Sunday, February 20, 2011

Content for PhD Committee Meeting #1

I am busily putting together slides for Friday's committee meeting #1. Can't quite write the whole thesis before any committee meetings, I suppose... :)

So what content is supposed to be in the slides for the meeting?

I know, generally, that the point is to propose (and defend, to some extent) what you want to do for your PhD project. But when I got down to the details, I realized that there are a few more conventions than that. So here's my outline:

Title Page: includes my working thesis title, the committee meeting number (a big 'ol FIRST ONE for me), who my advisor is, and what lab I work in

About Me: this I was told to include by older students, but I wouldn't have thought of it otherwise. You put down where you did your undergrad, Master's, and when you passed quals. A list of papers and conference presentations, and what your post-PhD plans are. I actually didn't put down my post-PhD plans, as I plan to get out of academia...

Problem: The biggest complaint I hear about seminars is that the speaker doesn't tell you the general overview up front. All it takes is a couple sentences: "I've decided that my project is going to be to build a machine to manufacture phasers out of unobtainium." Then people don't have to wait through ten slides to get to the point.

Purpose/Importance/Impact: I've taken a class from my second committee member, and he always drilled into us that in any presentation, you must begin with "PII." Purpose of the project - what you plan to get out of it. Importance - why anyone would care. Impact - what are the practical applications. I made sure to include this, if only to make that second committee member happy!

Why I Chose You: I put in one slide on why I chose my advisors - what expertise I hope they can contribute and how they fit into the project.

Why You Chose The Project: I said that I wanted to manufacture phasers out of unobtanium - but why not manufacture transporters? Or why not make phasers powered by melange? You can't do everything in your PhD, you have to narrow down the focus. But there has to be some thought behind the narrowing - how you analyzed the possibilities, and the justification behind your choices.

Previous Work: So has anyone else tried to make phasers out of unobtanium? How did that go? If not, what HAS unobtanium been used for? Have phasers been made from aluminum before?

Your Planned Approach: How do I plan to tackle the project? Build a mini-phaser first? Obtain the unobtainium? What issues do I think may arise? Any back of the envelope calculations I may have tried to help guide me?

Timeline: A Gantt chart of my project, including upcoming committee meetings, and most importantly - target graduation date!

Proposed Classes: the classes I've taken so far, divided into major and minor. This is the committee's chance to speak up if they think anything is missing...

Numbered Slides: Professors want to know whether they are sitting though 75 slides, or 20, and are we halfway done or just beginning? So I put the numbers on the slides - #/total. All in all, I ended up with 31 slides, which I think is a reasonable amount for an hour presentation + discussion.

So does this sound about right? Did I miss anything? Anything unecessary?


  1. Hi, Miss Outlier!

    I am delurking. I am writing up the committee meeting proposal for my first M.Sc. (Bio-nerd), and like the idea of including Gnatt charts.

    I would also add some notes about backups. "If my plan of attack fails in these following ways, I will use these alternate plans, and here's an alternate timeline". If your work includes collaborations, maybe mention that, as well?

    Good luck, I look forward to hearing how it went.

  2. I like this general outline of what to include in the committee meeting. I should be doing the same in the upcoming months, so this is helpful discussion.

    I agree with above in making some notes on what happens when your plan fails (an unfortunate reality I am experiencing at the moment...). Also, if you have any preliminary data, you should include that as well. Always looks good to hear and see what you may have started so far.

    Good luck!

  3. Good points, both Anon and MadLabRat! Backup plans are good to include. I didn't do that, and probably should have...

    Preliminary data I think is a topic I'll cover in another post - I have some thoughts about that.

    And one thing that I forgot to put in the list is that you should cite any relevant papers written by your committee members! Hate not to mention relevant work, if your own advisors did it... also shows that you have at least skimmed the papers written by your committee, so you have some basic familiarity with their work.

  4. Hi Miss Outlier~

    I'm a first-year PhD student in the Boston area and a big fan of your blog! I just wanted to thank you for useful posts like this one, which I'm sure I'll be rereading when the time comes for me to start thinking about quals and my dissertation. Love the baking tips too!

  5. Beautiful. Have mine on the 18th Ju1y and your blog saved me the trouble of designing the presentation.

  6. Nice and helpful overview, thanks for sharing!