Friday, September 24, 2010

Overscheduled

There has been much angsty press in recent years about how kids don't have much free time to kick around and just be kids anymore. Those of us who grew up in an era when our parents sent us out the door to walk 3 miles in a blizzard to school or let us run around outside with our friends for hours are surely more creative and independent than those of you who (mis)spent your youth being shuttled in a mini-van from violin lessons to soccer to Mandarin class every day.

But what about today's overscheduled professors? If we have absolutely no 'free' time to think and muse and contemplate and play pretend games, will we lose our ability to be creative and independent?

That's actually not what I want to talk about today. A more practical consideration that is related to the issue of overscheduled professors is that it is very difficult to get more than 2 (or even 1?) professor together in a particular room at a particular time for a graduate student's preliminary exam or thesis defense. Anyone who has been involved in the scheduling of one of these events, either as a student or as one of the professors, surely knows how complicated this can be.

These exams are mandatory for the student and the professors, but they have to be squeezed into the interstices of our days, and finding a 3+ hour block of time when everyone is available is exceedingly difficult, as dramatically illustrated by this e-mail from a graduate student:

I am a graduate student at the stage of writing my thesis and planning my defense. Right now I am having a very difficult time scheduling my thesis defense. Some of my committee members have additional responsibilities at other universities or significant administrative duties. While it is possible for a committee member to Skype the defense if attending in person will be too hard, it's still been very hard to find a date and time that works for everyone (and for which a seminar room is still available). And some of my committee members are reluctant to commit to any dates at all, because they are worried that some of their other obligations will come up. (And at the same time, the other members who are able to be flexible are getting mad at me for not scheduling something already.) I have had similar difficulties with every committee meeting I've had. This time it is especially frustrating because I would like to defend before the university-wide deadlines for this graduation cycle. I am not alone in this situation -- nearly every other graduate student at my university has had similar experiences with difficulty scheduling committee meetings.

I know that faculty have a lot of other responsibilities and often find serving on thesis committees to be burdensome and a low priority. However, I am only asking for at most 2-3 hours of their time, and this will be the last time I need to do so. I also feel that once a faculty member has agreed to serve on a student's committee (which they are not obligated to do), they should accept the responsibility of making time for the requisite committee meetings, qualifying exams, and thesis defense to the best of their abilities. What do you think is the best way to alleviate this situation? How can I politely convey to my committee that while I understand the difficulties they face in attending/Skyping my defense, I really do need to schedule a date as soon as possible? Also, what policies do you think universities could adopt to make this process simpler and less burdensome for both faculty and students? Personally, I wonder if limiting the number of committees (possibly all committee not just thesis ones) a single faculty member could be on would help lower the burden. Also, perhaps it would be worthwhile for the university calender to build in meeting/defense times -- i.e. no departmental seminars/meetings/classes/etc during 1-2 weeks each semester to allow for committee meetings, qualifying exams, and defenses? This would also benefit students because it would give them a set schedule at which milestones need to be met, and it would make things easier for the registrar's office and university administration because it would ensure that defense dates are properly tied to graduation deadlines.

What are your thoughts?

My thoughts involve sympathy for your situation. My own PhD completion was delayed by months, resulting in my degree having the next year's date on it, because one professor was unable to find time to read my thesis, much less agree to a defense date.

I also appreciate that you realize professors are very busy. However, it isn't necessarily the case that the inability of some professors to find time for your defense means that you are a low priority or a burden. That doesn't help you get your defense scheduled, but I think it's important to realize that, for some professors, particularly just before the end of a term, finding ~3 free hours during the work day is simply not possible.

In general, the times that work best for me are: (1) final exam week, unless there is a conference, although, even if there isn't a conference, sometimes during finals week I have all-day meetings that are scheduled at this time specifically because classes are over; and (2) the time slot reserved for faculty meetings in a week when there is no faculty meeting (although if you have professors from other departments that have faculty meetings on different days/at different times, this window of opportunity doesn't exist).

I can also sometimes squeeze in an exam or defense by canceling (rescheduling) an office hour, research group meeting, or committee meeting. If that's the only option, I am willing to rearrange my schedule. Also, now that my daughter is older, I have more flexibility in the very early morning and the very late afternoon, but these times used to be more difficult for me for scheduling early/late exams, especially if my husband was out of town.

