How do we support PhD students? What do they need?

Door Alies Zijlstra | March 18, 2021


We gladly share our knowledge and experience in supervising PhD students. It is not easy for them at the moment and we hope to inspire others to offer them the support they need.

What exactly do the PhD students need? 

In this period of time, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, we see many PhD students struggling, experiencing stress and isolation. Before the pandemic, a lot of studies already showed that PhD students were experiencing a great deal of unhealthy stress during their PhD. And since the pandemic, this mental health issue is on the rise. Quite a few PhD students already reached out to us asking for individual support, because of the high levels of stress, insecurity, anxiety, and depression.

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We, from AcademicVision, believe that supporting the wellbeing and development of the PhD students is crucial and we are committed to contribute to this.

The needs the PhD students share with us in this difficult period of time are:

1.  A need for Clarity and Security 

An important question among PhD students is:

How will (possible) research delay and my employment contract be dealt with?

It is important to create room and attention in the organization for this feeling of uncertainty that PhD students experience, especially in this period of timeday. Fortunately, we see that attention is now also being paid to this at a national level, for example in the Dutch National Education Program. Here, the important role of PhD students in higher education is recognized and resources are made available from various parties “to retain researchers for education and to compensate their research delay as a result of the Corona pandemic”. Hopefully this will contribute somewhat to more certainty and, above all, more recognition and appreciation for PhD students. At the same time, this in itself will not be sufficient and other factors also play a role, as mentioned in this article.

2.    A need for Connection

The way we offer support is by, e.g.:

✓  Co-creating a PhD Community within the faculty with the aim of:

§  Social connection and exchange of experience (within and between departments)

§  Guidance during their PhD trajectory

§  Sharing information about conferences, grants, etc.

§  Support for their (career) development and the job market

✓  Co-creating a Buddy Programme

The Buddy programme ‘links’ PhD candidates together, in order to support and inspire each other, by exchanging knowledge and experiences, answering      questions and helping to find solutions.

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3.      A need for Professional support

The way we offer support is by, e.g.:

✓  The support programme: Mastering my PhD

During this online and/or offline programme PhD students are offered workshops and individual support regarding topics like:

Work-life balance, Academic writing, Presentation skills, Teaching essentials, Effective communication with your supervisor and Critical thinking and Debating.

Mastering my PhD is highly valued by the PhD students and is always rated with an average score of  8+  

The following link directs to a quick view of the programme:

If you’re interested, we can send you an evaluation report.

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✓  Masterclasses for Supervisors

During these masterclasses we focus on the question:

How do we effectively support the PhD students in both their well-being and development? 

4.      A need for Personal attention

The way we offer support is by e.g.:

✓    Individual coaching

This 1-on-1 guidance supports the PhD students to overcome the struggles they face, such as dealing with stress and loneliness, a difficult relationship with their supervisor, a lack of confidence or feeling stuck in your PhD-trajectory.

Examples of experiences PhD students mention after the individual coaching are:

“Recently, I had 3 individual coaching meetings and I liked it very much. The coaching has helped me increase my awareness even more and I am trying to put in practice some of the learnings. You and your team are doing a great job helping PhD candidates develop their soft skills.”

“Before I was coached, I didn’t understand why much of the behavior I wanted to change was so persistent. With the help of a coach I investigated which beliefs underlie my behavior. This gives me a much clearer picture of why I do what I do. The coach has also helped me to understand how I can change certain beliefs to make it easier to adjust my behavior.”

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Hopefully this article has given you some inspiration and ideas of possible support for the PhD’s. They need it!

Please contact us if you would like to explore possibilities together.

Have a nice day!


Team AcademicVision


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