What are they?
Lab meetings. I am not sure whether all PhD students have to go to lab meetings, or at least meetings between their supervisor and other students/ researchers working with the supervisor. But all PhDs in Science definitely have lab meetings. They are usually held once a week and they last an hour (or 2 hours every other week). Well, my lab, meetings are weekly 2-hour meetings so it really does depend on the supervisor.
What purpose do they serve?
The answer could again be, depends on the supervisor, but there is a general agreement on how lab meetings are structured. I will describe what goes on during our lab meetings, as this is the experience I have. But anyway, from my discussions with PhDs from other labs or departments I see the structure is pretty much similar.
Lab meetings are where PhDs or Postdocs share their findings with the supervisor and the group so that everyone’s up to date. Also, students or postdocs might present recent papers related (or unrelated) to their study. Additionally, if your supervisor gets creative they might bring guest speakers from time to time to discuss their work. This happened a few times ever since I started attending the lab meetings. Some of those speakers had very relevant studies to discuss with us, while others not so relevant.
Are they useful?
Definitely yes! For many reasons. Here are the 3 main ones:
- First, you get to know what others do. That’s always useful. Even if you discuss these over lunch, having them present the data in detail makes you really understand where they’re at. This is useful of course as you might want to collaborate with them if you see they are studying areas you are interested in. If not that, then it’s still useful in that you get ideas and get updated on the latest experiments on the field.
- Secondly, if you have to present your data or other papers, then you get valuable feedback from the group. If you want to present a prospective experiment or study then, again, the feedback is of great value. The group will point out limitations the study might have, points you might have missed and generally make your study better!
- Finally; presentation skills. During a lab meeting presentation you are more likely presenting in a very informal way, but still, you need to prepare slides and find a way to communicate what you have to say to an audience. So if potentially you have to present that study or results to a wider audience (conference, seminar) it makes things easier for you because you already practiced that!
To be fair though, some meeting days are not as useful. The papers/ findings discussed could be presented in less time but they are dragged more than they should. This has negative effects for the productiveness of the day, as it cuts down your flow and you are essentially “trapped” in the meeting. If that happens you might feel the day has been wasted. This brings to mind the meetings my friends in the industry have. They often refer to the Monday-morning meetings as useless and productivity crashers. Sometimes lab meetings will be like that. Not usually, though.
Bottom line is: go to your lab meetings! It helps immensely! You have more to gain than lose, thus no reason to avoid them.