I'm not implying that the grad student who wrote to me does this, but some students will write to professors and say "Please tell me what days/times will work for you so I can schedule my defense." Clearly that is too open-ended. Other grad students will write and say "I'd like to have my defense on Tuesday, May 19 at 3 PM." Clearly that is too restrictive (although maybe it's worth a try in the unlikely event that one particular day/time will be open for all), and tends to result in a cascade of subsequent e-mails, each one specifying a different day/time.

Only once in my career has a grad student scheduled an exam first and then told me when he expected me to show up for the event. He checked in advance with the other (male) professors, but not with me. He was also on record as having stated that he didn't think women should be Scientists, so I quit his committee, as I didn't think I could be objective in the face of his lack of respect. He didn't want me on his committee anyway, so if his strategy to get me off his committee was to be rude, this strategy worked.

A reasonable first-try method for scheduling an exam/defense is for the student to send everyone an e-mail listing a few (3-4) possible days/times and asking everyone one which, if any, will work, and specifying that you need a reply by a certain day. If you don't get an e-mail reply by your stated deadline, go find the person(s), call them, e-mail them again, haunt them until they reply. Be aggressive but polite.

You can also be manipulative (but polite); for example, telling one person "Tuesday, May 19 at 3 PM is fine with all the other committee members. Does this time work for you as well?" (Don't ask if it is convenient -- no time is convenient -- ask if it is possible). If they have another commitment that cannot be changed, so be it, but at least you will have this specific information and can then work on another day/time.

If you are trying to finish before an urgent deadline, you can mention that, but only if you have left plenty of time between your scheduling attempts and the proposed exam date. Otherwise, if you suddenly have a crisis and need to finish soon and you ask your committee to rearrange their schedules for you, some of the crankier committee members might get a bit hissy.

I don't like being constantly badgered about scheduling, especially if I have already provided information about the possible times when I can/cannot meet, but there is a difference between a polite, organized, assertive effort to get an exam scheduled and a disorganized, obnoxious campaign by a student who assumes we professors should drop everything to help them defend at exactly the time they want.

There is probably a magic time in advance when scheduling is optimal. If you ask me in October about a May defense, I cannot commit to a day/time. If you ask me 2 weeks in advance, my schedule will likely be totally full. I can, however, figure out something 1, maybe 2, months in advance. There may be some graduate program policy on how far in advance an exam must be scheduled, but I have found that any such policy is routinely ignored owing to the wide availability of waivers and exceptions.

I have not found the advent of Skype etc. to help much with exam/defense scheduling. If I don't have three hours to spare, I don't have three hours to Skype either. Skype does help if I am at my home university and need to be at an event at another university (saving me travel days), but when I am traveling, the need to be in a quiet place with an excellent internet connection for several hours, taking into account time zones and unforeseen travel glitches, can be very stressful.

I like the idea of having some designated days when there are no classes or other meetings; I can't imagine that a week or two would be possible, but 2-3 days might be doable. If those times also coincided with a time when I had no proposals due, no conferences, and no other major deadlines, I wouldn't mind a few concentrated days of examining, with maybe 2 exams/day.

Another way that universities could help would be to extend the possible time in which a student can defend and still get their degree in that academic term or year. That won't help some people who need to leave and start a new job right away, but it might help some.

Maybe being over-committed on committees is a problem for some faculty, but I don't think that problem can be solved with a new rule limiting committee participation. A committee-max policy might actually create more complications -- what if everyone you wanted/needed on your committee was at their committee limit? And I don't think overscheduled professors are overscheduled because of student committees. It's all the other stuff that fills the days completely.

Somehow everyone gets their exams scheduled, even if it takes a while to accomplish and even if the process is highly non-linear. The process could be simplified if there were exam slots set aside, reducing the problems for at least a few people, but there are always going to be schedule collisions and moving-target schedules and professors who aren't organized enough to know what they are supposed to be doing a month or two from now.

Even if it makes you crazy, please try to be patient with us, continue to be very proactive in getting your defense scheduled, consider removing any extraneous committee members who are unresponsive (after documenting the history of uncooperativeness and discussing the situation with your adviser and/or the graduate program director), and.. good luck. You're almost done!

44 comments:

Notorious Ph.D. said...

