Meetings rank pretty high on my list of the things I hate. I don't mean conferences or professional gatherings or panel reviews, but rather meetings where I am captive in a room due to a professional obligation for what feels like an eternity, with little intellectual stimulation. I never met a meeting I didn't want to cancel. I am always, always, overjoyed if any sort of meeting is cancelled, and I feel like I have received a tiny precious gift of extra time.
In my advisor's group, we had these long weekly meetings with all group members, where we would go around the table and everyone would tell what they had been up to. It went on for hours, and then I'd talk for 2 min and that was it. It was one of my first experiences being a member of a captive audience and I resented it for the most part. Most often, the updates shared were brief and disconnected and of little meaning to anyone but the advisor and the person giving the update. But occasionally, someone would have a breakthrough or was presenting someone else's breakthrough or was giving a practice talk to go to a conference, and then it would really be fun and stimulating and I was grateful we had these meetings. I started suspecting it was not me missing a "meeting gene", but rather the suboptimal organization of meetings that was causing me grief.
With becoming faculty came faculty meetings. And committee meetings. I used to think that no one in their right mind could enjoy faculty and committee meetings, but was I wrong! There is a subspecies of Narcissistic Loudmouths who enjoy listening to their own voice much rather than going home to dinner; my theory is that their spouses are also fed up with the round-the-clock patronizing monologues, so Narcissistic Loudmouths are encouraged to stay at work for as long as they wish.
Faculty governance is a wonderful concept, in that everyone can in principle be heard and decisions are made after thoughtful discussion among peers. In reality, it doesn't work like that: the Loudmouths take over and no one can get a word in edgewise. There are some very smart and thoughtful but quiet people in my department whom I would actually like to hear from, but who either avoid coming to meetings or, when they do, they don't participate. The louder and more obnoxious you are, apparently the more attention you get. Faculty meetings imitate life.
When I became faculty, I also started building my own group, and, as I was taught during my training, we started having group meetings. While I was engaged the entire time, I found that most students were, just like me before them, looking painfully bored throughout the meeting, and I couldn't go into sufficient technical detail when needed with anyone, not with everyone just sitting there dying of boredom. So within a year or so I stopped having the group meetings, and switched entirely to weekly 1-on-1 meetings. Overall, that's much more time spent on my side, but all the time is very effective as I can engage with a particular group member as much as he/she needs. And I still get the little burst of joy when the 1-on-1 meeting is over quickly or if the student cancels.
After the first couple of years on tenure track, I tried instilling group meetings on top of the 1-on-1 ones, with frequency depending on the current group size and teaching and travel schedule. However, if the meeting is in the middle of the day or late in the day, I am always interrupting doing something else; if in the beginning of the day, the meetings destroy the early-morning thrust that I like to use to attack some intellectually nontrivial tasks. Overall, however frequently we'd have the regular group meetings, I realized I still dreaded them and they were still not an efficient use of anyone’s time.
So what I settled on now, and I think it's a sustainable model for me and my group, are 1-on-1 weekly meetings (from about 20 min in duration for new students to 1 or 1.5 hours for senior students and postdocs, duration flexible), with larger group meetings organized as needed. We don't meet as a group unless there is something of interest to all: breakthroughs, interesting work by others, people presenting at conferences. Just like when I was a grad student, these types of meetings – where the meeting is content driven, rather than the meeting being a must regardless of content -- are much more engaging for everyone, and I think we have them on average once a month. Over the summer we meet more often as a group, since (a) everyone has more time and (b) it's an important integrative experience for the interns and undergrads who augment our group over the summer. No one seems to mind. Maybe because during the summer often there's also pizza.
I have colleagues who swear by group meetings and actually have them several times a week. I have a couple of collaborations that require weekly meetings and they are OK (if I don’t forget my laptop). I am in a hard STEM field, and for my specialty my group size (~10 people, of which 1 postdoc) is on the large side. My understanding is that, in certain fields such as, e.g., biomedical sciences, groups of 30+ with many staff and postdocs are common, but I may be mistaken. Such groups do exist in my broader field (not in my specialty) but are very rare (which has to do with primary sources of funding, but that's a topic for another post). There is probably a critical group size where it becomes impossible to have weekly 1-on-1 meetings with everyone; rather, a more feasible model is likely a large group meeting and then individual ones as needed. I suppose in groups with many staff and postdocs, a majority of issues can be resolved without the PI.
So how does your group operate in terms of meetings? Mostly 1-on-1, mostly group meetings, or a combination?
How large is your group? What's your field?
What do you feel the pros and cons are of how meetings are handled in your group?
If you are a student or postdoc, do you have as much time as you need with the PI? What about the attention you get from postdocs or staff members?
Alternatively, cast your vote in the poll below.