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PhD studentscandidates and Supervisors


PhD in 1987, supervised by two very different supervisors. I supervised 31 PhD graduates and am cu'rrently involved in ten more ... parochial local research cultures ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: PhD studentscandidates and Supervisors

PhD students/candidates and Supervisors
  • Introduction Ton Dietz
  • CERES Cafe Wageningen
  • Febr. 13 2009

My own experience
  • PhD in 1987, supervised by two very different
  • I supervised 31 PhD graduates and am currently
    involved in ten more
  • As director of CERES (2002-2007) indirectly
    related to 250 PhD projects and 150
    supervisors. Also role as conflict mediator
  • SANPAD supervisors workshops

Sobering thoughts I
  • PhD studies face many problems
  • - a high percentage of non-completion
  • - many take far too long (often more than five
    and sometimes more than seven years)
  • for many PhD candidates it is a lonely and
    stressful episode, often at high personal costs
  • it is often also stressful and frustrating for
    supervisors, jeopardizing relationships for a
    long time
  • PhD studies often have a low scientific and
    social impact, and can sometimes be regarded as a
    very wasteful way of spending research time and

Sobering thoughts II What goes wrong
  • Reasons for problems with PhD trajectories
  • - bad research design, no focus, no adequate
    research question
  • - lack of realistic expectations ('targeting the
  • - inadequate research background lack of
    training in methodological
  • and writing skills (inadequate Bachelors and
    Masters training)
  • - problematic research facilities to do a good
  • (time, office, computer, assistance, money,
    flexibility in rules,
  • underfunding essential tasks)
  • - many competing tasks (teaching, consultancies,
    family life)
  • - bad planning and bad phasing

Sobering thoughts III what goes wrong too?
  • major problems with writing academic English
  • negligent or inadequate supervision often
    unclear, strained relationship
  • inadequate networking
  • not aware of others working in the same field of
  • no contact with peers
  • parochial local research cultures
  • breakdown of motivation, psychological stress due
    to isolation and lack of feeling useful
  • lack of participation in a vibrant research
  • Being among peers who are also competitors and
    not always very nice people...

Sobering thoughts IV what if???
  • You fall in love with your supervisor (and he or
    she in you???)
  • Your supervisor changes position, and is no
    longer interested in you
  • Your research is no longer your supervisors
    hobby or interest
  • Your supervisor has a major dip (ill, mad,
    worn-out, crazy, overwhelmed by work, personal

high didactics needed
  • Supervising PhD studies supervising maturing
    professionals, needing leadership guidance
    room for own creativity and independence.
  • Ideas based on a combination of theories from
    organisational psychology and tertiary didactics.
  • Lot of background literature.
  • Classic Phillips E. D.S. Pugh, 1994 (2d edit),
    How to get a PhD. A Handbook for Students and
    their Supervisors. Buckingham Open University

  • Dietz A.J. (Ton), Jonathan D. Jansen, Ahmed A
    Wadee, 2006, Effective PhD Supervision and
    Mentorship. A Workbook based on experiences from
    South Africa and the Netherlands. Pretoria and
    Amsterdam Unisa Press and Rozenberg Publishers
    (133 pp)
  • Erik Hofstee Constructing a Good Dissertation,
    2006, see

Types of PhD students I
  • Formal position
  • Employees or bursaries
  • Regular or sandwich
  • AiO or OiO (NWO) or other
  • With or without teaching
  • With or without participation in a research
    school or graduate school
  • Full-time or part-time
  • On schedule or way behind

Types of PhD students II
  • Age and gender
  • Experiences with (academic) culture Dutch? UK?
    American? African? Asian? Latin?
  • Personality degree of independence,
    'self-security', expertise, maturity, motivation,
    commitment, ability to articulate wishes,
    communication abilities and styles.
  • Multi-tasking needs and abilities

Types of PhD students III
  • Type of research output
  • Part of a larger programme or single?
  • Individually designed dissertation or part of a
    larger research frame? scholar or data slave?
  • Recruited on a vacancy or on own project idea?
  • Book project or PhD product based on articles?
  • Publication ambitions only one book? One, two,
    five, additional publications?
  • Single authored or multiple authored?