My defense scheduling went very smoothly, but only because I took control of it: I e-mailed my professors (and yes, I'd been in contact with them throughout the process, so my defense wasn't a surprise), told them I'd like to schedule in a particular three-week window, and asked them to tell me what times they would NOT be available. Once I had that info, I was able to pick a time slot that none of them had blocked out.

Basically, I cornered them. It took a bit of confidence, and a businesslike demeanor, but it worked, and it went fine.

Of course, if your correspondent has committee members who don't respond to e-mails, s/he will have to try another tack.

FemalePhysioProf said...

Technology can HELP. Try to schedule meetings well in advance, use a tool like doodle.com or whenisgood.com to find a day/time that works for all and nail everyone down as quickly as possible.

Anonymous said...

Scheduling meetings is fresh on my mind because there is a mandatory 3-meeting sequence that my department requires for new TAs, and finding a time that even the 5 of us (plus the faculty member who leads it) can meet is difficult. What has been successful in our case has been to use meeting scheduling software (in our case, http://doodle.com). That way, everyone can list their availability in a wide variety of slots in a particular week (of course, you might still have the problem we did where one member insisted she was only available for one two hour block in an entire week), and it will automatically show you when everyone is available.

MathTT said...

At my grad institution, at least in my field, the advisor scheduled the defense and other exams. In consultation with my advisor, we selected possible dates & times. He then contacted the committee.

In some ways, it is perhaps unfair to put the onus of this on the advisor. OTOH, I never had a problem with committee members being non-responsive, unwilling to commit, or any of those other difficulties. They would have had to be rude to their colleague rather than to a grad student.

From a student perspective, the system worked quite well. I don't know why it isn't more widespread. Certainly at my current institution, the grad students schedule their own exams. And I get lots of "I'd like to have my defense on DATE at TIME." I can almost never make it...

Anonymous said...

I used Doodle to schedule my defense.
http://www.doodle.com/
It's actually a great tool for stuff like this because you can see what everyone else's constraints are and identify conflicts early. After collecting some broad scheduling constraints from committee members (one who seemed to be traveling 300 days out of the year, and one external from across the country), I emailed around a link to a doodle poll with several specific dates on it. Unfortunately, none of those worked... so after talking to the person with the most conflicts, I send out a second round, which suggested several times spaced out over about a month. And that worked. It was a couple of months later than I had hoped, but in the end the only thing that matters is that you turn in the dissertation and be done with it.

Shooter said...

I disagree with FSP, here. Under no circumstances should you start emailing back and forth with all of your professors trying to find a time. This only ends in frustration and wasting everyone's time. Run, do not walk, to http://doodle.com/ and set up a doodle poll to find a workable time for the defense. I told my grad student to do this for his orals, and he didn't listen to me until like the 4th failed iteration over email. Now he swears by it.

Save yourself and everyone else a lot of time and agony, and let the computer figure out the time that works rather than making everyone do it manually.

Anonymous said...

In my department, we have found Doodle to be a very effective tool in scheduling exam dates. You suggest some possible times (as FSP suggested), and your committee members only have to tick the boxes to indicate their availability, which is even easier than writing this in an email, and you can quickly see whether any of the suggested dates work for all the committee members.

Anonymous said...

http://www.doodle.com/

Best ever solution to scheduling problems.

Anonymous said...

Doodle polls are a godsend for this problem

Jen said...

I know this doesn't help the larger issue of the grad student (with whom I sympathize greatly, having been in a similar situation), but in the department where I am now a postdoc, Doodle (www.doodle.com) has become the go-to resource for scheduling meetings. Students pick a two-week window of dates and times, and faculty select which times work for them. The nice thing about Doodle is that everyone involved can see the others' open times. One of my labmates' committee members actually opened up an hour of his schedule when he saw that there was only one block of time during which the other four members could meet. Granted, not everyone will do that, but it has cut down a lot on scheduling angst, at least in my lab.

Anonymous said...

You write "If you ask me in October about a May defense, I cannot commit to a day/time." Can you expand on this?

At my university the spring teaching schedule would be known in October and there would be few other commitments that could come up and take precedence. For example, I don't expect that if the dean here wanted a meeting with a faculty member at a time that conflicted with a thesis defense the faculty member had agreed to serve on that they would ask the faculty member to reschedule the defense.

Lindsay said...

When I was scheduling my prelim, we were strongly encouraged to use Doodle (www.doodle.com). I found it made the whole process fairly painless even though it took a few iterations to find a day/time that worked.

