What's a PhD committee and why you shouldn't be afraid of it

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Last Friday I had my last (gasp!) PhD committee. It was a stressful yet happy moment...well, at least when it was over.

First, let's clarify what a PhD committee means, at least for me. It will vary a bit according to each program, but in my case, you are supposed to have (ideally) a committee each year, where your PI and 2 other PI will hear out your project, whatever results you've had to date and off course the perspectives. You might have some questions but the main objective here is to orient your project, to give new ideas and to assess whether or not you have enough data to write an article/graduate and if not, what is missing.

Because of my personality, I overstress about this type of meetings easily. But in this case I was particularly nervous since I will start my last year of PhD in a month and if they were to tell me that what I had was nowhere close to what I needed...well, I'll be honest with you, I would've probably cry.

Luckily for me, it went well...it went better than well actually. I know have a very concise plan that, as you may imagine, makes me very happy, I have clear objectives and I have an idea of the things I'm missing and it's not THAT much. It still means a LOT of work, but work with a purpose.

But I also know I am not the only one that fears this type of meetings. In a way, you are being criticized which is never fun, and as I mentioned there is always the chance of they considering your project is not going anywhere, and maybe it's better to re target your energy somewhere else. What you might not see at first is that maybe that's actually a good thing.

We all start our PhD with a broad idea of what we want to do. Objectives change all through the degree, because of several reasons (the experiment won't work, someone published in between, you pick), but sometimes both the student and the PI won't see that this might be a lost cause, and that's why the committee can be so useful. Even when your project is going well, having an extra pair of eyes to it, ideally unbiased eyes can bring so much to round up the story you were first trying to tell.

This was the case for me last Friday. There were several things I knew I had to do, but some of the ideas we discussed will push up this idea so much further. And that for me is exciting!. All the sleep I missed preparing for the committee, all the nervous ticks I had to control while actually making my presentation, it was all worth it at the end. So if you are dreading your committee, don't. Take advantage of it, bring your ideas (well supported off course) and discuss with your jury at length, gain as much from this experience as you can.

I am interested though to know how your committees are. Do you have one or not at all? Do you find them useful? Let me know!

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