Types of Supervisors
Types of Supervisors

What type of supervisor would you like to have?
  • Percentage
  • Delegator (leave me alone)
  • Friend (be my buddy)
  • Quality controller (keep me sharp)
  • Editor (Help me write)
  • Expert Guide (tell me what to do)
  • Coach (steer my ambition
  • groom me into academics)

You and your supervisor(s)
  • Supervisory styles have to do with
  • - the personality of the supervisor(s)
  • - the personality of the PhD student
  • - 'chemistry' between supervisor(s) and student
  • - research (and power) culture in the department,
    and 'past performance'
  • - phases in the PhD project.

Phases in the dissertation project?
  • 1 initiation quality controler
  • 2 research design expert guide and delegator
  • 3 research proposal finalisation editor and
    quality controler
  • 4 fieldwork coach (or delegator)
  • 5 data analysis expert guide
  • 6 write up editor or coach or delegator
  • 7 final fieldwork coach and quality controler
  • 8 final editing editor and quality controler
  • 9 preparation for defence coach
  • 10 actual defence delegator
  • 11 follow up expert guide and friend

How to deal with confusion?
  • Strike a balance between different needs and
    between different phases
  • See the relationship as a game of negotiations
  • Be open talk about expectations
  • Be flexible
  • Steer your supervisor(s) and their crowded
  • Avoid open conflicts
  • Dont come too close friendship is OK, but there
    is always a hierarchical relationship

Make use of the little power you have
  • Make sure you know the rules of the game. In the
    Netherlands it is ultimately YOU who decides
    where and with whom you want to graduate!
  • Be informed about mentorship and complaint
    regulations in your department in the research
  • You can claim between 250 and 400 supervision
    hours, so use those hours!
  • Your success also is the success of your
  • Prestige
  • Joint publications
  • Joint visibility
  • The university now earns 90,000 Euro for each PhD

And create your own social field
  • Invest in relationships with your peers
  • Make use of the opportunities offered by local
    graduate schools, national research schools, and
    international domain institutions
  • Do a bit of teaching (but not too much, and
    preferably close to your own research) and insist
    on mentorship (learn how to teach)
  • Create your own co-readers community and dare to
    have high aspirations in whom to contact (your
  • Use summerschools and conferences to shine

  • Be aware that some phases demand multi-tasking
    attitudes and other phases monomaniacism
  • Be clear about that in your contacts with peers,
    supervisors, and life partners
  • Find a compromise between productive visibility
    and destructive visibility

Avoid a clash of paradigms with your supervisor(s)
  • In the academic world there are tribes of
    paradigm-lookalikes, with their approaches of
    inclusion and exclusion
  • Qualitative vs quantitative
  • Realist vs constructivist
  • Book vs articles
  • Academic goals vs societal goals
  • (improve citation index vs improve the world)

In case of a real clash of paradigms
  • Change promotor or institute or discipline
  • Be prepared for a real and potentially
    devastating fight, and make sure you are not in a
  • Postpone your fights until you are a postdoc

PhD is a step in a career
  • Think about your career wishes from the start.
  • IF you want to enter academics in the Netherlands
    or UK/USA
  • MAKE SURE you already work towards academic
  • If you want to compete for NWO-related funds for
    postdoc or VENI positions you need PhD 5
    refereed publications in preferably high-citation

In that case...
  • Publish with your supervisor(s) and with your
  • But make sure you are preferably the first author
    (arrange that in advance!)
  • Select the best journals (and know your journal
  • Make sure that your lists of references reflect
    the heroes in the field (and also those from
    the Netherlands)
  • Make sure you have your own personal website,
    with preferably all your products downloadable as
  • Whenever you have a (joint) publication, send it
    to gt5 of your heroes in the field, and ask them
    for comments
  • Invite your heroes to come to conferences,
    co-organised by you, and turn those into

And follow up!
  • Your PhD dissertation should not be the final
    product follow up with a varied set of follow-up
  • And keep your contacts with your former
    supervisor(s) and peers.