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I am a recently graduated PhD, but for the past few years I have been on an 8:00-16:30 schedule with a lunch break at noon. I arrive between 7:45-8:00 and get started immediately.

Now I am on as a continuing research scientist and have been assigned to supervise two graduate students and another post-doc that's new to the field. It's important for our schedules to overlap, so I've instructed them to meet me at 8:00 to get started.

To clarify the frequency, this type of "meeting" would be once a week for the next 13 weeks. I use quotes because it's really just the time we agree to get in the lab and start work together, which is still a meeting but not the one we often think of when we see the word.

Someone I am close to, who has both graduate school and office (industry) experience, tells me this is unreasonable. According to her, even in formal business environments, the first [half-]hour is reserved for checking your email, getting settled, going through voicemails, etc.

As I like to tell people, I was a student for 25 consecutive years, so I know the ropes regarding when academics typically wake up and get started. I'm not asking if starting work at 8:00 AM is typical, but rather if it is unreasonable and why I should or shouldn't change my policy.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Note that comments on a post can only be moved to chat once, so henceforth they can only be deleted. – ff524 Sep 28 '16 at 5:58

21 Answers 21

115

It is not unreasonable, but it might annoy your graduate students. I myself wouldn't like it because it would mean that I have to get up an hour earlier than my girlfriend.

Maybe one should set the question the other way round: What is your disadvantage if you meet at nine? Is it important for you to meet your students first thing in the morning?

Comparing your need and your students needs, you should find a sensible compromise.

  • 44
    I would rephrase this: "It is unreasonable, since it probably will annoy (some of) your graduate students." – Turion Sep 28 '16 at 10:23
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    @Turion "Grad student annoyance" is a pretty low bar for unreasonableness. People get annoyed by all sorts of things, but that doesn't make those things unreasonable by default. – Nuclear Wang Sep 28 '16 at 12:47
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    @Matt, of course something is not unreasonable just because it might annoy someone. But if it will annoy someone, and there is otherwise no good reason to do it (and alternatives at hand), then it's unreasonable to cause that annoyance. – Turion Sep 28 '16 at 13:09
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    Its not just waking up earlier than your spouse or... but when I was a grad student I had a hard time arriving in school sharp at 8:00AM due to several reasons. Using the public transportation was the most contributing factor! Being too tired from the night before (cause I had worked in the lab until midnight) and nee...eeding coffee (and ofcourse a long line in the coffee-shop) was another reason! (I myself am a strict 7:30AM person at work. so when my boss arrives at 8:00 I'm all set for my day!) – AleX_ Sep 28 '16 at 16:49
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    @Matt If something annoys the majority of participants and there is no good reason for it apart from personal preference of one person, then yes it's a perfectly valid reason. I'm usually at work at 8:00 at the latest but I do know that several of the people I manage prefer to come in later, so if there's no good reason I won't set meetings earlier than 9am. It seems that some people here think that being in a position of power makes it alright to dictate terms to your underlings. That's horrible managerial practice and will just lead to conflict, dissatisfaction and a bad work environment. – Voo Sep 30 '16 at 20:49
403

It depends entirely on whether you have consulted the other meeting participants. There is nothing inherently wrong about an 8 a.m. meeting if it is convenient for everyone involved.

If you have set the time without consulting the other participants, there are two serious problems.

You may be giving one or more of them a practical problem. For example, consider a parent whose child's school starts at 8 or later. You may be disrupting carpool arrangements. It may conflict with a class one of the students wants to attend.

The other problem is more subtle, and applies even if none of the participants actually has a problem with the meeting time. Setting the time for a small meeting without consulting the other participants and considering their views is very disrespectful. It tells them that you consider your schedule, your convenience, to be so much more important than theirs that you don't need to consider them at all. That sort of message is not good for a working relationship.