Anonymous said...

The solution to this problem is that there needs to be a fundamental change in the way grads/postdocs/profs/admins schedule. I recently graduated from grad school at a R1 university and we had the same problem; to schedule something as simple as a group meeting required days of trial and error picking dates and times. Now I work at a company with >100,000 people and we are ALL REQUIRED to use shared Microsoft outlook calendars/email. What I like about it is that I can see when you are free and I schedule you. I can look up in one screen when all of my committee members have 3 hours free and I book the time. DONE.

Dave Backus said...

Scheduling for n>3 is hard any time, but I've never noticed anything special for these. We do them all the time, they seem to work out. Do physical sciences (I'm in economics) have more time demands?

Anonymous said...

I've heard this problem referred to as Herding Cats. I do not do email when trying to get my committee together because by the time the last member gets back to me, the availability of the others has changed. To set my prelim exam, I took a day and literally hunted down all my committee members in person, and asked their availability over a two-week period (that was three months away). I also asked what regular commitments were, so that when (as it did happen) no time in that two week period worked for everyone, I had narrowed down the available options for the following week. I was going to be eight months pregnant that month, so I think my committee well understood my deadline and worked hard with me to find a time that would work.

Female Science Professor said...

It's interesting that so many people find the online scheduling tools useful. They've been tried a few times in my department, but always abandoned; I'm not sure why. Maybe there are always a few people who don't/won't use them? In some cases, when I diligently marked off when I could/couldn't meet, I still ended up getting a swarm of e-mails. Maybe it's worth another try, though.

GMP said...

I use doodle a lot for all types of scheduling and it works great. However, I think the problem is that some people are very inflexible -- I see that when scheduling university committee meetings. Some people cannot find an hour to meet for weeks and they are not on sabbatical or out of town (or that big of a shot, if I might add). Gimme a break, move some office hours or a group meeting if need be. As a wise colleague of mine tells me (he says it's a Chinese proverb) "Time is like a sponge: if you try really hard, you can always squeeze a little more out." I generally feel that if people really want to make time, they will. Converse is also true -- if they fail to find the time, after many scheduling options have been pursued, it's because they don't particulary want to find the time.

Female Science Professor said...

Maybe this is why online scheduling did work for many of us: If you give me a blank schedule and ask me to fill in the times when I am busy, I will just fill in the entire thing. If you ask me if I can meet at a particular day/time, I can think about whether the activity I have at that time can be changed/canceled.

BugDoc said...

I agree with previous commenters that online scheduling tools are terrific. I have used several, but only recently was asked to schedule a student committee meeting using whenisgood.net. I found this to be better than doodle because it's easier to block out times by dragging your mouse rather than clicking lots of buttons. Either way, these tools are really helpful.

Sally said...

If online scheduling doesn't help you schedule a defense time before the University deadline, you may be able to get special permission from the University for a late defense. I had to take a late defense as one of my committee members was overseas for the last six weeks of the term. He was returning a few days after the deadline for depositing dissertations.

I contacted the office of the Dean of Graduate Studies, explained the problem, and they agreed to let me turn in the signed cover page a few days late. I didn't have to wait for the Summer term deadline and I was able to walk in the June commencement.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I love when people use Doodle to schedule events. I wait until as many other people as possible have given their dates/times, and then I mark myself available only for those that everyone (or the most possible) else can make that are most convenient for me, even if there are some others that I could, strictly speaking, make.

Anonymous said...

Fuck doodle, I agree with anon at 8:45. We should be able to look at the profs calendar and schedule the meeting for them.

Anonymous said...

Online calendars (like GoogleCalendar) are the best bet as long as everyone keeps theirs up to date. I don't even ask the committee members with GCal to suggest times, I just ask the slackers that don't to choose from among the shared times of those that do, then double check with the calender users once I pick a time. I'm strongly considering making GCal a requirement for my lab once I start mine. You want to know when to schedule a meeting with me? Just look at my public calendar and request a time that's not blocked out. Easy.

Anonymous said...

SECRETARIES!!

