14 November 2017

Introducing: Central PhD Candidates Platform

In order to look after the interests of all PhD candidates at UM, apart from the faculty they belong to, the Central PhD Candidates Platform was launched this year. Six PhD candidates are strongly committed to this for the common interest. In practice, it is mainly about exchanging good ideas, but the platform also provides solicited and unsolicited advice to the Executive Board—for example, about the minimum duration of a PhD programme (four years if it is up to the platform) and the status of PhD candidates (as employees, not students). A conversation with two members of the platform: Constantijn van Aartsen (law) and Christine Resch (psychology).

Within UM’s six faculties, so-called PhD representatives have been active for a long time, but a university-wide representative body for issues important to PhD candidates had not yet existed. Well, there is the PhD Academy, for the social life of PhD candidates. “But we couldn’t address substantive issues directly with the Executive Board until this year; that went, for example, through the dean of your faculty”, says Constantijn van Aartsen. His colleague Christine Resch adds, “And there was no substantive exchange with colleagues from other faculties, so we, the current six members of the platform, immediately saw the usefulness of this platform when we heard about it.”

Workload of PhD candidates
The platform was officially launched in April 2017, and the group meets about four times a year. At this moment, the six members are making an inventory of which cases deserve their attention the most. The workload among PhD candidates is already on the list. Alarm is raised regularly about the psychological health of PhD candidates, who on average are more at risk. So far, there has not been a Dutch study confirming this, but the platform, based on practical experience, does not have the impression that it would be different at Maastricht University. How do you best handle this as a university? A confidential advisor? Perhaps a psychologist specifically for PhD candidates? The main purpose of the platform is to give a voice to PhD candidates, so that the problems are heard at the administrative level. And it also maintains contacts with the PhD candidates Network of the Netherlands (PNN), which aims to have a national study on the psychological well-being of PhD candidates.

Providing information
In addition, the platform aims to ensure that all PhD candidates—from the beginning of their programme—know how the university is set up organisationally, how they can be involved in policy issues, and where they can go to get other questions answered. Van Aartsen: “The provision of information about this is still very different per faculty.” Resch: “For example, about their own development opportunities as a teacher through a University Teaching Qualification that they can get, among other things.”

The six members of the platform are happy to do the work, in addition to their own PhD programme. Resch: “We’re all keen to be involved and care about clarity.” Van Aartsen: “Our goals aren’t yet formalised on paper, so our own ambitions determine the limits of our ability to get things done. It’s just a matter of meeting and getting to know each other first.”

PhD candidates who want to bring an issue to the attention of the platform can send an email