Thesis Advisory Committees & TAC Meetings

Thesis Advisory Committees & TAC Meetings

April 14, 2023

Regular meetings with a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) are a staple of good PhD supervision. The MPIMG and IMPRS-BAC are committed to ensuring that each doctoral student, irresprective of being part of the IMPRS or not, is supervised by a TAC. 

The following information is for IMPRS-BAC and MPIMG doctoral students. Please follow these guidelines when forming your thesis advisory committee (TAC), conducting annual TAC meetings, writing your progress reports and TAC meeting protocols.


General information

  • Having a TAC is mandatory for all doctoral students at the MPIMG and all IMPRS-BAC doctoral students.
  • The Guidelines on the training of doctoral students at the Max Planck Society recommend holding “documented meetings [...] at least once a year, with doctoral students being given the opportunity to talk to other TAC members without the involvement of their main supervisor.”
  • The doctoral student is responsible for planning each TAC meeting in time and for sending the TAC meeting report to the PhD coordinator. 
  • The TAC approves the PhD project, monitors progress, and advises on further development of the project.
  • A TAC meeting is considered officially valid only after the signed TAC meeting protocol has been sent to the PhD coordinator. 
  • Exceptions to any of the below-mentioned regulations must be discussed with the PhD coordinator.


What are the benefits of having a TAC?

  • You receive scientific guidance from people with a range of perspectives and expertise.
  • You strengthen your (local) scientific network.
  • You have somebody to contact if you are experiencing problems in your student-supervisor relationship.
  • If you are an IMPRS student, you need to have an active TAC to access your travel budget and get a graduation certificate from the IMPRS.


How to form your TAC?

1)  Searching for TAC members

  • Your TAC should consist of your direct supervisor plus at least two other scientists. They may be group leaders, professors or postdocs and should ideally be based in Berlin to avoid extra journeys. They do not need to be affiliated with the MPIMG.
  • None of your TAC members should be directly hierarchically dependent on another TAC member.
  • Discuss with your supervisor who would be suitable additional TAC members after 3-4 months of your PhD. You can also contact the PhD coordinator for advice and check the list of the IMPRS-BAC faculty
  • Approach your prospective TAC members with a project outline and explain what their responsibilities will be (see below “What are the responsibilities of your TAC members?”).
  • Notify the PhD coordinator of the composition of your TAC.
  • Note that your TAC members are not necessarily those who will evaluate your PhD thesis and your PhD thesis defense.

2)  TAC agreement

In order for a TAC to be considered official, all committee members must sign the TAC agreement. This should be completed within the first 6 months of doctoral studies. Both physical and digital signatures are accepted. You should have received it from the PhD coordinator at the beginning of your PhD. If not, please contact the PhD coordinator.


What are the responsibilities of your TAC members?

  • The main function of the TAC is to share with the main supervisor the responsabilities of supervising and providing guidance and support to doctoral students throughout their PhD.
  • The TAC should evaluate whether and to what extent the scientific approach, the scope of the proposal, and the research topic are sufficient and suitable for a doctoral thesis project. The TAC can and is encouraged to recommend changes to a doctoral student's proposal if necessary.
  • During the first TAC meeting, the TAC members should assess the scope and the feasibility of the proposed PhD project within the proposed time frame, evaluate the risks of the project and encourage the doctoral student to think about possible exit strategies that could be used if the project does not develop as expected.
  • In the subsequent meetings, the TAC should monitor the progress made by the doctoral student since the last meeting and ensure that the doctoral student stays focused on the main aspects of the research project. They should also suggest futher developments of the project and help the doctoral student solving current issues.
  • The TAC should ensure that the doctoral student will be able to submit his/her PhD thesis in due time. For this, the TAC can recommend a timeline for accomplishing the different steps of the project that are required to submit the PhD thesis on time. 
  • TAC members should give advice about career planning and professional development. This discussion should at least take place in the second and third TAC meetings. 
  • Importantly, TAC members should mediate discussions between doctoral students and supervisors. In particular, in case of conflict, the doctoral student is encouraged to contact TAC members for advice. 


