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PhD candidates get their own staff survey

PhD candidates are a special group in the workforce. For four years, they work on their own, large research project under supervision. There are particular demands and problems inherent in the PhD track so these members of staff receive a separate staff survey with questions designed for PhD candidates. In a series of articles we show how we processed points of criticism from the previous Personnel Monitor.

Leiden University wants to increase the PhD success rate. Currently, 60% of the PhD candidates take longer than six years for their PhD track, while 20% never even see the finishing line. Both percentages need to decrease, not only in the interests of the university but especially in the interests of PhD candidates themselves. PhD candidate Charlotte de Roon is a member of the Personnel Monitor Council. She is both a PhD candidate and researcher at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. She is also a member of the University Council, representing PhDoc, the ‘PhD Party’.

Charlotte de Roon
Charlotte de Roon

Much remains unknown

De Roon says that although a lot is known about PhD candidates, there is still a lot that isn’t known. In recent years, based partly on the results of the first survey for PhD candidates, the university has addressed the complaints of many PhD candidates that supervision was not working. Apart from the PhD supervisor, many candidates now also have a day-to-day supervisor. PhD candidates who started less than two years ago now make a research and supervision plan, and the supervision that a candidate receives is included in this plan. Furthermore, PhD candidates seem to be concerned about their post-PhD life. There are only so many academic posts on offer, far fewer than there are PhD candidates. To address this issue, a range of courses is now available that supports both the PhD track and entering the job market after having obtained your PhD.

Are these measures actually having an effect? The PhD survey, which can be filled out now, should provide the answer to this question.


One of the skills that can benefit a PhD candidate on the job market is teaching. Many PhD candidates have educational tasks that take up 10%-60% of their working time. That latter percentage is the reason why the PhD track takes six years instead of four. De Roon believes it is important that PhD candidates who teach are given recognition for this in the form of a teaching qualification. However, the Basic Teaching Qualification (BKO) is not awarded to PhD candidates. ‘One possibility would be to award partial certificates. Then you actually have something to show after having obtained a PhD.’

In last year’s Personnel Monitor report, a separate chapter was dedicated to PhD candidates. It showed that half of all PhD candidates did not have the go/no-go conversation that they should have had after one year, and that many candidates experience a lack of structure. ‘This does, however, vary strongly from faculty to faculty,’ says De Roon.

Plan for a PhD manual

De Roon knows from experience that a lot of information about rights and possibilities seems not to reach PhD candidates. ‘For instance, they don’t seem to know that they can go to conferences twice during their track, paid from their budget. No, I don’t know why they aren’t aware of  this. Perhaps it’s due to the strong focus on research at the start of the track. There are now plans to assemble a PhD manual with the most important information. That would be a good start. The website now also provides proper information.’

There are other blank spaces, too. The return rates show great differences among faculties as well as universities. How can this be explained? And why do 20% of the PhD candidates decide to abandon their track? ‘You can only find out by having (exit) conversations,’ says De Roon. ‘And only if you have the answers, can you undertake steps to prevent delays and dropouts.’

Fill in the survey...

The Staff Survey is a way to gain insight into PhD candidates and their issues. De Roon urges all PhD candidates to fill out the survey.