what if there is no intersecton set with respect to their time?

Any help is appreciated

  • 9
    Great question, though I am afraid it may not have great answers. There's a standard joke that this is actually the hardest part of getting a PhD, and it's not even really a joke. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 22:29
  • 2
    See: youtu.be/xbT4G8XR2io
    – jakebeal
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 0:50
  • I worry that this is too "modern" for some committee members. — Really? Seriously?
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 1:10
  • 1
    While the question addresses a problem that many PhD students face, it is not really different from scheduling any other meeting. Do not overthink this. Professors are just people.
    – Dirk
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 14:37
  • 1
    Reading this I am so glad that at my institution it was my supervisors responsibility to invite the committee members
    – Bernhard
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 20:10

4 Answers 4


Scheduling anything with committee members is a big pain. The way I scheduled my defense and comps was to just send a doodle poll (like you mentioned) and have them select all the dates. Two of my committee members were very nice and checked all the dates going through almost 4 weeks and two of them never responded or even clicked the link. I just used these dates to check the availability for a conference room in the dept. and sent a final set of 4/5 days to the ones who didn't respond. After sending that a few times and reminding one of them in person, I just scheduled it on a day that I thought was OK and went ahead with that. Everything worked out great and even the person who never responded didn't protest when I picked the time and date. Good luck o n this. I will celebrate the fact that I never have to do this again :)


Use doodle and for those do not respond, print the schedule and walk it to their offices.


Step 1 -- rule out dates/times that are not possible

Start by sending an electronic-mail message asking for each person to summarise his/her availability during the relevant few months. This may not immediately elicit an obvious date or time, but allows you to rule out dates and times which are definitely not possible, thus sparing everybody the hassle of keeping lots of specific options available.

Step 2 -- suggest some specific options

Compile a set of numbered/lettered options, again by electronic mail. A message might read something like:

Dear all,

Further to our previous correspondence, it looks like one of the following options is likely to be best:

a) 29th February 2100 in the morning;

b) 29th February 2100 in the afternoon, finishing not later than 4pm (NB: Prof. X has a train to catch at 5.20pm);

c) 31st April 2100 at 11am (NB: Dr Y is giving a lecture in the same building at 9.30am–10.30am);

[a few more options]

The numbering/lettering of options is vital, since this makes life easier for writing quick replies, such as:

Dear all,

a) most convenient for me

b) possible (but would need hotel that night as well as previous night)

c) not sure, since it is around the time of the International Conference of Futile Studies, for which I am the keynote speaker

[comments on other options]

Yours sincerely,

external examiner

Or even...

Good -- a, d, e

Possible, but not ideal -- b

Impossible -- c

Crucially, numbered/lettered options are amenable to quick updates such as:

Dear all,

UPDATE: sorry, option c) not possible (unless the university can charter a private helicopter to take me to the conference immediately afterwards!?!)


I think that you should begin with part 3 of your suggestion and also take a phone number from each committee member. If you succeed in intersecting among these times then everything is solved!

If the intersection won't work then you should consider an order of importance for your committee members. You can get several times from the chief member and consult with the other members.

My strong recommendation is to speak very conservative and respectfully with the members. Also if the intersection doesn't take place then you should consult with your supervisor and request from your supervisor to talk with the committee members in hopes of solving your problem.

  • And maybe add a little extra weight and options to your externals, especially if they are coming from abroad. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 19:21

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