Career Network for student Scientists and Postdocs at Yale

Creating a platform for discussion of scientific careers

Make Every Meeting Count

We’ve all attended boring, seemingly useless meetings before and, yes, many meetings are a colossal waste of time, but some bosses feel more productive when they schedule meetings. Even if the meeting is circular and truly doesn’t accomplish anything, some managers still swear by them.

This can be incredibly frustrating at any stage in your career. Whether you are just starting out and have to attend a number of meetings to “learn the ropes” and “get your feet wet” or if you’re more advanced in your career in a more senior role and have to attend a number of meetings with subordinates to oversee their progress. Even as a graduate student, some meetings you have to attend can be a waste of time.

In all of these situations, we’re left feeling drained and stressed because the meetings can be mentally exhausting AND they keep you from getting your other work done during the day. Often, we feel that we’d be MORE productive if we just skipped the meeting and focused on the day’s tasks.

However, meetings should be viewed as a chance to advance your career.

Meetings are a great place to present fresh new ideas, respectfully question a broken system, suggest ways to improve efficiency or save money, volunteer for tasks and projects that give you the opportunity to showcase your talents to your higher-ups, get involved in new initiatives, and actively demonstrate that you’re a team player.

Particularly if you are new to an organization or are a lower-ranking employee in a large group of coworkers, actively participating in meetings that the boss attends is the quickest way to get noticed.

So don’t approach meetings with a “just get through it” attitude. Instead, find ways to perk up a stale or boring meeting that accomplishes nothing. This will go a long way with your bosses and higher-ups, which facilitates a chance for you to move up in the company or the ranks, and if you’re still in graduate school or your postdoctoral fellowship, active participation in meetings can improve your boss/PI’s opinion of you. This also goes a long way when other PI’s are present at these meetings, too.

Bottom line: If there are people at your meetings that you rarely get to interact with one-on-one, use these meetings to showcase your strengths and intellect to these individuals because you never know when they might be able to put in a good word for you (or write you a recommendation letter in academia), and if they ever have the opportunity to recommend someone for a promotion or an award, you definitely want to be the first person who pops into their minds.

So, how do you become more involved in meetings, especially boring meetings? You have to chime in and speak up. Figuring out what to say and when to say it can be tricky, and this can take some practice. So, to start participating more, begin by trying to speak up once or twice in a meeting – just say anything! Once you get comfortable speaking at all, then try to strategize your thoughts and inputs to accomplish a certain goal within a meeting.

As you become more comfortable participating in meetings, work to become a major influencer at a meeting, not merely a participant. After each meeting, assess your performance and identify areas in which you could improve. Start by asking yourself these 10 questions:


1) Was my attitude energizing or deflating?

2) Was my body language positive or negative? (See our previous blog post that discusses how body language can get you noticed in a meeting.)

3) Did I ask great questions?

4) Did I generate new ideas?

5) Did I use data to back up my points?

6) Did I encourage or engage others with my suggestions?

7) Did I listen to other people’s thoughts effectively and build on them?

8) Did I successfully influence the group to come to a key decision?

9) Did I successfully help the group identify action items necessary to move forward?

10) Did I truly contribute in a positive way and leave everyone in the meeting feeling good about my participation and my attitude?


These questions will help you identify specific ways in which you can become a more active meeting attendee and shift your status from mere participant to influencer. As an influencer, you will be more highly regarded and respected within your place of work, which can certainly work in your favor when it comes time for promotions and/or awards or recommendations for other opportunities.

So don’t be a passive attendee at a meeting who simply occupies a seat in the room. If you were invited to the meeting (or told to attend), be an active part of the meeting. Don’t let it be a time-waster. Use the time efficiently and use it to your advantage. Recognize that sometimes it’s the simplest of things – like speaking up in a meeting – that can make the biggest difference in your career.


** Start participating and speaking up in meetings and share your success stories with us! **

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  1. Great points, Vickie! Not only will being an active participant make a good impression and help advance our career, it will also help us get more out of what’s going on at the moment. Two suggestions I’ve come across to encourage precise and to-the-point meetings are 1) everyone stands, or 2) everyone drinks a large glass of water at the start. Both of these stand to cut down idle chit-chat and going off course. These are not the most practical for any of the hours-long lab meetings I’ve been to, so I have yet to actually try them, but I’ve always remembered these clever tricks. Maybe someday I’ll use them!

    • Victoria Schulman

      January 20, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      I had never thought of doing those types of things to stop and refocus everyone. Those are good ideas, but I also agree that those may be difficult to enforce in long lab meetings and presentation-style meetings. However, for any other type of discussion meeting, those would be good tactics to use! Great thoughts, Dianna!

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