Committee meetings are a common occurrence for graduate students and a great opportunity to share your data, gather feedback, work on your presentation skills, and communicate with your colleagues. Preparing for these meetings can take a lot of time and effort, not only to prepare your presentation but also to coordinate the ever-busy schedules of multiple faculty members. On top of this burden, there is an unwritten rule that the student will bring coffee and snacks to their meeting, thereby adding unneeded stress on the student.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the scientific community about the assumption that graduate students will bring food to committee meetings. I’ve seen a lot of articles from the professor’s point of view, stating that it is an unnecessary burden on the students that shouldn’t be expected. However, as a graduate student, I wanted to weigh in on this issue.
First, I personally do not mind bringing coffee and snacks to my committee meetings. It gives me a break in the day where I can indulge in these graduate student staples, and my committee members appreciate it. However, I will admit that taking the time in the morning to buy a jug of coffee and snacks from the local grocery store can be hard to coordinate with my hectic schedule. On top of that, graduate students are generally paid small stipends. It can be difficult to budget for expenditures such as these, no matter how little they may seem. Faculty members, who are paid exceedingly more than students, can sometimes forget how hard it can be to manage money when you have a smaller paycheck.
Even though some of us may enjoy bringing food for our committees, it shouldn’t be expected or required of students. My graduate program doesn’t explicitly state this as a requirement of students, but that doesn’t stop my fellow students from feeling obligated to bring food. Even if a graduate program is upfront with their students and specifically tells them it is not a requirement, there still can be ambiguity. For example, when new students approach older graduate students to ask them what to expect and how to prepare for their committee meetings, the older students may mention that they bring snacks to the meetings, prompting the new students to continue the trend. To make it more clear that this is not a requirement, graduate programs should tell students that they don’t need to bring any food to committee meetings or ban the practice altogether. Some schools, such as Vanderbilt, have already taken the initiative to ban this practice.
One great solution is for a faculty member to step up to provide food for their student’s meeting. Some faculty advisors even offer to refund their students for the food, providing a good example for other faculty members to follow. The department itself could also provide funds for committee meetings. However, this solution may only work if the faculty and school are well-funded. Most programs have associations that provide students with support and promote their well-being. Our graduate student association raises funds to hold events and seminars and sometimes uses these self-generated funds to provide food at meetings. These associations could fundraise to provide money for students to bring food to their committee meetings.
Another option that is less costly and could facilitate student bonding is to have groups get together to make snacks for the meetings. Not only does this bring down the cost, but it provides a stress-relieving opportunity for students to connect with one another. The graduate student association could help plan such an event, but sometimes it can be hard to coordinate multiple students’ schedules. It could also be a fun activity to do by yourself! Plus, the leftovers could be kept for your own meals throughout the week.
I encourage not only students, but faculty, departments, program coordinators, and colleges to look into this issue at your own school. If no one has mentioned it, bring it up at a faculty meeting, to your committee members, your faculty advisor, or all of the students in your lab at the next lab meeting. You should explore many options, as one solution may not work for everyone. Forcing students to pay for snacks for their committee, whether through assumption or obligation, can be an unfair burden on financially limited graduate students. It is the entire academic community’s responsibility to make sure the culture we are fostering is welcoming and supportive, and by removing one less hurdle for students, we can begin to make that community stronger.
About the Author:
Caitlyn Blake-Hedges is a PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences Department at Florida State University. She works in the lab of Dr. Timothy Megraw, investigating the function of the centrosome in development and disease using Drosophila as a model. In her free time she enjoys yoga, running, Netflix, and watching college football (Go Clemson!). Email: email@example.com