How to trigger researchers with blinkers into action

“How can I increase the mobility of ‘my’ employed researchers? How do I get them to act proactively? What would you advise”, Yvette asks when I tell her that I help early career researchers with questions about life and career. We are standing in line after the inaugural lecture of Judith Semeijn, Noloc professor of strategic human resource management.  Read more

How to know when it is time to quit your PhD

Since last summer the situation in Claudio’s lab deteriorated rapidly. His supervisor became stressed and anxious when his case for tenure was denied. The pressure on the entire team is now enormous, even to academic standards. Every Sunday Claudio feels this pit in his stomach when he thinks about the weekly team meeting on Monday. His sleep and digestive system are in total disorder. Read more

Where you do not need your supervisor’s approval for a successful PhD

Enrica struggles to complete her PhD. She started her project 4,5 years ago: she designed it herself, loved it, and was overjoyed when she received a grant that allowed her to study the topic she loved. Now, the project has become heavy. Often she just wants to chuck her computer out the window. She has tears in her eyes when she tells this, but she is also determined to finish.

Read more

What Plato can teach you about perfectionism and academic career planning

“I don’t know if I want to be a group leader. If I do this, I want to be a good PI, you know. I just am a perfectionist.” At a brisk pace, Rose walks next to me through the spring forest. A few months ago, she got her PhD in the life sciences, cum laude, and started a prestigious postdoc shortly after. All signs point to a successful career as an excellent research leader. But she hesitates, looking around doubtfully.

Read more

One particularly nasty myth about the successful PhD

Tired, Lotte looks down at her notes and then up again to the full version at her computer screen. For the past four days she has been completely submerged in writing this chapter. Her hair is a mess, she slept little and she has not been outside for two days. She has always worked this way, but as she approaches the end of her PhD, the pressure to deliver and perform rises.

Read more

When science is just not completely rational

Doing research means to break new ground. Try new things, experiment and fail 99 times before at the 100th iteration something exciting happens. Endlessly reading complex literature on a topic, studies of a method, only to conclude that no-one actually knows the exact answer to your question. So you carry on, pioneering. “To boldly go…” and all that.

Read more

How academic excellence resembles a singing horse

Review of a socratic dialogue about excellence

What is excellence? How do we detect it? Can we strive for it? Should we strive for it? “The Singing Horse” (“Het Zingende Paard”) is the report of a socratic dialogue on the notion of excellence between Jeroen Geurts, professor of neuroscience and member of the Dutch Young Academy, and Harm van der Gaag, philosophical counselor. The notion of excellence holds the key to many doors in academia, but is not as self-evident as it is often made to seem…
Read more

Why the course coordinator sighs with relief

Flushed, Annette turnes away from her computer. She just checked the enrollments for the new courses of the graduate school. So many new PhD candidates, and they come from everywhere across the globe! The graduate school has been successful from its start and keeps growing. Just last month Annette agreed with the dean to focus their attention this year on guarding the quality and progress of current PhD projects, rather than aiming to increase the international visibility of the graduate school and attract even more potential PhDs. She has created a well balanced and attractive set of courses for all PhDs of the graduate school, but she now seems to become a victim of her own success.
Read more

How to make hard choices?

To academe or not to academe?

For many early career researchers this is the hardest choice they faced so far. And it is a big, momentous choice. Especially if you are intrinsically motivated for your topic of expertise and if your research matters to you.

Other hard choices in this stage of building a research career turn on your choice for a place and way to live. What city to settle in? Whether or not to uproot your life to work abroad? Have children now or wait for a more permanent job? These questions seem excellent occasions for agonizing, hand-wringing, brooding, sleepless nights etc.

However, thinking deeper about what makes some choices hard, you can better understand the role they play in our lives and uncover a hidden power each of us possesses to solve them.

Read more

What is a PhD anyway?

Starting on a PhD project, every PhD student will have some ideas about what a PhD entails, but most never get to explicitly investigate how they actually conceptualize it. Do you consider your PhD a process, or a product? Is it your life’s work, a stepping stone, an academic ritual…? Your answer to the question ‘What is a PhD anyway?‘ has a far-reaching influence on your definition of success, on your motivation and self-confidence, on how you engage with your research project, not to mention how it influences the way you position yourself with respect to others both during and after your PhD.

Read more