Good communication practices in collaborative environments are vital. Whether in group meetings, 1-on-1s with your advisor(s) / collaborators, spontaneous blackboard brainstorming sessions, good communication practices will help you get you unstuck, come up with new directions, as well as get clearer and more structured feedback on your work, etc. As such, it is important to stay organized and be proactive about soliciting feedback from your collaborators.

In this guide, we provide (a) myths about your collaborators’ expectations, (b) general tips about how to run meetings, and (c) a step-by-step template for running your meetings to get you started.

Myths About Your Collaborators’ Expectations

While each collaborator / lab may vary, there are some common myths important to debunk in order to have productive meetings.

Myth 1: Your collaborators remember what your project is about, and where you left off. Your collaborators are likely incredibly busy people, managing many projects. Even if some collaborators do remember, many (if not most) do not. This does not mean they don’t care about your project; it just means you have to provide them with the necessary context for them to be helpful to you (see the guide below).

Myth 2: Your collaborators are evaluating the quantity results you present. Your collaborators’ goal is to help you drive your project and get you unstuck. They are likely not evaluating you based on the quantity of results you present. You therefore do not have to have complete results to present at every meeting – you can use your meetings to present partial results, brainstorm, discuss papers you read, ask questions, outline a paper, get feedback on a draft, etc. Most importantly, if you’re feeling lost or stuck, use the time to ask your collaborators for help.

Myth 3: Your collaborators will be disappointed if you do not present positive results. Negative results are expected and are more common than positive results. More importantly, negative results will help you come up with a hypothesis to test next, making them invaluable.

Myth 4: Your collaborators are so smart they could understand your plots/theorems without explanations. No one will understand your results without proper context and guidence, no matter how “smart” they are!

General Tips

  1. Summarize the project’s current state and goals succinctly. Your collaborators, including your advisor, may be quite busy and involved in a large number of projects, and may therefore not remember exactly where you left off the last time you chatted, and may not remember the smaller details of your project.
  2. Before presenting results, always provide a high-level synthesis of the results.
    • For empirical work, for example, never simply show a figure and start discussing its content – first explain the figure at a high-level, as well as its significance, then explain how to read the figure (e.g. what’s on each axis, and if this is a benchmark, what “good performance” looks like), and only then get into the details.
    • For theoretical work, remind your collaborators about notation, the theorem statement (or idea towards a theorem), and where the discussion had got to last time. As with empirical work, refresh context before jumping into new ideas or results.
  3. Before the meeting, you may find it useful to send notes summarizing what you’ll be discussing in the meeting and what feedback you would like (you can follow the step-by-step template below). This can help give your collaborators more time to think about your project and give you more meaningful feedback.
    • Tip: Having visual aids for the meeting can be incredibly helpful. Google docs and google slides make it easy to share notes and figures. For sharing more math-heavy notes, consider using something like, which allows you to mix markdown with LaTeX. By using one of these collaborative online tools, your collaborators can also leave you comments as they look through your meeting materials.
  4. After the meeting, message all of your collaborators with the agreed-upon next steps to make sure everyone is on the same page.

A Step-by-Step Template for Running Your Meeting

Step 1: Outline

  • Start by outlining what you will be discussing in this meeting, as well as what feedback you are specifically hoping to get from your collaborators. This will help your collaborators help you manage the time so you get all the feedback you need.
  • Your meeting-time can be used in a variety of ways – unstructured thinking (e.g. formulating a research question, coming up with new projects or directions), active work on trying to make progress (e.g. debugging, diagnosing strange results, sketching a proof idea, designing an experiment), discussing a relevant paper you all read, soliciting feedback on writing, etc. – just be clear from the start what the goal of the meeting is.

    Tip: If giving an update on progress you’ve made since the last meeting, you can use language like, “In this meeting, I was hoping to discuss three things: ____. I would really appreciate your feedback on ____. Before I recap the progress we’ve made so far, does that sound good to everyone? and is there anything else that folks would like to discuss?”

Step 2: Summarize

  • Very briefly, summarize the overall goal of the project, and what you’ve done until the previous meeting. Although presumably your collaborators know and remember the overall goal, research goals may naturally change during the course of the project, so it’s important to keep everyone on the same page.

Step 3: Provide Context

  • In more detail, summarize what you agreed you would work on in the last meeting, and why what you agreed on was necessary.

    Tip: use language like, “In our last meeting, we agreed that the best immediate next steps for the project are ____, since they will allow us to test our hypothesis that ____. This is what I’ve been investigating since our last meeting (Or, I went in a different direction, because ____).”

Step 4: Dive in

  • Once you’ve set the stage, dive into the update! If you are looking to share results in this meeting, be sure to give a high-level synthesis before delving into the details, and summarize the results again after presenting the details.
  • If you’re looking to brainstorm, solicit feedback on writing, discuss a paper, list the questions / topics you want to discuss.

Step 5: Next Steps

  • After you’ve given your update and solicited feedback from your collaborators, be sure to discuss next steps.
  • Lastly, before the meeting ends, summarize the next steps agreed on. This will help prevent miscommunication.

    Tip: use language like, “Based on your feedback, it sounds like the next priority items on my agenda are ____. Does that sound good to everyone?”.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do if your collaborators give you too many suggestions (e.g. too many to finish by your next meeting)? You can ask your collaborators which of their suggestions to prioritize in case you won’t get to all of them by the next meeting. This will help ensure your collaborators are happy with how you’re spending your time.

What do you do if your collaborators ask you questions that feel vague, or provide you with vague feedback? You can try to summarize their question/comment (to the best of your ability) and then ask them, “is this what you meant”? In this way, you give your collaborators the most information about where they lost you.

What do you do if you’re no longer sure what your project is about? It’s totally normal for your problem statement to change over the course of time, and it’s natural to be confused about what it is (and how your day-to-day work relates to it). If you find yourself in this situation, feel free to ask! You may ask questions like, “can we recap the general narrative of the project?”

When should I give written updates vs. verbal updates? We recommend writing one when you or your collaborators would find it useful. This will often happen once you’ve done enough work to necessitate a summary in order to see the bigger picture.

What do you do if you finish your meeting ahead of time? You can let your collaborators know you have nothing more to discuss, check with them if they have anything they wanted to talk about, and if not, simply end the meeting early! Your collaborators will appreciate efficiently run meetings. Alternatively, you can also take the opportunity to ask your collaborators questions that are a bit outside the scope of the project, or if appropriate in your context, you may choose to ask them for career/professional advice.