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Area Studies: Asia & the Near and Middle East


This section contains information on:

First supervisors
Second supervisors
Promotor and co-promotor
Mutual responsibilities and the supervision relationship

PhD candidates normally have two supervisors. If the project so requires, they can have three. Each supervisor must hold a doctorate. Minimally one must be a full professor or senior university lecturer (Universitair Hoofddocent or UHD) in LIAS. Ideally, both supervisors are based in LIAS. Alternatively, the first supervisor may request permission from the Academic Director to invite a second supervisor who is based, in order of preference:

  • in other units within Leiden University, or in local partner institutions (e.g. ASC or KITLV)
  • at another university or research institute in the Netherlands
  • at another university or research institute abroad.

First supervisors

The candidate’s first supervisor is someone whose specialist expertise is directly relevant to the subject matter of the research, and who is the candidate’s first port of call when preparing their application and during the project. The first supervisor may be a university lecturer (Universitair Docent), a senior university lecturer (Universitair Hoofddocent), or a full professor (Hoogleraar).

Before preparing their application, the candidate should identify the person they would like to have as their first supervisor from the staff lists in Asian studies, Middle-Eastern studies, and the study of religion, and contact them directly by sending a research proposal and CV.

The first supervisor may be, but need not be, the same person as the promotor (see below).

Second supervisors

While the second supervisor will have expertise that is generally relevant to the project, they need not be a specialist on its subject matter. Co‑supervision is also about enriching and balancing the conversation, and avoiding exclusive dependency in the supervision relationship. This is why both supervisors are preferably based in LIAS, with other units within Leiden University or local partner institutions as a good fallback option.

The prospective second supervisor is invited by the prospective first supervisor, in consultation with the candidate; and, if s/he is based outside LIAS, in consultation with the Academic Director.

First and second supervisors should consider their division of labor and coordinate their efforts according to their preferences and the project’s needs, and communicate this to the candidate.

Promotor and co-promotor

Under Dutch law, only full professors and senior university lecturers have the right to act as promotor (Latin; plural promotores), that is: to confer the PhD degree. This is why minimally one of the candidate’s supervisors must be a full professor or senior university lecturer. Supervisors who are university lecturers (UD) are designated as co-promotor. In practice, the scholar offering primary guidance need not be the candidate’s promotor, and this local-legal terminology is not necessarily relevant for the candidate’s CV, where they can simply list their advisors in order of proximity to, and involvement with, their research.

Mutual responsibilities and the supervision relationship

Supervisor responsibilities include

  • Being approachable, responsive, and available. These things are hard to quantify, in terms of frequency of communication with individual candidates and the number of candidates supervised by individual staff members. This is because PhD research in the humanities and the social sciences can be a relatively individual business, and because candidates and supervisors develop personal styles in working together. Supervisors should in any event meet regularly with their candidates and make sure they know how they are doing, address everyday issues as well as milestone moments, and do so without undue delay. The nature and the frequency of supervision meetings should be explicitly discussed at the start of the project. In the case that the PhD candidate is not physically in Leiden, because they are based abroad or doing fieldwork, supervision can take place through Skype, email and so on, but maintenance of contact is a high priority.
  • Regularly offering quality feedback, in various settings: on the research proposal, the work plan, chapter outlines, field reports, research presentations, any teaching the candidate may do, the writing process and so on – and on the actual dissertation as this emerges, chapter by chapter or section by section, often in multiple drafts, etc.
  • Actively supporting, teaching, coaching, and mentoring PhD candidates. For example:
    • help them find their way around, develop field-specific skills and learn field-specific conventions (e.g. bibliography, citation, fieldwork preparation, article structure), familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity, organize their research (e.g. locating resources, taking reading notes, making back-ups), and plan their work;
    • encourage them to use coursework and training opportunities;
    • introduce them to local and international colleagues and networks;
    • set clear goals and deadlines, and offer advice on how to meet these;
    • generally advise them on professional development, career opportunities and so on (see under Beyond the PhD).

Candidate responsibilities include:

  • Initiative. PhD research is the candidate’s project. It starts with the candidate, not with their supervisors, even if the outline was written by the supervisors (which is normally the case for NWO- and EU-funded team projects). This holds for the actual research and writing, but also for establishing oneself as a member of the academic community, identifying learning opportunities and funding sources, and so on. It also means that if things are not going well, the candidate should contact their supervisors without delay.
  • Doing the work and meeting one’s deadlines.
  • Receptiveness to feedback.

If all goes well, the supervision relationship is productive and mutually beneficial. It is not an exclusive relationship, and candidates are welcome and indeed encouraged to discuss their work with others than their supervisors.

If problems arise for the candidate and/or the supervisors, it is important to identify these and discuss them early on. If the candidate and/or the supervisors wish to consult someone outside the project, they can turn to various parties; see also below, under If you need help.


For an overview of all chapters of information on PhD research in LIAS, see the left sidebar at the PhD-research page.

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