Most universities regularly gauge how satisfied their PhD students are about their PhD track. One institute does so by means of a questionnaire, the other with exit discussions. Sometimes only with those who are listed as ‘employee’, and not with external PhD candidates.
It is good that institutes keep tabs on things, but because each one does so in their own way, there is little to compare on a national level. Also, best practices remain under the radar. That is why a pilot has been set up by the University of Groningen in which eight universities put the same 36 questions to their PhD candidates.
Maastricht is also participating. UM PhD students received the survey at the beginning of June. It is about well-being, supervision, labour conditions, teaching duties, but also about doing research in times of COVID-19.
The results will not be published in full. “But I do hope that that will happen in the future,” says initiator and project leader Esther Bouma, who works for the University of Groningen. “At the moment, some institutes are still hesitant because they may end up looking bad.”
That is why it was decided to make two reports. The one is public and describes the national state of affairs. “In that report, we will include all anonymous data from the institutes and split them into research fields, age, and types of PhD students. Is it an employee, grant student, externally financed, or an external PhD candidate? The other – private – report will zoom in on the situation at each institute and compare that to others.”
In January 2022, the eight universities will get together to discuss the results. “That way, you can get discussions about the noticeable satisfaction of PhD students at institute A about their supervision, for example. How is it done? What does institute A do to achieve that? By the way, institute A is not supposed to use those results for marketing purposes.”
If the trial is successful, the PhD student survey – supported by VSNU and the Promovendi Netwerk Nederland (PNN) – will be distributed every other year. “We hope that in 2023 – for the first time – all fourteen universities will take part,” says Bouma. “Not all institutes have definitely agreed to participate, but they do see the importance of a national comparison and cherish the intention of participating.”
The first national findings will be published in spring of 2022, most likely on the VSNU’s website.