  • 52
    I especially appreciated the sensitivity to the parent's role in this answer, which no one else mentioned. – aparente001 Sep 27 '16 at 14:29
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    +1 for emphasizing that "reasonable" means reasonable for the people involved, which many other answers seem to avoid. – Kimball Sep 27 '16 at 14:34
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    You seem to be getting some "amens" for the parenting point. I just wanted to mention, there are plenty of other ways this could be nuisance, even if everyone involved was single and childless. (For example, some people like to work out in the mornings. An 8am time might also be inconvenient when winter rolls around, depending on the geographic area.) – J.R. Sep 27 '16 at 21:12
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    Same with people who depend on public transportation to get to work. 8am might mean taking the bus that arrives at 7:01 while a meeting at 8:15 will allow them to take the bus one hour later and thus allow them an extra hour to do other stuff or sleep at the cost of moving away from your preferred meeting time by only 15 minutes. The lesson is: talk to them. – Sumyrda Sep 28 '16 at 5:00
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    "That sort of message is not good for a working relationship." Exactly. The OP's approach feels very authoritarian, which is not unheard of in academia, but has a way of killing morale quickly. Combine it with the lack of experience of the OP (recently graduated) and the students will quickly lose respect too. – Szabolcs Sep 28 '16 at 14:08
171

Early (or late) meetings are generally unreasonable. Some people naturally wake up early, while others stay up late and are more productive in the evening. If you force people to attend meetings that are too early or too late for them, they will be physically present but may not contribute that much due to being too tired.

What constitutes an early or late meeting depends on the society and culture. At the institute I currently work at, people are generally expected to be around from 10:00 to 16:00, and regular meetings outside those hours would be unreasonable.

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    It doesn't only depend on the society and culture, but also on the preferences of the participants (as mentioned in Patricia Shanahan's answer). I don't think it would ever be unreasonable to have a meeting at a time that all participants agreed to, even if the time was unconventional. – Tara B Sep 27 '16 at 16:11
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    It's not just preferences, it's physiology. Even if you get me to show up at 8 AM, you aren't going to get anything but incoherent mumbling out of me until 10 at the earliest, and I'm far from unique in this. Worse, that early arrival is going to negatively impact my productivity the rest of the day. – jamesqf Sep 27 '16 at 18:05
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    I'm in industry rather than academia, but if you get me to show up for a meeting at 8 AM every single week, you will get incoherent mumblings from me for the duration of my notice period, then nothing at all. I don't even take jobs that require me to be present before 9 AM (at the earliest), let alone those that require us to be sat down, coffee ready, emails read, and prepared for a meeting at 8 AM?! Not everybody is an early bird. Meetings from 10 AM onwards should be an acceptable compromise for everyone. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 28 '16 at 11:57
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    @DavidPostill: I know but equally a lot don't! I don't, and the OP doesn't, and the OP's students don't. So... – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 28 '16 at 14:00
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    @DavidPostill: Sure, working certain hours may be a job requirement, but we usually have a choice about whether we take such a job or not. – jamesqf Sep 28 '16 at 17:52
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Congratulations on getting to lead a small team!

You might want to look into developing your leadership skills and techniques to help you with your new responsibility. After all, leading people is about more than instructing them.

A good question you can ask yourself about the appropriateness of your requests: How would it feel if this would be other way around?

In this case, what if some other recently graduated PhD student would instruct you to change your schedule to 11:00-19:30 so that you can have a meeting at the end of every work day at 19:15. Would that be perfect, or acceptable, or bad, or horrible?

You write:

It's important for our schedules to overlap, so I've instructed them to meet me at 8:00 to get started.

If the requirement is to make the schedules overlap, why instruct them to make the schedules identical?

Maybe you can meet with your team and talk about your requirements for working together (overlap in schedule, regular meetings, probably more) and also give them a chance to state their requirements. Then you can lead the process of figuring out how to find a solution that works well for everyone involved.

(Note that the solution doesn't need to be reasonable to outsiders, it just needs to work for the insiders. But also note that it not only needs to work for you, it needs to work for everyone on the team).

  • 6
    I agree with this. Two additional things to consider: (1) what are the current norms (in grad school my group tended to work 1100-0200, so an 0800 meeting would have been right out). (2) what kind of time on equipment is needed/used by folks in the group - I often got accelerator time from 1800 to 0600, so I wouldn't hang around until 0800 for a meeting with you after being up all night running. – Jon Custer Sep 27 '16 at 14:06
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    I also don't see any obvious necessity for the schedules to be identical. – Tara B Sep 27 '16 at 16:14
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    Excellent answer; thanks for posting! Between this and J. Fabian's answer, I marked his as accepted because it was posted sooner, but they both answer the question and offer guidance regarding how to address the underlying issue. – user1717828 Sep 28 '16 at 12:12
  • This begs the question: If 8 is reasonable and 19 is not reasonable, then of course your hypothetical makes no sense. – user18072 Oct 1 '16 at 16:22
32

So I'm just going to put this article here.

