The Ins and Outs of Project Meetings


By James Taylor

Research is something that I love doing, but as I climb the academic ladder, I seem to find myself increasingly involved in more and more meetings rather than actively pursuing research. I’m sure our Project Leader, Dr Terry Bates, can relate to this.

Of these meetings however, I find research meetings incredibly rewarding. On big projects, it is often easy to get tunnel vision on your part of the project, so these meetings are a great opportunity to ‘paint’ the bigger picture. For the SCRI project this is especially important with the research team working in 3 different time-zones on 2 continents in 3 different industries. We are all working on components to make Crop Load Management and Crop Estimation more effective in US vineyards, but the outcome should be greater than just the sum of these components. It is at research project meetings that the pathway to this outcome is really made.

For the Efficient Vineyard project there are two large in-person project meetings each year. Post-season (typically November) we meet to report on outcomes from the previous season’s work, especially field work, and importantly to share data, information and experiences. Pre-season (March), another meeting is held to plan the activities for the up-coming season.

This year our pre-season planning meeting was held in Pittsburgh and hosted by our colleagues at Carnegie Mellon. I love visiting Pittsburgh, the city has a great feel to me especially with all the universities situated downtown. The meeting was also really efficient. Since this is a planning meeting, there is not a lot of work package reporting and the focus is on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the project. For those not aware of how these work, there are a few pleasantries and reporting aspects, but the majority of the time is spent in break-out groups with members from different work packages planning together the logistics for the up-coming year. Of course, there is a skeleton plan to start with and the real work is putting meat onto the bones to ensure that activities are practical, properly supported, and meet the project and the industry needs. At the end of the meeting an overall project plan is drafted for discussion with the Industry Advisory committee.

Meetings in November and March always bring some potential challenges with travel, especially when travelling in Pennyslvania and New York State. Luckily this year there were no major problems (unlike 2017 which was cancelled by winter storms), although it was a slippery drive for us through a blizzard down from western NY (nothing for the locals but a bit more nervy for someone more use to sand than snow). Everyone arrived and departed safely.

Apart from project work, these meetings are also a great opportunity for personal interactions and connections. Many of the Carnegie Mellon staff I had not met before so it was great to have time both professionally and personally with them, and to have a lovely meal out in Pittsburgh with everyone. I can certainly say that I felt energised after the meeting and I’m looking forward to a good season of work and to our next research meeting as well.

(PS. A big thank you to the Carnegie Mellon group for their hospitality)