10 Recommendations for improving PhD wellbeing

On January 25th 2018 we raised attention to the issue of PhD mental health at the “Keeping sane in your PhD” symposium. After all the inspiring and constructive discussions it was time to bring the issue to greater attention of the whole University.

With all the input from the symposium we – Prout, UPP and a representative from the Life Sciences PhD council – wrote a letter to the board of Utrecht University with 10 recommendations to improve PhD wellbeing. Read the full letter here.

These recommendations will be discussed with the UU board, on April 23rd (15h00-17h00) in a university council meeting (Bestuursgebouw room 0.33G). You are most welcome to attend! Here’s the FB event. The more people show up, the better!

Recommendations to improve PhD mental health and well-being


1. Appoint a full-time PhD psychologist – make it easy for PhDs who are struggling to get specialized professional help.

2. Offer free courses on transferable skills – these courses can optimize the PhD process, as well as strengthen skills that are valued outside of academia.

3. Be transparent about requirements for PhDs – “make the implicit explicit” regarding duties and rights, including (in)formal rules that are UU-wide and specific requirements of departments.

4. Properly implement a PhD mentoring system – each PhD should have an appointed mentor. The mentor should be a neutral person, with whom the PhD can talk about the process of the PhD. Mentors should proactively check on PhDs (once/twice a year).

5. Offer training to PhD supervisors – encourage supervisors to take courses on PhD supervision.

6. Monitor the quality, satisfaction and problems of PhD supervision – at the moment PhD supervision is not adequately assessed. Finding ways to systematically monitor supervision quality would help to develop processes to solve problems.

7. Instate career coaching for PhDs focusing on academic and non-academic careers – the availability of career officers, career-minded trainings and events can decrease the anxiety linked to a future career.

8. Organize introduction sessions for new PhDs, creating Graduate School PhD cohorts – this can be partly UU-wide, and partly the responsibility of  faculties/departments. Having cohorts of PhDs starting at the same time contributes to social cohesion.

9. Create a welcoming and inclusive environment, explicitly including internationals – e.g. from UU and faculty communication (in English), to an active culture of inclusion within each department.

10. The whole UU is co-responsible for ensuring that a proper support system is available to all PhDs – the above stated measures would constitute such a support system, which can only be built with the engagement of all UU, from the higher to the most local level: UU management, faculties, graduate schools, departments, and research groups.

“Institutional action is needed”- a review of the PhD mental health symposium

The numbers are striking. Up to 25- 30% of UU PhD candidates experience significant stress-related mental health problems during their PhD. Many would not feel free to talk to their supervisors about these issues, and most voices resonate the need for change to come from above.

Such were the conclusions of the first symposium on PhD Mental Health held at UU last January 25th, organized by Prout, in cooperation with the UPP, University Council, and the Graduate School of Life Sciences.

The urgency felt by PhD’s to address the problem was highlighted by the popularity of the event, with more than 120 participants attending an event fully booked weeks ahead of time. This urgency become more poignant when it was surveyed that 38% of participants had sought professional advice for stress-related issues, and 26% would not talk about these issues with their supervisor.

The symposium had two aims: “What can you do” – to exchange personal tips and tricks for a healthy PhD, and “What can the UU do?” – to bring this underplayed issue to the attention of UU policymakers and supervisors.


In the first part of the symposium, three experts on PhD mental health shared their expertise. Dr. Inge van der Weijdenfrom Leiden University presented research concluding that 40% of Leiden University PhDs had mental health issues – a figure much higher than corresponding figures for non-academic same-age same-education counterparts. The psychologist appointed at Delft University to address PhD-issues, Paula Meesters, described the mental health support system for PhDs at TU Delft,  inspired the audience with a short medidation session, and emphasized the importance of  having a variety of coping skills. The third expert, Dr. Amber Davis, a PhD Coach at Happy PhD, gave personal advise on how to do more by working less, but also stressed that this is a collective issue, not an individual one.

The talks were followed by an interactive panel discussion. The panel was moderated by Janneke Plantenga, the new dean of the Law, Economics and Governance Faculty, with Hans de Bresser (vice-dean in Geosciences), Estrella Montoya (PhD mentor and Jr. Ass. Prof at Social and Behavioural Sciences), and Jeff Smit (PNN representative) participating. The guest speakers considered having transparent two-way communication between PhD and supervisors and setting clear boundaries and expectations when it comes to working hours and thesis requirements, as important steps a PhD can take. However, the PhD’s presented the flip-side of this argument, stating that they feel the atmosphere and openness of a department is largely determined by the supervisor, and that falling in line with pre-formed expectations is imperative to avoid the “complainer-label” and to have decent working relationships with those in the department.

Once audience member noted – to a rousing applause from the crowd –how shockingly little attention and awareness there is for general wellbeing, career training, and supervision quality in academia when compared  to industry and the public sector. The panel and audience seemed to agree that structural improvement of PhD mental health must be spear-headed and supported by policy from above. An example of how this could be achieved is mandatory supervision training for professors.