To schedule my prelim, I first got the schedule for the whole month for the professor that is out of town the most (from his secretary). Then I emailed all the professors with a list of possible dates/times. They didn't all get back to me. So I went to the departmental office and asked the secretaries to email the professors (our secretaries our awesome and understand how, um, quirky, our professors can be). I got responses within hours and reserved the room later that day. So, if your departmental office or the individual professors secretaries (if they have them) are helpful, I'd use them as much as possible to help with scheduling as they are often able to "encourage" faculty to respond to emails.

Average Professor said...

Yes, pleasepleaseplease use a scheduling service like Doodle. I even have a doodle account that is linked to my calendar so that when I get a meeting request, I just push a button and Doodle will fill in my availability for me, and even let me know if it's adjacent to another meeting. Then I just review and submit. GODSEND. We <3doodle at my institution, and only a few holdouts seem to refuse, who knows why.

You even have the option of letting people choose from three options (available, not available, could be available if absolutely necessary) which might be helpful for those hesitant to give a real "yes" to any particular date.

I also have a "public" Google calendar that only shows in/out of office, no details. That way when somebody asks me a vague question about my schedule I can tell them to just go check it out for themselves.

As a last resort, I was once replaced on a PhD committee a month before the defense for the sole reason that I was not available on the only day that worked for everybody else + the deadlines. It was annoying to me, but I understood how frustrating it would have been to miss the deadline.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of being soundly shouted down by your readership, perhaps faculty members who cannot meet their commitments to graduate students should refrain from serving on their committees. Every faculty member knows that serving on a thesis committee entails a number of meetings over the years and certainly includes reading a thesis and attending a thesis defense. Don't have time for this? Don't agree to do it.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna talk about the intro to your post because I find that topic a lot more interesting than whether doodle, email, or calendar scheduling is better. :)

I know many young profs that are completely over-scheduled. I also know many young profs that seem to have a lot of free time to think about and do science. Based on the apparent stress levels I've observed in the former, I'm doing my best to try to figure out how to be one of the latter.

Unfortunately, it seems to have a lot to do with personality. That is, if you're a very collaborative, outgoing and generous person everyone will assume it's ok to demand your time. If you are a more retreating person who simply doesn't respond to requests or turns them down, sooner or later people will stop asking, and you'll get your time to yourself. More time to yourself to get grants and write papers and less time in meetings.

AmericanInOxbridge said...

Your point about optimum timing was right on; I've never had trouble as a committee member because people HAVE contacted me about a month in advance in all cases thus far.

And I am definitely over-scheduled, to the point that I've been finding ways to escape from things that I used to love like all day workshops and canceling or postponing extraneous meetings with other colleagues' PhD students or post-docs who need help.

Anonymous said...

I scheduled my defense about 3 weeks in advance and the process went really smoothly. I was living out of state at the time that I defended and I had a young child so I had my own logistical issues to deal with that required this advance notice. I did all the scheduling by phone and email and pretty much told the profs that I wanted to defend sometime during week X, preferable on day Y or Z and they told me when they were not available. I picked a day and time when everyone was available and told them what I chose and gave them a chance to confirm that it would work for them. The whole scheduling process took only a couple of days and might have gone quicker had I not been both excessively nervous and in a different time zone.

I know that rules vary from dept. to dept., but what seems to happen when people have scheduling issues is that they adjust who is going to serve on the committee. In my grad dept. the committee was set at the time you scheduled the defense so rather than finding a time when all of your committee members were free, people often picked who was on their committee based on who could be available when they wanted to defend. Even in other depts. where people chose their committees when they did their dissertation proposals, I've heard a lot of anecdotes about last minute committee member changes resulting from scheduling issues.

TLH said...

scheduling doesnt solve every problem: one of my committee members only told me he wouldnt be at my defense when I said "see you tomorrow" to him as I left work the day before.

luckily, my committee chairperson just forced him to approve it.

in other words, the solution that solves nearly every problem is a kick butt committee chairperson.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Did some Doodle marketing person find this thread?

My thesis defense somehow miraculously worked out. My advisor was back from his sabbatical and had a two-week interval before leaving for his home country for most of the summer. Another member of my committee was recently back from paternity leave, and the third fortuitously had decided to return to town for three days in between two trips to Europe instead of just staying there. It worked, but barely, and I don't know what I would have done otherwise, being required to submit proof of my degree before starting my postdoc. It seems like there should be a special sort of travel fund to guarantee that all members of a thesis committee can return if necessary. Well, probably the easier thing is for universities to relax their policies enough that the committee members don't have to be physically in the same place. (I think the rules at my grad school allowed one, but only one, of them to teleconference.)

