Behind the scenes: the world in which PhD candidates live

Prof. Lou de Leij and dr. Marjan Koopmans initiated the PhD discourse on the Dutch science news- and blog-site scienceguide.nl. In their contribution Dr. Ingeborg Meijer and dr. Inge van der Weijden ask about the world in which PhD candidates are working and living. I think this is a very good question to ask. I am glad to take their line of thinking a few steps further in this reflection.

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Transitioning into a career after your Humanities PhD – Or how to create an Alt-Ac Philosophical Company

“What are you going to do with your degree in philosophy?” Every philosophy student sooner or later hears this cliché question. And it is not unfamiliar in other fields from Humanities and fundamental sciences. The stakes are even higher after a PhD in said disciplines. Your slim chances at work appear narrowed down to the academic job market. But statistics are compelling: more than 75% of recent PhD holders do not find academic employment. Go figure.

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12 ways to look at your PhD

You might say that, basically, a PhD is a novel, in depth study of a specific field where the results are written up as a report or book in a series of chapters outlining the literature base, methodology, results and conclusions drawn from your work. You will have one primary supervisor and often a secondary one who will guide you through the process. In reality much of work in a PhD is independent and differs markedly from MSc and BSc teaching degrees.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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How to escape perfectionism as an excellent researcher

If you want an academic career, you have to excel at so many levels. First and foremost you must show an excellent publication record, with many articles preferably in A status journals. Then there is teaching and supervising students: requires high quality lectures, committed availability, personal feedback, but hardly the time to prepare and deliver. Not to mention being the nice, helpful colleague (or partner, or parent). If you are not up to par with these standards, you fail. At least that is how many early career researchers think.

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