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Getting the most out of thesis supervision meetings

Chances are that postgraduate students meet their thesis supervisor/s only every few weeks, and for a limited amount of time. Therefore, it is extremely important to take full advantage of supervision meetings. The following tips help bachelor’s, master’s and PhD students to make the most of thesis supervision meetings.


What can you expect from a thesis supervisor?

Before diving into what you can do to get the most out of thesis supervision meetings, it is important to be clear on the roles during a thesis process:

A thesis supervisor supports and guides you through writing your thesis. However, ultimately you are responsible for your work.

What this role division means in practice is that students cannot expect their thesis supervisor/s to tell them exactly what to do. And the thesis supervisor/s will not simply provide students with solutions to their challenges on a silver platter.

That said, a supervisor’s role is crucial. He or she will guide you in your writing, point out weaknesses in your argument and approach, and make suggestions for improvement. Furthermore, you can benefit from their experiences and scientific knowledge.

Taking charge of thesis supervision meetings

Considering that students are ultimately responsible for their thesis, they do benefit from taking charge of supervision meetings.

First and foremost, it means that students should be proactive. They should stay on top of time planning. They should keep track of a regular supervision schedule. And they should let the supervisor/s know what they need in terms of support and advice.

Pre-meeting updates, a meeting agenda and strategy for note-taking, as well as post-meeting action points, help students to get the most out of thesis supervision meetings.

Each of these points will be explained in more detail below. Combined, they offer concrete and repeatable structure to prepare, take part in, and summarise thesis supervision meetings.

It is never too late to change your approach to thesis supervision meetings. Just introduce the new structure to your supervisor/s and explain how it helps you to keep track of your progress. Most supervisors appreciate it when students take responsibility for their learning.

Pre-meeting progress updates before thesis supervision meetings

Pre-meeting updates are a summary of the progress you made since your last meeting.

Both master’s and PhD thesis supervisors tend to supervise many students at the same time. They might lose track of the progress of individual students. Progress updates before a meeting help to bring everyone up to date.

Sending around progress updates before the meeting also saves a lot of time: during the meeting, you can dive much more quickly into the discussion of your challenges and how to move forward.

In the pre-meeting updates, it is also advisable to already share your main questions and struggles in advance. Be very clear in stating what you need from your supervisor/s. It helps them to prepare.

And of course, if you have written text for review, make sure to give your supervisor/s enough time to review it. Supervisors have busy agendas. So don’t hand in the written text an hour or a day before the meeting.

In short:

  1. Send around a progress update before the meeting.
  2. Specify the questions and challenges you would like to discuss.
  3. If applicable, share written text well in advance.

Agendas and note-taking strategies during thesis supervision meetings

During a thesis supervision meeting, be prepared. Have an agenda ready, and share it with your supervisor/s at the beginning of the meeting.

The agenda should reflect the key points that you would like to discuss during the meeting.

In addition to the agenda, explain what your key objectives are for the meeting. Then, ask if your supervisor/s would like to add points to the agenda. Edit the agenda on the spot so that all points and objectives are reflected.

A good agenda helps to structure the discussion and it ensures that all relevant points will be addressed.

Furthermore, have a good note-taking strategy in place. Even if you understand everything that is said during a supervision meeting, it can be tough to remember it all.

Either take your time to take proper notes by hand or ask all parties present whether it is okay to record the meeting. You will thank yourself later.

In short:

  1. Come prepared, with an agenda and meeting objectives.
  2. Make space for unplanned discussions and feedback in the agenda.
  3. Take detailed notes or ask to record the meeting.

Post-meeting action points after thesis supervision meetings

Phew! The meeting is over. What’s next?

Take a day or two to reflect on the meeting. Sit down, have a look at your notes, and then develop action points that came out of the discussion.

Action points can be agreements made with the supervisor/s on content, research methods, writing style, you name it. Compile a short but concrete list of the steps you will take to progress with your thesis. Where applicable, also include specific deadlines and notes on time-planning.

Then, send the post-meeting action points to your supervisor/s.

Why? Because there is a chance that you misunderstood each other. Asking your supervisors for brief feedback on your action points provides an extra layer of security. It shows whether you are on the same page and whether you are moving in the right direction.

Furthermore, it is always good to have your agreements in writing. It can help, for instance, if you run into trouble because you have to deal with conflicting feedback from different supervisors.

Lastly, already start to prepare for the next meeting. If you haven’t done it yet, send a calendar invite to your supervisor/s, so that everyone can block the time of your upcoming thesis supervision meeting in their agenda.

In short:

  1. Develop concrete action points after the meeting, and share them with your supervisor/s.
  2. Reiterate agreements on deadlines and time-planning.
  3. Send out calendar invites for the next meeting.

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