Update Petition – more than 1000 signatures for PhD mental health

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Outdated – we have now more than 1000 signatures!

On June 13th Prout launched, together with UPP, a petition for psychological support for PhDs to be implemented at UU.

By mid-September we reached more than 700 signatures, from all across UU, including PhDs but also Professors, Assistant and Associate Professors, other research and support staff, and some ex-PhDs and alumni. Here are some statistics from September 18th (731 signatures). Update: by September 27th we have more than 900 signatures. Update 2: The petition closed on October 3rd, with more than 1000 signatures. An update with final statistics will follow.

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Affiliation with Utrecht University

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Faculty

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Can we display your name in the petition?

More than half of the people have shared why they signed the petition. Many PhDs mentioned that they signed the petition because of personal experience. Others explain how it is in the interest of the university to support the mental health of its employees. Here are some of those comments.

“Because I think psychological support specifically for PhD students would be very welcome and needed. Ultimately the financial benefits may also be substantial for Utrecht University if this support will help prevent PhD students to fall ill, get a burnout etc.”  –  Martin Junginger, Professor, Geosciences

“It is alarming how many burnout and stress signs I see among friends who did or are still doing a PhD, and my own wasn’t a stroll. Psychological support should be widely publicised and made easily accessible to PhD students without referrals, and ideally presented in such a way that they would be prompted to reach out early on.” – Anonymous, Former PhD Candidate, Science

“I believe that low threshold mental healthcare is very important for PhD students. Especially since a large amount of the PhD’s are from abroad, which makes it harder for them to find the right care in the Dutch system. Further, it’s a special group of people with comparable challenges, so group sessions can be very effective.” – Eelke Bontekoe, Junior Researcher, Geosciences

“The PhD process can be difficult. Perhaps you don’t want to jeopardise the relation you have with your supervisors by telling them that you struggle with issues which are not directly related to the content of your thesis. For example, that you are struggling with stress or the feeling that you must succeed or other things like this. I have noticed that lots of PhD students are struggling with these feelings – especially PhD students who just have started like me. I think it would be helpful if there would be psychological support besides the substantive support of your supervisors to discuss or get help with topics like this.” – Anonymous, PhD Candidate, Law, Economics and Governance

“There’s a lot of stress in academia, people should receive more psychological support in general – so this is surely the case also for PhD students.” –  Mara Baudena, Assistant Professor, Geosciences

“Psychological wellbeing is of prime importance to a healthy working/living situation for everybody and should always be made available to employees by any employer who takes the lives of his/her workers seriously. Especially during a PhD project, for which it is well-know (yet a kind of public secret) that apart from fighting your own demons, candidates can get caught up in wider already existing power structures and struggles that can have tremendous impact on wellbeing. Support is super necessary!” – Elke Linders, PhD Candidate, Social and Behavioural Sciences

“This is an important issue, and one that is only going to become more urgent in our neoliberal universities. As someone who has, and still does struggle with their own mental health difficulties, I was shocked by the lack of explicit, institutional support available at Utrecht University.” –  Richard Lane, Post-Doc, Geosciences

“A lot of PhDs are dealing with stress, job pressure and mental health issues accordingly. There is support (free or for a small fee) for students, but not for PhDs (!). If PhDs need help/support they have to pay it themselves (which is often too expensive and they CAN NOT do it). Also, courses to prevent larger problems such as depression and burnout are very expensive for PhDs (or it will be paid off their research budget what is also not a solution, because they need that money to perform their job!!!), so they also CAN NOT do that. Attention and help is needed!!” – Ilona Domen, PhD Candidate, Social and Behavioural Sciences

“In my view, even more than an intellectual challenge, a PhD is a mental challenge. It is logical that scientists or peers do not necessarily have the expertise to support PhDs in this regard. There is a clear role for a dedicated professional on this issue.” – Wouter Schram, PhD Candidate, Geosciences

“Doing a PhD is challenging. Apart from the high quality work you are expected to do, you also often work your own, you are solely responsible for your own project and time management, while most people have not had much previous work experience. For the internationals, there is the extra challenge of adapting to a new environment and finding a support system. I know I’ve had some of these struggles myself as a PhD student. Therefore, I believe it is important that the University provides psychological support for PhDs. Apart from improving their quality of life, I think there’s also a good chance that this support would increase success rate and decrease the amount of delays.” – Narcisa Nechita-Banda, Post-Doc, Science

“When I read about your claims and troubles (depression, burnout, unhappiness, anxiety and high levels of stress), for a moment I thought you were talking about all staff members and not only PhD candidates ;-) I support your initiative and I consider that, sometime in the future, it should be extended to UU members in general.” – Anonymous, Assistant Professor, Science

“The kind of work a PhD student is expected to do is impossible without a healthy mind. It is the responsibility of the university to ensure its employees are fit for work and to give its employees the tools to manage themselves; mental health is no longer seen as an individual’s responsibility, but rather as something that should be cared for by the community.” – Nina Kopacz, PhD Candidate, Geosciences