Timeline for TAC meetings

  • All doctoral students must meet together with their entire TAC at least once a year until the submission of the doctoral thesis
  • The first meeting should take place after six months ± 1month at the latest. A 6-month deadline is important, as it leaves you enough time to get settled in the research group while ensuring a good start with your PhD project.The goal is to get a first evaluation of the topic, your experimental approach and your progress. You can get advice on individualised training if your TAC considers it necessary.
  • Subsequent TAC meetings should take place after each passing year ± 3 months until the submission of the doctoral thesis. During the second meeting, the TAC will evaluate your progress with regard to the potential for publication. You can get advice on individualised training if your TAC considers it necessary and you should discuss your career plans. During the third, possibly fourth meeting, the TAC will evaluate your progress with regard to the completion of your project and the submission of your thesis. At this meeting, a timeline for the remaining experiments needs to be agreed upon between you, your supervisor and the other TAC members. You should also discuss your career plans. During the final meeting, you should discuss the preparation and submission of your PhD thesis. For this, you should prepare an outline of the PhD thesis and circulates it to the TAC before the meeting, instead of the usual written progress report.
  • On request of the doctoral student, one of the TAC members or the IMPRS spokesperson, the TAC can also meet more frequently.
  • Bear in mind it can take several months to find an appointment with your TAC members. Please plan your meetings well in advance. 
  • It is the doctoral student's responsibility to organise the TAC meetings on time. 


What to do before your TAC meeting?

  • Schedule your TAC meeting (plan about 90 minutes) and book a room for the meeting. You can contact to book a room at the MPIMG. 
  • Attending TAC meetings by video call is also possible.
  • Prepare your TAC meeting carefully and think about the questions and issues you would like to discuss.
  • About one week before your TAC meeting, send a written progress report (2-3 pages) to your TAC members. The purpose of this report is to update your TAC on your progress and to allow you to practise scientific writing. 
    • For your first TAC meeting, your report should describe what scientific problem or question you plan to address and why this is relevant. You should explain how the problem/question will be studied and reflect on difficulties that may arise. For this, your report should contain an abstract, an introduction and the state of the art, the proposed methodology, preliminary results if you already have some, your plans for the next 12 months, the outlook and perspective of your project, the expected timeline and references. 
    • The format of your subsequent progress reports should include:
      1. An abstract that summarizes your report
      2. An introduction that provides the background and context of the project as not all TAC members may be experts in the field. Mention your goals, objectives and the questions you hope to address during your TAC meeting. 
      3. A material and method section where you briefly describe the approaches used to answer these questions
      4. A result section giving a summary of your work to date with a focus on work done since last TAC meeting
      5. A discussion where you interpret your findings and discuss their implications and limitations
      6. An outlook section where you describe your plans for the next 12 months and define achievable milestones
      7. Your expected timeline
      8. A reference list  
  • Ask one TAC member who is not your direct supervisor to chair the TAC meeting.
  • Fill out the part A of the TAC meeting protocol
  • A note on guests: If it is relevant to your research project to have guest scientists attend your TAC meeting, please clear this with the TAC in advance of the meeting.


What to do during your TAC meeting?

  • Give a presentation of the work done to date with a focus on the work done since the last TAC meeting. It is recommended to plan a presentation lasting about 25 minutes to leave enough time for discussion. In case your TAC members are up to date with your progress, you can discuss a very specific research question.
  • Discuss your progress and future steps with your TAC members.
  • Ask for career advice. This discussion should take place during the second and third meeting. You can of course already address it during your first TAC meeting. 
  • Fill out part B of the TAC meeting protocol
  • The chair asks you to leave the room so that the TAC members can discuss your progress in private.
  • The chair asks your supervisor to leave the room so that you and the other TAC members can discuss any issues you might have.


What to do after your TAC meeting?

  • Finalize your TAC meeting protocol as soon as possible after the meeting to summarize the discussion, the suggestions made and the steps required to complete your doctoral thesis.
  • Send the protocol to all TAC members for review. They can request changes and rewriting. In this case, you should edit the report accordingly and resubmit it to all TAC members. If no modifications are asked, the TAC meeting report is considered as approved.
  • The document is final only after all TAC members have approved and signed it to confirm that the TAC meeting took place. Both physical and digital signatures are accepted. 
  • Send your report to the PhD coordinator per email or using the form below in a timely manner. 
  • The TAC meeting protocol serves as a reference for you and your TAC to track the progress made from one meeting to the next.
  • The chair is asked to contact the PhD coordinator in case of problems with the progress of the PhD or the doctoral student-supervisor relationship.


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