Project management

The on-time completion of a PhD program is a shared responsibility, problems should therefore be solved by PhD candidates themselves, promotors and daily supervisors.

The structure of a PhD project:

Stage 1: The beginning
A frequently heard answer to the question in which period the most delay occurs is: ‘in the first year’. This is often traced back to the fact that the objective of the thesis is sometimes not clear to the PhD candidate. Thinking of a research goal themselves, is a very difficult task for a beginning researcher. As a consequence, the PhD candidate gets lost in a huge amount of information and doesn’t know where to begin. Offering a clear research goal provides the necessary support at baseline, which of course does not mean that this can’t be adjusted over time by the PhD candidate. Furthermore should be noted that when having a co-supervisor attention should be paid to the fact that both promoters unfortunately not always have the same goal in mind.

During the first meeting with the (daily) supervisor(s), a clear outline of the ‘average’ promotion process should be made. For example, this can be used to state that the early stage of the promotion project is characterized by finding your own way within your research topic. For a researcher, this is a confusing time, as they feel that they aren’t contributing to the research project. During this first meeting, a Training and Supervision Plan (TSP) are adopted, which should be discussed annually within the team of supervisors and PhD candidates.

In the beginning, a PhD candidate is in need of more relatively short conversations with their promoter or daily supervisor, to find out whether they are on the right track. In this context, regular consultation with colleagues is indispensable. Generally working meetings within a section are therefore highly appreciated.

Stage 2: Second and third year – publications
Nothing is better to keep the overview over a PhD project than describing the research question and results. Writing forces the PhD candidate to structure problems and will inevitably bring out gaps in the results. The second and third year should be used to write down the results in one or two draft chapters of the thesis. In this way, the promoter gets a good picture of the writing skills of the PhD candidate and may, if necessary, offer additional guidance. By forcing the PhD candidate to write it is also prevented that problems like a so-called ‘writer’s blocks’ occur, or that unexpected yet important questions emerge that have to be answered in order for the promotion to be successful.

End Stage 2: At the end of the third year – plan date of promotion
At the end of the third year, there should be a very clear picture for both the PhD candidate and the supervisor(s) regarding the status of the research project. This should be outlined in a detailed planning of the last period. At this moment it must be determined whether the promotion can be completed within the specified year. This has the advantage that the PhD candidate knows exactly what has to be done and in what time frame.

Stage 3: Writing Phase
When the above steps are taken, the final period should be clearly defined and probably consists of tying together loose ends and write the first draft of the thesis. In this phase, it is important to keep a constant watch on the planning during consultation between PhD candidate and supervisor. Obviously the goal of stage 3 is to end with the defence of the thesis.