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Focus on well-being at PhD event

'Make sure you separate yourself from your work.' And, 'Your dissertation doesn't have to be a magnum opus.' It was raining tips for PhD students at the humanities PhD event on well-being on Tuesday, 5 September.

The afternoon was prompted by the surveys that had been conducted last spring among PhD students and supervisors to get a fuller picture of the PhD programme and how it is supervised. PhD students answered questions on topics such as communication with supervisors, the defence, career prospects and social safety. Their supervisors addressed topics such as time spent on doctoral supervision, their relationship with fellow supervisors and the different types of academic and personal support. In addition, there was the opportunity for respondents to make their own points.

'Learning from each other'

Results show that PhD students regularly feel alone, while the workload is perceived as high: reason enough for the Graduate School to kick off this academic year with a well-being event. 'With this afternoon, we want to offer doctoral students a platform to talk to each other and other parties involved, and learn from one another, says Pui Chi Lai, coordinator of the faculty Graduate School. ‘What is normal? What obstacles, ambiguities and uncertainties can you expect in a doctoral programme? When is it helpful to seek help, and where do you find it? The survey also showed that many PhD students feel the need for contact with other PhD students in the faculty, so we also set aside a lot of time for networking.'

Afternoon participants were treated to a lecture by Katja Lubina, who knew her audience well. 'You are perfectionists, otherwise you wouldn't be sitting here. That's good, but also dangerous. In the end, you often achieve 80% of the final result with just 20% of your time. Try not to lose yourself in that last 20%.' How do you do that? Lubina also had a tip for that. 'Act like a consultant. When I joined a consulting firm, I learned to log hours. It can be very helpful to keep track for a week of how long a task takes and how it contributes to your PhD track.’

Panel discussion

In the subsequent panel discussion between Marian Klamer (director of the Graduate School of Humanities, Marije Bedaux (confidential counsellor), Agnes van Rossum (PhD psychologist) and Henk te Velde (PhD supervisor), under the guidance of Pieter Slaman, the discussion included the relationship between supervisors and PhD candidates. As a PhD candidate in the Netherlands you are a researcher who works independently, but at the same time there is a power relationship between you and your supervisor, which also changes during the project. Nevertheless, it is important to make clear agreements and expectations right at the start, was the conclusion of the lively discussion.

Panelists and doctoral students also discussed whether psychological pressure is inherent in a four-year doctoral programme. Where are the limits in a field where no pain, no gain also applies? And what about the relationship between supervisor and PhD candidate? Should it be limited to research-related issues or can the contact be more personal? The opinions on this last proposition differed considerably. However, it became clear that PhD candidates at the university can contact the PhD psychologist and/or the confidential counsellor

'Don't leave the room'

So many practical tips, but the fight against loneliness was also considered. When the panel discussion was over, drinks were brought in. ‘The drinks are in this room, because otherwise everyone shyly runs away and people still don't talk to each other,’ Klamer said with a wink.

During the drinks, attention was also focused on 'Empower your PhD,' a university-wide project aimed at boosting PhD candidates’ career competencies using a self-assessment tool, personal coaching or group supervision.

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