First of all, why is it so important that your schedules overlap? And why is it so important for everyone to abide by your schedule? I spent 12 years in academia and the only time I ever had an 8AM class was when I was a freshman in college. This class was intentionally scheduled at 8AM because they knew that people wouldn't show up, it was a critical class, and if you failed it you got kicked out of the program. LOTS of people failed it.

I would consider it unreasonable to start at 8AM unless you have a really good reason that it needs to start at that time. "That's when I start" is probably not a good reason, and honestly also a little bit inconsiderate. If you decide to start at 8AM, you need to understand that you're probably not going to start on time. You're also going to end up with a bunch of people that don't show up. They're going to resent you for making such an unnecessary decision, you're probably going to resent them for not showing up, and all in all it's probably a really bad decision in terms of team dynamic.

As an alternative solution, why not establish core hours, say from 10AM to 4PM? Give the rest of your team a bit of flexibility with which side of that they want to put the rest of their hours on so that it's not all about your schedule and everyone can do what they need to do. You'll still get your "whole team" time, but it's a much more considerate way of handling it.

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    There's still a massive difference between 8AM and 8:30AM, and while I understand that I work in tech and it's a little different, I've literally never had a job (even when working as a contractor with the military) where it was required for me to show up before 10AM. Core hours is also a concept that is becoming more and more commonplace across the US. The first time I heard about it was in the context of game studios, but that's what I've had across 4 or 5 different jobs in the past few years. – Tam Hartman Sep 27 '16 at 18:09
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    Study after study shows that later start times in schools produce better results. Also why are your friends doing 12+ hour days? That sounds awful. And if it really isn't a massive difference, why would showing up at 8 vs 8:30 make such a difference in the time you would get home? – Tam Hartman Sep 27 '16 at 18:26
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    @MassimoOrtolano "It's not that difficult to show up at that time, one has just to put the alarm clock at the right time." If that were true, it would apply just as well to 5am meetings/lectures. You're forgetting that, to get up at a certain time, you also have to go to bed early enough, and eat dinner early enough and... Basically, the time of the first appointment of the day has the potential to completely control your daily rhythm. – David Richerby Sep 27 '16 at 19:05
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    @TamHartman I am pretty sure you are missing quid's point (or I am..) The point I think is that the sun rises and sets at a different hour in different places, even in local time, because the granularity of time zones is not that fine. So sun rise can vary by as much as an hour between the west and the east border of the same time zone. This is further affected by latitude: the day is much longer in the summer in Seattle than it is in LA, for example. So, even on the same day of the year, and in the same time zone, 7am can mean pitch dark in one place, but not in another. – Sasho Nikolov Sep 27 '16 at 22:01
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    @MassimoOrtolano: The question is not "should students do it if they have to?" It's "should I tell students that they have to?" – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 28 '16 at 12:19
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It can depend on the institution (and the culture), but I would consider it unreasonable, yes. In fact, the university buildings in the place I work do not even open before 8am, and no-one, really no-one, is expected to show up that early. You should consider that people also might have to travel, and as it is indeed very reasonable to expect that people need half an hour or so to get some coffee, check mails, plan their day, and so on, you effectively require them to be there at 7.30. To me, this does not sound like a reasonable requirement in academia.

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You try to distinguish between atypical and unreasonable but I don't think this is possible.

Unless you are in a culture where it is typical for PhD students and researchers to be in the office at 8am, it is unreasonable to require your team to be there at that time if the only reason is that it's your usual schedule. The other answers give all kinds of reasons why it might be somewhere between awkward and very inconvenient for people to be in the office that early, if that is not the usual culture.

Of course, those reasons might not apply to the specific people you're meeting with. The natural thing to do would be to ask them if 8am meetings is OK. However, since you're in a position of power over them, they may feel pressured to agree with something that is bad for them.

