PNN: Scholarship PhDs don’t have much freedom after all
The PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) says so in a new report based on a survey of more than four thousand PhDs in the Netherlands. One important factor that impacts the freedom of scholarship PhDs is where the money for their research comes from: whether it’s from the first flow of funds or from external financiers. The discipline is another deciding factor: people doing a PhD at the arts or law departments have a lot of freedom, while PhDs in the scientific fields do not.
Groningen Graduate Schools project manager Marjan Koopmans says scholarship PhDs’ increased freedom lies mainly in the themes of their research proposal. ‘It’s true there’s less of a difference in the actual implementation’, she says. ‘But scholarship PhDs can decide their own hours and go on vacation whenever they want.’
She also points out that the PNN survey isn’t representative. ‘All in all, 120 regular UG PhDs and sixty scholarship PhDs filled it out.’ She says the low number of respondents and the fact that the PNN used its own channels to disseminate the survey could have influenced the results.
The PNN also asked respondents about the quality of their supervision. Overall, PhDs are fairly happy with their everyday manager, who usually isn’t their promotion supervisor or co-supervisor. They give their managers a mean grade of 7.3. Many PhDs do feel like they’re being pressured, with 43 percent saying so. In 21 percent of these cases, PhDs feel their work stress is being trivialised.
Supervisors also tend to contact them at night and on weekends. 13 percent of respondents said they felt pressured to take on extra work. Supervisors also want to be credited as co-authors on papers when their contribution has been minimal.
The PNN argues that everyday managers who are doing a good job should get the recognition they deserve. One way would be to give them the right to do a PhD, since currently only professors are allowed to do so. The PNN also proposes to set up independent procedures to allow PhDs to address problems.
Koopmans doesn’t think allowing managers to do a PhD will solve any of the issues. According to her, it’s easier for scholarship PhDs to switch managers, which the survey results show has its own issues. ‘I’ve had it happen a few times. It’s not something people do because they want to, since it’s a hassle, but they have a personal scholarship which makes it easier.’
Finally, the PNN calls for an end to the Experiment Promotieonderwijs, also known as the ‘scholarship PhD experiment’. ‘The only advantage to this system was supposed to be the increased freedom PhDs had in their projects. But this advantage never materialised’, the PNN writes.