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Note taking during advisor meetings

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As I look back at my research meeting notes from undergrad, I always found taking notes during meetings to be an annoyance and just typically distract me from keeping active in the conversation.

What might be the best strategy to keep track of new ideas suggested for exploring further after the meeting that doesn't involve writing a page of notes? Recording the conversation seems more cumbersome having to filter through 30-60 minutes of audio. Is there a particular note taking strategy or practice that works for more experienced graduate students?

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As a grad student, I almost always showed up to my advisor meetings with a notebook open and a pen. Ahead of each meeting, I make notes (like 2 or 3 words) for each item I wanted to bring up. I quickly jot down their responses after each one. To help ensure I keep my notes short, I write each item on one line only, so I am fairly limited in what I am able to write, which allows me to spend most of my time in conversation instead of looking at my notebook.

Most of my items are seeking approval/clarification that can be easily written in one line, or I just jot down a few words for me to write out a fuller explanation for myself later. 

I leave the rest of the notebook page blank in case something more complicated comes up that requires more notes. Sometimes my advisor and I derive something together and that takes space. Or I just use this space later to summarize the meeting after I return to my desk.

Each advisor's style is different so you'll have to find what works best for you and them. For me, I took the lead in most of the one-on-one meetings, although my advisor would also ask for updates or questions on specific things if I forgot to include it in my list. 

In addition, I felt it was normal and expected to be taking notes during the meetings, especially when we were starting a new project and especially when I was a new student. These meetings are basically laying out the instructions for my work in the coming weeks so it makes sense to have a good grasp on them. So, in the beginning, when my advisor led the meetings more, they always paused and waited for me to finish writing notes. Later, when I led the meetings, I might ask to pause the conversation for 30 seconds to ensure I get a citation written down correctly for later review (or to check spelling etc.). Overall, it felt pretty natural to me, to have a discussion on a topic, take a pause to jot down some notes, and then when I look back up, we continue the conversation. (as I wrote above, pauses were short since I only jotted down key words). If we ended up working out something on the board, I can just snap a photo later.

So far, I apply the same strategy when advising undergrads working with me and it seems to work too. I think my advisor appreciated the fact that I had notes prepared ahead of the meeting and that I took notes on what we said to ensure I did it right and to avoid asking the same thing over and over. I know I definitely think it's a good thing when my students show up with notes / notebooks and I am glad when they take notes during our meetings. Again though, so much of this is dependent on your personalities and the type of advising relationship you have.

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Thanks for the great insight TakeruK! I was looking for a strategy to limit my note-writing, and your method of leaving each point to 1 line sounds like the perfect way to compromise excessive notes and would force me to more concisely describe and remember ideas. I've definitely seen that progression from advisor to student leading meetings during my current research project and feel that my advisor appreciates that preparation. I feel the need to have something prepared for a meeting or else I would just be a disorganized mess trying to conduct the meeting, but I'll be sure to be clear about note-taking and taking pauses as needed, which I'm sure my new advisor won't mind.

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I tried the notebook and pen and didn't work for me. I'm a faster typer. My advisor knows that I feel more comfortable with this and allows it. Only one or twice I asked for permission to record the meeting because we were going to talk over two chapters. I turned it off when we moved to something else. 

Also, as you transition different stages of your program, you will realize that you have increasingly more power to steer the conversations. Although my advisors are very tidy in the way they give advise (they start saying "I have three comments 1, 2, and 3, and they they go into them), I also reiterate a lot of what they say so that I chew on that and can ask back immediately. This, of course, depends on how you work with your advisor. 

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