If it is not usual for people to be in the office at 8am in your culture, you should ask yourself why you're trying to impose your unusual schedule on the other three-quarters of your team. Is it really so important that you're all there at the same time? Is it impossible for you to work 8-4:30 and them to work, for example, 9-5:30?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Oct 10 '16 at 13:13
18

Addressing the section about not starting immediately after people plan to be in work, there are a few points against it:

  1. Commuting delays - if there is extra traffic or someone can't find a parking space, or the train/bus is late, then they will miss your meeting or be late. Starting 30 minutes after everyone normally gets into the office gives everyone a bit of a buffer without needing them to get out of bed half an hour early just in case there is an unexpected delay.

  2. Time to unpack and get their belongings together - People bring bags, have coats etc and might need things from their desk like pens and paper. So they don't walk in the front door of the building and straight into the meeting room. People need a few minutes to grab what they need for a meeting. Also if they were travelling for an hour they might need the bathroom.

  3. Going from 0 - 100% takes a bit of time - You might have everything in mind that you want to discuss, but normally I like to go over what will be discussed before. If I am talking with someone on the way in, or driving, then I don't think much about what I will be doing until I'm through the door.

For these reasons leaving the first half hour for people to "settle down" in the office gives a better chance that they will be punctual for your meeting and prepared. Anecdotally, my previous company generally kept the first hour free unless it was a meeting everyone agreed was important and should take place ASAP, and even then it was accepted that people might be a few minutes late due to delays.

If everyone is in the office at 7:45 most days like yourself then it's probably not a problem. If people arrive between 9-10am then expect people to occasionally be late to the meeting or not present at all, in which case it is a bad idea to schedule it so early or they don't need to be invited in the first case. Your group might be happy to have the meeting early to give them a larger block of uninterrupted work, or they might hate the prospect of having to plan to get in the office at 7:30am to allow for the possibility of delays. Everyone is different.

7

"Unreasonable" is perhaps not the exactly-right word, because one can make arguments in favor of it. But it is obviously aggressive, possibly creating burdens for people (childcare, commuting, daily rhythms), and is in fact arguably obnoxious in that it makes a demand for compliance in a part of the day that is not universally easy to organize "to suit". Thus, although possibly people can do so, it often does/would require a disproportionate amount of effort to comply. Ergo: unreasonable. Done. Instead, ask the people what times-of-day would be convenient for them to meet... (or, oppositely, ask what times would be inconvenient, and then do that, instead). Meeting times are even more artifactual than speed limits... duh.

7

Yes, it's unreasonable. Meet toward the middle of the day so people get in and leave generally when they want. People who do like being in that early probably enjoy the lack of meetings where they can actually get work done. Similar goes for people who stay late.

For reference my company runs roughly 11a-4p as meeting friendly time.

6

Congratulations on becoming a supervisor!

A team is made up of people who may have different preferences, working styles and expectations. For a team to work together in harmony, everyone will need to practice give-and-take, i.e., even though I prefer option A, I am willing to go with option B, because that appears to be better for the team overall.

In my opinion, even though you are in a position of authority and could make decisions as a dictator of sorts, in the long run, it is healthier for the team dynamics if you show your team members that you are willing to take the time to listen to them, to understand what are their needs and preferences, and then to make together a decision that works best for everyone.

In my personal experience, I often have to meet with collaborators outside of regular office hours, due to the fact that we reside in different time zones. We generally try to schedule our meetings at a time which does not cause too much pain to each person involved. On rare occasions, when there is an urgent deadline, one of us may meet at an unusual time (e.g., midnight, 5 AM), but this is usually a sacrifice that the person is willing to make, rather than it being something that the others force upon him/her.

6

You have already got many good answers about the timing aspect itself but, reading through your question, I feel there is a larger point that needs to be made.

First, your demand is clearly unreasonable. It does depend on culture (national and organizational) but, through 5 countries and many diverse workplaces (university, research centers, private businesses big and small), I have never seen such stringent requirements for knowledge workers. And you know this yourself, you are trying to avoid the logical conclusion by making a distinction between typical and reasonable but it's not reasonable to impose something like this on your own if it's not typical and already a policy in your organization.

