How do we deal with job expectations?

 

One of the attractive factors of pursuing a doctorate is the independence and control that PhD students can have over their own research. On the other hand, a PhD is still an education, with external requirements about the quality of the work. And, as the survey shows, this is something that many PhD students struggle with: nearly half of us don’t have a clear idea of the quality of research expected in order to pass a PhD.Not surprisingly, this lack of clarity impacts the well-being of students, and contributes to them feeling worn out. 

This is an important signal for universities, and especially supervisors – we should all make sure that PhD students are aware of the formal and material requirements of their job, so they can focus on their research without unnecessary stressful uncertainties.

According to our survey, 44% of Phd students did not have a clear idea of the research quality required for them to pass their PhD.

 

While research activities always contain a certain level of uncertainty, the lack of knowledge about the most fundamental parameters for your work has the potential to deeply impact the students’ work, as well as their well-being, as this cross-section shows:

However, in face of all the perceived delays, there was only a relatively small number of students who have applied for extensions. Of those who applied, the majority has been granted. Considering the amount of students who reported delays, why did so few apply?

While the quantitative data does not hold the answer for this particular question, PAND’s experience in advocating for PhD students during the pandemic has shown that there were large inconsistencies in how Universities have handled extensions, with different departments in the same university having different postures regarding their students. While some departments were supportive and encouraged PhD students to apply, others were not as forthcoming in divulging information about the extensions, or urged students to apply only if they felt like their situation was especially dire. In this sense, the posture of the individual departments and universities might have influenced whether PhD students felt confident that they would be able to get an extension if they applied.

 

People who answered that they don’t know the requirements report feeling ‘worn out’ in significantly greater numbers than those who know what is expected of their work. This correlation is not surprising, since working under uncertain conditions is bound to be more stressful and tiring than otherwise. 

In a context where it is clear that the well-being of PhD students is less than ideal, this is a good place to start – universities, supervisors, and even local associations can cooperate to create an environment where PhD students can be more confident of what is expected of them, and feel like they have the space to ask question and require clarification when they are uncertain.

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