The organizers were very pleased with the involvement of and interaction between PhDs and policy makers. They hope this event marks the start of collaborative push to change culture and policy at Utrecht University.

Missed it? Check here the presentations, know whom to contact if you have problems, or consider attending the stress management course set up by Prout and UPP with the Graduate School of Natural Sciences, open to all UU PhDs.

We also assembled a PhD Wellbeing Guide based on the input of the symposium. 

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PhD Mental Health Symposium

uusaneposter_final-01Prout is co-organizing a symposium on PhD mental health that will take place on January 25th 2018, at Utrecht University. The event is title “Keeping sane in your PhD – What can you do? What can UU do?”, and it is co-organized with the Utrecht PhD Party and with the University Council.  Check the programme and register here.

PhACE Invitation 2016

Dear PhD candidate,

Career opportunities after a PhD are a highly debated topic among PhD candidates. The majority of candidates starting a PhD want to end up in academia. However this is a difficult career step and not always a possibility within your reach. Utrecht University developed the PhD Activating Career Event to help you with future career steps (PhACE).

PhACE gives insight into the great value and different career opportunities of your PhD. As doctoral candidates, you are top academic performers with a broad scope of experience who may fit in many different sectors of employment. PhACE brings people together that successfully completed their PhD with different career tracks. During a two day event, organized by PhACE, these people want to share their professional experiences with you! Furthermore they want to explain the skills that are needed to transfer to areas other than academia.

During these two days you will participate in a range of workshops. These workshops will help you to explore your personal strengths and skills and create awareness of personal weaknesses to help you surpass yourself!
PhD Activating Career Event (PhACE)

We at PhACE are joyous to announce that the registration for the next PhACE event is now open. PhACE XI will be held:

When: Monday April 18th and Tuesday 19th , 2016
Where: Academiegebouw, Domplein 29, Utrecht
From: 09.00-19.00 hrs.
Group: PhD candidates in the penultimate (usually 3rd) year of their PhD
Fee: Free of charge when attending full two days. If not please contact Phace@uu.nl.
Language: English
Registration: PhACE website: www.uu.nl/phace

If you are interested please make sure you register a.s.a.p. otherwise we cannot guarantee placing for the event.

Kind Regards,

Fati Shahrabi & Lucette Teurlings
PhACE Team

PhD Movies Screening in Filmtheater ’t Hoogt

Wednesday 27 January 2016 from 17:45 to 21:00
Filmtheater ‘t Hoogt – Hoogt 4, 3512 GW, Utrecht
Piled Higher and Deeper: Still in Grad School” is the sequel to the film adaptation of the popular comic strip “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham. The film takes a smart and humorous look at the world of academia through the eyes of four grad students, and features real academics (including a Nobel Prize winner!) in many of the roles. Click here to view the trailer.
The PhD Movie 1 takes a humorous and poignant look at four graduate students as they grapple with research, being a teaching assistant and finding balance in their over-worked lives. The PhD Movie 2 looks at themes of competition in research, overcoming writer’s block, and finding your voice.
Please join The PhD Movies screening on 27 January 2016 organised by Prout | PhD Network Utrecht and the Graduate School of Life Sciences (GSLS).
Sign up now! The event is free for PhD candidates. Registration is limited to 130 seats, first come first serve!


What can PeerPower do for you?

Are you a PhD candidate and do you believe that an inter-disciplinary peer-group can benefit your personal development?  PeerPower is looking for four PhD candidates that can help validate their assumptions. In a 1-hour session they hope to hear from you how PeerPower could possibly help you in your PhD trajectory. Interested? Sign-up before 10 December by responding to stefan@peerpower.co. Exact date t.b.d. Check for more info: www.peerpower.co.


Do you have what it takes to be a PhD representative?

With around 18 representatives who, as PhD candidates, have 3-to-4-year contracts, the composition of Prout keeps changing. This means that we are always looking for new PhD candidates to join our team and who want to spend some time on improving the professional lives of their fellow PhD candidates. Do you have expertise in the use of social media? In organizing events? Or do you want to learn these valuable skills and add relevant work experience to your cv? Do you have ideas about general issues related to the position of PhD candidates? Contact one of our current representatives for more information!

Guide for external PhDs

(in Dutch)

Ben je geinteresseerd in wetenschappelijk promoveren naast of na je carriere? Of ben je al buitenpromovendus en op zoek naar tips en trics? Dan is de volgende website en het bijbehorende handboek een goed

Kaft Handboek Buitenpromovendi - geschreven door Floor Basten en Kerstin van Tiggelen

Kaft Handboek Buitenpromovendi – geschreven door Floor Basten en Kerstin van Tiggelen

startpunt! Lees de ervaringen van buitenpromovendi en de tips van hoogleraren over promoveren in deeltijd in het Handboek Buitenpromovendi.