But more importantly, you speak of “overlap” and that can be easily achieved with a rule like being present between 10 and 12 and 14 and 16 (not that you really need to be so formal in such a small team but that was actually the rule at the most rigid and hierarchical organization I worked at as a researcher). This would leave your reports free to arrive as late as 10 and yourself free to leave as early as 16 and also some flexibility regarding lunch break while having plenty of time to attend common business and also an opportunity to work quietly early in the morning or late at night depending on personal preferences. So meeting at 8 certainly isn't necessary to have some overlap!

And you also suggest that this is not about a real “meeting” either but mostly about forcing the other members of your team to show up early, just because you want them to. So it has nothing to do with overlap or any actual need of your research but is entirely about micro-managing everyone's schedule. This is bound to be perceived as “bossing around” (and rightly so) and that is a problem in itself. Is that how you were treated while preparing your PhD? How others are treated in your organization? Do you think it's a good idea? Those are the questions you should be asking yourself.

  • 3
    Good points about the sub-text of "being a boss". – paul garrett Oct 3 '16 at 23:08
5

For typical grad students, it isn't unreasonable (though some students might resent it).

If the students are parents of young children, it may be unreasonable, as it could unfairly shift the burden of getting kids ready and off to school onto a partner, who may have equally pressing responsibilities.

If the students are single parents, it is very unreasonable.

4

Keep in mind that different people have different circadian rhythms and for some of them this is an effort.

If someone would require me to come at 8 am, I would hate the situation, I will come for the first 1-2 meetings and then I will start to be late or barely on time and I will be mostly useless for the entire day (especially if this is a prolonged situation). And this is not because I'm lazy (as a student/casual researcher I happily worked 14-16 hours a day) but because I simply have a hard time getting up in the morning. Also, I usually ride a bike. So in order to not be all sweaty and tired, I would have to come 15-30 minutes earlier. Also, as others have suggested above, some people have other commitments.

In some cases (e.g. a course or a large team) you simply cannot make everyone happy. But, since we are speaking of a team of 4 people that you are supposed to work with, I think it is quite reasonable to ask for their opinion and find a good compromise for everyone.

4

This would be as reasonable as hosting a meeting between 1:00 - 3:00 in the morning since I am most productive during those times and I would love more than anything for my team members to work with me during these times. Everything is quiet during those hours and there is less media and news distraction. Plus, it is a time where daily micro-tasks such as replying emails, setting up meeting is at its minimal and best of all no urgent distractions from students or family. What a lovely time to do all the heavy lifting!

In fact, I am currently taking a break to write this at 2:43 AM Est. I cannot sleep at all before these times because I can't stop thinking about the problems surrounding my research. I plan to wake up at 9:30 or 10 just late enough to catch breakfast, then use the little time left before lunch to deal with micro-tasks, maybe attend a talk or two that usually happens around 11:00 am and focus on research after lunch. I can't see why anyone else wouldn't follow this schedule. In fact, it doesn't look like the security guards mind these hours. Nor people who works at local restaurants, or at the convenience store, or taxi drivers... I'd say 1 - 6 am is the new 9 - 5 pm.

That is to say it would be unreasonable for me to impose my personal habits that is considered for most cultures too early or too late.

From my experience, in dealing with one or two people, usually the time is set at a time that is towards the beginning or the end of normal working hours, as the middle of which is usually occupied, but this requires discussion instead of imposition. In small teams with more than 4 people, Doodle poll is a good way to assess availability for a span of one or even two weeks.

Finally, it would be a good idea to follow up when people start to not show up or be distracted during meetings, it could be that they have somewhere to go immediately after, or it is at an inappropriate time, so watch for those signs as well.

3

It depends on the local institution you are in. At my institution, I had meetings at 7:00 AM on certain days and tutorials at 11:30 PM on some Fridays during a term. These times were checked to be ok with the participants, though. (E.g., if they wanted to meet only within the regular working hours, there is nothing I could have done about it.)

So, 8:00 AM is not unreasonable.

I emphasize the dependence on the institution, since, e.g., getting at 8:00 at -20°C in the winter to an institution in Alaska or in northern Sweden can be physically nontrivial.

