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Fifteen years of Dual PhD Centre: ‘The programme is solid as a rock’

December marks the 15th anniversary of the Dual PhD Centre (DPC). Director Johannes Tromp and associate professor Mark Dechesne look back and ahead. Dechesne: ‘The DPC forms a 'community of knowledge' in which science and society are connected.’

Johannes: why was the Dual PhD Centre established?

‘The DPC was founded to facilitate and support professionals who want to spend part of their work and free time doing scientific research. In combination with their professional practice, this eventually leads to a dissertation defence. In the first years, when it was still called Center for Regional Knowledge Development, small and medium-sized businesses were ideal partners for the centre, but it became clear that these participants were difficult to recruit. Now most of the participants are college teachers, self-funded PhD candidates or they come from the public sector.’

Mark: What do you particularly notice about the importance of the Dual PhD Centre?

‘Many DPC candidates mention two positive aspects that reflect the difference between a regular PhD and the dual PhD programme well: the DPC provides structure and creates a sense of community. Those two aspects prove to be very important. Doing your work in a social environment prevents you from feeling alone. The structure ensures that you keep an overview, despite the size and complexity of the PhD research. I see the Dual PhD Centre as an environment in which scientific research is shaped in an innovative way.’

Mark: What has changed in the type of research?

'The topics researched by our candidates share similarities with those of the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA). That’s not surprising: both us and the NWA base our research questions on experiences from society. There are a number of fixed topics, which we thematically represent. For example educational, historical, business, and legal research and research on governance and policy. In the beginning there was much interest in the centralisation of governance and the perceived regulatory burden. Later, we noticed a growing interest in security and cybersecurity, especially on topics as privacy and data. In the past year, artificial intelligence received a remarkable amount of attention.'

Johannes: 'It is a big step from professional practice into the wonderful world of science.'

Johannes: Compared to the beginning, where does the DPC stand now?

‘The DPC has a steady inflow of candidates, allowing them to start in groups at the same time twice a year, in September and February. This is a head start in building the 'DPC community', one of the crucial factors in our success. It is a big step from professional practice into the wonderful world of science. The participants go through major changes in a short period of time. Therefore, a well-thought-of guidance programme that is tailored to this special target group is indispensable. Cooperation of our supervisors and regular meetings about our philosophy and its practical implementation ensures that the programme is solid as a rock.’

Mark: 'There is a great diversity in personalities, scientists, ideas and tasks; every doctoral research project is unique.'

Mark: What is your personal highlight?

‘One of the amazing things about working at the DPC is the great diversity of personalities, scientists, ideas and tasks you encounter. Every doctoral research project is unique. I thought Hester Diderich's PhD was extraordinary: she focused on the early detection of child abuse. Her research led to a new approach in taking care of child abuse.Also noteworthy is Victor Roggeveen, who conducted large-scale research on the role of leadership in preventing safety incidents in the workplace. Well after his retirement he now seems to have launched a new career based on his dissertation. Furthermore it is amazing to see how PhD candidate Charlotte de Roon shaped her dissertation defence. She won an award for the best Belgian-Dutch political science dissertation.’

For both: What are your expectations for the future?

Johannes: ‘The growth we primarily aim for is the development of each individual participant. There is a steady number of seventy to eighty PhD candidates, but a substantial increase of this number means our staff has to grow along. We would have to take into account the capacity of the promoters within Leiden University. More important than having many PhD candidates is the high quality of the work of external PhD candidates.’
Mark: ‘In recent years, Leiden University has developed more initiatives to optimally support (external) PhD candidates. It would be valuable to align and connect these initiatives. Other than a doctoral degree, a dual doctoral study is an instrument for connecting science and practice which offers us new perspectives. Our doctoral candidates bring something important: experiences, networks and data. The DPC, with all its diversity and experience, forms a 'community of knowledge' in which science and society are connected and hopefully remain so in the future.’

Text: Margo Klein and Margriet van der Zee

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