Saturday, December 4, 2010

There's a grad student in my office and she won't leave

I had all sorts of hopes and plans for yesterday.  I did some good writing in the morning at home. Then went to my office to cross more things off my to-do list--stuff like writing letters of recommendation and some service work. 

Mid-day, I had a meeting with a grad student.   I am interested in the work she wants to do, so I enjoy talking to her about that.  But also she engages me in discussions about departmental dynamics, her fears of certain profs, etc.  So many issues!  She came in at 1pm, and when she left I almost cried when I looked at the clock: 3:41. 

That meeting ate up over 2 1/2 hours of my day.  The rest of the afternoon was a scramble to accomplish the basics. Still so much undone.  

Notice how I wrote "she engages me..."--as if I am helpless in the matter? This is a big problem.  It is hard for me to cut off the conversation and protect my time.  Once, with my old chair, she was in my office talking my head off from 3:30 to 7:15--nearly 4 hours. 

I am no shrinking violet--I have a spine and can definitely assert myself.  In these contexts, I am at first very aware of time.  But if I sense that they REALLY need to talk to me about whatever, I let the conversation go on.  Then I go into this "state of timelessness" in which I no longer think about time.  Once the conversation winds down, it is 2-3 hours later.

What am I going to do about it?  I better do something, as this grad student is doing an independent study with me next semester.  Ideas:
  1. Have admin asst call me after one hour, so I can pretend I have to go (problems: lame, plus the admin asst doesn't have time for that silliness).
  2. Set my iPod Touch alarm to go off after 45 minutes, then end conversation (problem: I did that yesterday. There was still so much to cover, I just turned it off; next thing you know, 2.5 hrs passed. Improved plan: set alarm to go off at 45 minutes, then again every 15 minutes).
  3. Set appointments at end of day, when I really really DO have to leave to pick up kids (problem: she prefers not to meet at 4pm on Friday, but really, that's her problem and she's going to have to bend).
  4. Be extremely clear that the meeting is only for 45 minutes (or whatever).  We can socialize sometimes in the early evening at a more leisurely pace.
  5. Meet with her more regularly for shorter intervals.  Lately, she has been setting up meetings every month, or less, and issues with her build to a critical mass over that time.
I don't really blame her. I need to be firmer.  Plus, as a grad student I wasn't so conscious of my professors' valuable time and how I might be wasting it.  I'm sure I took their time for granted.  In sum, I have to be more protective of my time--especially when I'm overwhelmed already.  Whose office can I visit to stress out about how grad students are stressing me out?  I guess that's what my blog is for. 

Any ideas out there? Help!


  1. Maybe when the first alarm goes off tell the person you need to wrap up the meeting and have a second one go off just 5 minutes later - even if you haven't covered everything. Use those last 5 minutes to schedule another meeting if there are still loose ends? And just be firm but polite about it. I feel like my advisor does the firm but polite bit pretty well and while I sometimes feel frustrated that we didn't get to everything, I don't blame her and it kind of helps me remember that she has a lot of pulls on her time. I know that she also schedules most of her meetings, and all student meetings, for the same day, some of them back to back. So, that helps usher people out when the next meeting has arrived.

  2. Good ideas. I especially like the scheduling of several students back-to-back. This student doesn't like my office hours, so that is one of the factors that allow long mtgs--no other student waiting outside the door. I will start insisting, if at all possible, on office hours or right before.

  3. Banshee's suggestions mirror mine. My advisor also schedules us back to back. These are not office hours, but special grad student afternoons he sets aside for us.

    When we try to make an appointment we are asked which "spot" we want (e.g. 9-10am; 2-3pm). Everyone is cognizant that others are waiting after an hour.

    Alternatively, asking for a list of questions from your graduate student may help as well. I always send my advisors a list of things I'd like to cover and they usually tell me which of my concerns are more important when I get to the meeting and we cover those (sometimes they send quick email answers to some of the "lesser" questions). I think I'm the only one who does that, but it helps me a lot to have them let me know which "freak outs" are valid and which are not a big deal.

  4. I'm bad at this too. I do try the meet more often for less time thing with my more problematic student, and I also start by saying something like 'I have another meeting in 45 minutes, so let's make sure we cover the important stuff first. What did you want to talk to me about today?' and I get a piece of scrap paper and I make some notes, and I ask if they want to talk more about their project or about some of the other stuff, and I try and listen really hard. Then I use that list to try and steer the conversation... and at the end of the 45 minutes I give it to the student to take away with them (I'm NOT keeping records), and have found over time that they'll come in and say something like "x resolved itself like this" or "I'm still really anxious about y, can we talk about that more today?" so that they start to use my time in a more constructive way. I want them to know that they HAVE my attention and support, but that my time is finite... Good luck!

  5. More good suggestions from ABDMama and JaneB. Making clear that the meeting is from, say, 1-1:45, and getting them to clarify their priorities. I will have to discipline myself in order to get this to work. But I really really need to do it. Thanks!