  • 8
    The problem is that you can't really check that something is OK with your subordinates. They will feel pressure to do what they think you want them to do, especially if they're new students. Also, I don't see how your conclusion follows from your argument. How does "It depends on the institution; I used to have meetings at 7am" imply "8am is not unreasonable"? – David Richerby Sep 29 '16 at 0:05
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    Your conclusion is "8:00 AM is not unreasonable"; your argument, even as clarified by your comment, only supports the conclusion "there are institutions where 8:00 AM is not unreasonable". – David Richerby Sep 29 '16 at 12:33
  • An unqualified statement such as "8:00 AM is not unreasonable" is interpreted to mean "8:00 AM is not unreasonable, everywhere (or, at least, in the great majority of places)" not "8:00 AM is not unreasonable, in certain places". – David Richerby Sep 29 '16 at 13:12
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    OK. You seem to believe that "X is Y" means "There is at least one set of circumstances in which X is Y" rather than "In all or at least most sets of circumstances, X is Y". That is not how I understand the English language. In the English language that I speak, the short way of saying "8:00 AM is not everywhere and not at all times unreasonable" is "8:00 AM is not always unreasonable" or "8:00 AM is sometimes reasonable." – David Richerby Sep 29 '16 at 13:41
2

A point that isn't coming across is that there are different institutional environments, and in some of them, being told what time to be where, and then showing up, is part of doing business.

In particular, these sorts of situations happen all the time in clinical research, and for non-clinical people who work with clinical people. In such cases, an 8AM start to a workday might even be considered to be late.

In your case, though, I suggest talking to participants, and then scheduling a mutually agreeable time, so long as your schedule can accommodate it.

If you really like the 8AM time, though, and want to instill your students with an early work schedule, you might simply bribe them with bagels.

  • 1
    You make a good point but, if the asker were in an environment where everybody already started work well before 8am, surely they wouldn't need to be asking if it was reasonable to have 8am meetings? – David Richerby Sep 30 '16 at 8:29
2

I've instructed them to meet me at 8:00 to get started.

The only thing that is unreasonable here is your "instruction" to them! I am reading that sentence as misuse of power.

The proper way to do it would be to ask each one of them individually which time suits them. Let three of you sit together to decide which time is least uncomfortable for the meeting.

If you want them to be comfortable to work with you and not see you as a "boss" or a threat, give them and yourself some choice which is acceptable to 3 of you rather than thrusting your opinion on them/anyone.

Consider reading how to deal with people.

1

It's not unreasonable, but people talk. Word will spread that, if someone wants to work with you, they have to meet with you at 8AM. This will be something people will even mention at "grad interviews", so it will be a factor which people have to think about if they are interested in having you as an adviser and choosing schools. For this reason, I think you might miss out on a lot of good students just due to this schedule choice. As always, being flexible is the best option.

1

One of the main differences of academia compared to other types of jobs is that there is no specific or defined working hours. I have worked in three different labs in three countries, and I never had to start at 8 and I never had to finish at 16:30. Even in Sweden, where it's common for people to start at 8, the general rule is that all meetings have to be between 9-16, as it might be inconvenient for people to be there earlier or later (habits, children, etc). In other places, I have heard that people are kindly asked to come before 9:30 (as in France) and while some labs don't allow to work after hours, the starting time is around 9 (as in Spain). I always considered that working hours in academia are flexible (and I admire those that try to keep the 9-17 schedule - I cannot), and trying to be respectful to other people's needs, I would say you cannot demand someone to come at 8, especially since (I suppose) your schedule is not full with meetings that would necessitate the use of the 8am slot. With that said, I only had an 8:30am meeting when all other slots of my boss were full and the meeting urgent.

0

Based upon my research group at University, I would say it would be counterproductive. Everyone: professor, grad students, post doc would be up to late hours either doing their work or catching up on tasks. Even if people regularly sleep for just a couple hours of night, it can't be the most beneficial time to meet.

It comes down to the group of people, their willingness to give up sleep and their other commitments which might affect their rising time. Scheduling assistants such as Doodle are very useful when several people have to come together at one time to get a consensus. Generally, if it just the students to meet with each other, late at night might work and be agreed upon, but usually when a professor is involved the times seem to run from later morning to mid evening.

protected by ff524 Sep 27 '16 at 14:40

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