Anonymous said...

This is a slightly different topic, but what about professors who don't have time to administer their grants? For example, a multiple pi grant that included planned monthly meetings and postoc mentoring that is simply not done, which could have easily been foreseen since none of the pis have any time. At what point is it unethical to accept funding if you don't have time to do what is promised?

Anonymous said...

There's one other possibility that hasn't been mentioned in this thread: sometimes committee members postpone qualifying exams (not sure about defenses) because they don't think the student is ready. If the student pushes ahead anyway, they'll fail the exam. I saw this happen in my doctoral program: one woman's committee refused to schedule a qualifying exam for a whole semester... finally, toward the end (or maybe afterword?) one of the committee members said that it was because they didn't think she was ready. By the time she was finally able to take the exam, she WAS ready. Obviously, committee members should communicate this directly to the student, but if they can't or if the student isn't listening, then some of them stonewall.

Anonymous said...

From now on, whenever a student contacts me about scheduling a committee meeting, I will refer them to my secretary.

Yeah right.

AnonProf said...

I was amused by Anonymous comment about his company where "we are ALL REQUIRED to use shared Microsoft outlook calendars/email. What I like about it is that I can see when you are free and I schedule you."

You've just given the slamdunk argument why I, a professor, will never adopt such a scheme. Never. The idea that someone else could put something on my schedule, without my approval, would be unacceptable. I control my own schedule. Period.

In addition, I have many slots in my schedule that may look "free" to others but are actually essential to teaching preparation, scholarly work, etc. It's the difference between, say, software developers, who rely upon getting into the flow (and a single interruption can take hours to get back into the flow), vs business types, who do not understand why scheduling "just a one hour meeting" in the middle of the day is such an imposition. For this reason, I would hate a shared calendar. Someone else would just see "you don't have any meeting listed in your calendar 1-2pm, why can't you come to my committee meeting then?" and hard feeling would ensue. If I didn't block out big contiguous chunks of my work week for myself (e.g., for reading papers, thinking creative thoughts, preparing for class), I'd never get anything useful done.

Anonymous said...

I struggled scheduling my qualifying exams (which were not as time sensitive). However, scheduling the defense was no problems. I attribute that largely to the time of year; I wanted to schedule my qualifying exam end of September and everyone was swamped. My defense was during "low season" (May) so quite easily scheduled.

Students often forget that they have a number of resources available to them to assist their degree completion. In my program, I had my supervisor, graduate secretary and grad advisor all cheering me on, available to help get all the signatures, meetings etc.. (i.e. jump through all the hoops). All these people ultimately have more influence than the student and certainly should be used, when needed, to ensure you complete your degree on time.

I did use doodle for the first time to organize a 40 person meeting - 50% of people emailed me after submitting their response, explaining their response and any stipulations regarding their response. Errgggg!!!

Gingerale said...

I like what Notorious PhD said in the first comment on this post.

Anonymous said...

In my experience this problem is real, but manageable if everyone is well-behaved, and not interesting.

The first problem you described, overscheduled professors with no time to think, is the more fundamental and serious, and difficult to solve. You should write about that one.

Anonymous said...

It's not so much of being over scheduled. I would argue that many faculty especially at the Assoc. Professor level lack leadership and management skills including time management. You say YES to everything because you guys have no balls. Be assertive, direct and honest enough to say NO. I have found that American academics are completely obsessed with, among other and many things, not wanting to sound or be labeled as "negative".
A responsible member of faculty/committee does what they say they'd do, because they said they would. Period. Think about the responsibilities you already have including the trainees in your lab and the student thesis committee you have been selected AND agreed to serve on, and take them more seriously, no matter how pointless they might seem. OR how busy you are. Consider it a way to pay your dues and your commitment to excellence in teaching students who've committed so much time and money to their study.
Professors are always making pathetic excuses. There are many things we can't control or unforeseen circumstances arise all the time in academia (just as everywhere else) but IRRESPONSIBLE people always shift the blame on someone or something else. It's irresponsible to make commitments that you probably can't keep, even if you really want to keep them. In which case, saying "no" is the MOST responsible thing for you to do. If you have bitten off more than you can chew just send a professional and honest email to say "no" OR maybe delegate. If you've stretched yourself to the max trying to keep other faculty (including your Chair) happy, you might also want to learn how to stop being such an ass-kisser. Either way, there is such a thing as taking on too much responsibility, and that is irresponsible in and of itself.
I wish faculty members would just keep their end of the bargain.
I have learned, that you if you don't, you'd get away with it for awhile, but don't be surprised when one day, you're the only person standing in the middle of the lab. Or have been asked to leave the Dept because of lack of funding or scholarship. My previous mentor's career and lab imploded after 18 years because he was so irresponsible.
In Australia, where I am from and where I received my PhD, it is both an honor and privilege to be asked to serve on thesis committees and to me a mentor.
It shows that you have become a leader in your field, an excellent and caring educator who has been recognized as a responsible member of faculty who takes care or and will always take care of trainees.
You should always endeavor to be a responsible educator. I would be personally and professionally satisfied to see students move on with their career and become successful and even more so that I played a role in their success.

Anonymous said...

I always used doodle for committee meetings. I would put up a schedule that excluded any known conflicts with committee members (I would look up their classes and office hours ahead of time), and I think that helped. My one committee member who didn't seem to like it? I would just email her with any final times that worked for all others and should would respond within hours.

My department also mandated certain meetings - committee meeting within a couple weeks of the grad student's annual department seminar, for example. This way committee members knew to expect these meetings and you could schedule them in the context of them being required.

Anonymous said...

I'm the student who sent the e-mail. First, thanks FSP for posting and responding to my e-mail, and thanks to all the commenters for their suggestions (and sympathy).

I did, in fact, use doodle to schedule my committee meetings and defense. The trouble was that some committee members either continuously postponed responding to the polls ("I saw your e-mail but I'll have to wait until next week to reply because of xyz." and 2 weeks later, I was still waiting....) to the point that the original responders were no longer available, while other committee members simply replied "no" to every single suggestion, and ignored my requests for them to submit alternate times.

In terms of the "magic scheduling window" -- it doesn't seem to matter how far in advance I try to schedule things, as the "magic window" seemed to be different for each committee member. For example, one committee member often needed 2 months notice, while another was reluctant to commit to anything more than 4 weeks away. I suppose this will really depend on the personalities of your committee members and the nature of their other obligations.

I do agree with the commenters who suggested that working with secretaries or having the advisor (or someone else with more clout than the grad student) schedule the meeting might be easier on the graduate students. Unfortunately, however, many PIs don't have secretaries, and there's no guarantee that the PI or other delegate will have much luck with scheduling either.

And in terms of having everyone keep a shared calendar -- this only works if everyone is very conscientious about keeping their calendars up-to-date, and if "unscheduled time" is really the same as "available time." There are some people for whom this might be the case, but in general, I don't see it working as well in academia as it does in the business world.

At the end of the day, I do agree that the student is the one who has the most riding on the defense and will have to take ownership of it. I just wish policies could be put in place to make it less of a headache for everyone involved.

In the end, I was able to schedule my defense in time to meet the graduation deadline. It took multiple doodle polls, a slew of e-mails, several in-person requests, and finally, an exasperated e-mail from my advisor to the most recalcitrant committee members asking for their cooperation. But at least it got done. Now I just have to make sure I pass. :)

Again, thanks everyone!

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Several of our students have started using Doodle polls to try to find an empty time slot when all the faculty can make it. The student talks with their adviser to get a range that seems feasible (about two weeks) and then lists all 3-hour slots that don't conflict with classes. The committee members mark which slots they can make.

This sometimes takes a couple of iterations, with the faculty marking all conflicts the first time, and only the absolutely immovable conflicts the second time.

Many of our grads advance or defend over the summer, when scheduling is easier.

Jean Grey said...

There is a saying: "Scheduling the defense is the hardest part!"

bob said...

I used Doodle to schedule my defence as well. It certainly helped, but it didn't make it easy. In my case it was my advisor who was by far the least flexible of any of the people. I think I tried something like a three week window, most of the committee members put in quite a few open days. I thought we had a date, but my advisor had made a mistake in one of the two days he thought he had available. I ended up having to shuffle committee members to make it happen. Luckily my department was very flexible about this so it ended up working, but barely. Actually, on the the day, one of the committee members had a medical issue and had to pull out so I had an additional re-shuffling on the day itself!