“It’s NOT about bashing the UU administration! These are trying times for young people in the early stages of their (academic) careers. I believe academia in general and UU in particular could and should take up its societal responsibility and set an example in being supportive of healthy professional and personal development.” – Arjan Sieverink, Support Staff,  University Corporate Office

“It’s time. We need to understand the research process and how to make it work efficiently. No PhD student wants to pass through serious health issues, neither their professors and family. And research doesn’t need it either. It’s time we realize it, openly discuss it. Every profession has its picks and throws. The throws of research are still tabu. To improve productivity in research and resiliently pass through its throws, to break the chain of inefficient research habits/issues passing from generation to generation of scholars, to form healthy and productive scholars/professionals, it’s time we deeply understand the implications and risks during the initiating research process, and accordingly support PhD students passing and learning through it.” – Teresa Farinha, PhD Candidate, Geosciences

You can sign and read more about the petition  here .

If you would also like your comment to be published here (with your name, or anonymously) contact Ana: ana@prout.nl.

The petition is open for signatures until the end of September 2018.

Petition for PhD psychological support – more than 250 signatures in one week

On June 13th, PhDs at Utrecht University launched a petition for psychological support to be available for PhDs at the university. While mental health issues are prevalent among PhDs, a proper support system is lacking. This need is reflected in the large number of signatures (more than 250) collected in one week. The petition is supported by PhDs (62%), and by UU staff from all levels of the university.

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The petition follows two actions by the two UU-wide PhD organizations: Prout – PhD Network Utrecht, and UPP – Utrecht PhD Party. Prout and UPP have coordinated the first symposium on PhD mental health at Utrecht University in January 25th 2018. This was followed-up by a guide for PhDs, and a letter with 10 recommendations for PhD well-being, sent to the UU board in March, and strongly supported by PhD councils.

In early April, the UU board responded to the letter in a university council meeting. The UU board expressed their understanding and willingness to implement the recommendations, all except for the first one: “Appoint a full-time PhD psychologist – make it easy for PhDs who are struggling to get specialized professional help”. It was reasoned that providing healthcare is not a core task of the University. According to the UU board, PhDs should follow the current procedures, i.e. consulting with the company doctor (bedrijfsarts), and with the social workers (maatschappelijk werker). The board said it would look into the possibility of training the company doctor and social workers in specific PhD issues.

However, considering the prevalence of mental health issues among PhD candidates, there is a need for specific psychological support services. While UU students can go to the student psychologist, PhDs can only meet with social workers, or with a confidential advisor. For mental health problems, they are forced to seek help outside the university. Comments to the petition show that many PhDs feel or felt the need to have mental health support during the PhD. Some mention that when seeking help outside, general psychologists do not understand very well the particular situation of doing a PhD.

Having dedicated psychologists and sessions for PhDs at UU would be the best-suited approach, following the steps of other universities: TU Delft appointed a PhD psychologist, and UvA made the student psychological services available to PhDs.

In sum, paraphrasing petition comments, doing a PhD is not only an intellectual, but also a mental challenge, for which support from mental health professionals should be available. Ultimately, it is also in the interest of the university that PhDs are healthy and able to finish. Providing psychological services would acknowledge the importance of mental health, and contribute to a healthier work environment at UU.

While 250 signatures is a good start, we would like to collect many more in the coming months. So, please share it around, and let us know if you have any questions!

Read and sign the petition here: http://bit.do/PHDpetition.

Petition for psychological support for PhDs at Utrecht University

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In the past months we co-organized a PhD mental health symposium, and we wrote a letter of 10 recommendations for PhD wellbeing to the UU board (see here the response of the board). As a follow-up we decided to start a petition for psychological support for PhDs at Utrecht University.

Petition

To the board of Utrecht University,

We, the undersigned, want to ask for psychological support for PhD candidates at Utrecht University. This request is supported by Prout (PhD network Utrecht) and UPP (Utrecht PhD Party). This is a follow-up of the PhD mental health symposium organized on January 25th 2018 with about 130 participants, and of the 10-recommendations letter for PhD well-being sent to the UU board in March this year.

It has been repeatedly shown that PhDs are at high risk of mental health issues, such as depression, burnout, unhappiness, anxiety and high levels of stress. While currently PhDs at UU can consult with a staff confidential advisor and with social workers, this is not enough when it comes to mental health.

PhDs should have free access to psychological support, including individual consultations with psychologists, walk-in hours, group sessions, and courses addressing the psychological challenges of doing a PhD (e.g. stress, motivation, work-life balance, etc.).

UU can follow the example of other Dutch universities. TU Delft appointed a PhD psychologist, and UvA made the student psychological services available to PhDs. Offering low-threshold access to psychological support improves employee wellbeing, and prevents PhD dropout and delay, compensating potential costs.

We urge the UU board to take action and provide psychological support for all UU PhDs.

 


Sign it on this link, or here below!

Response of UU board to Prout’s recommendations

On April 9th we heard the response of the UU board to our letter of recommendations, during a university council meeting with Anton Pijpers, the chair of the UU board.

The UU board understands most of the recommendations and they have added it to the Graduate Agenda (the general plan of how to improve the PhD phase at UU).

They were less enthusiastic about appointing a psychologist, but they said they will ensure that the social workers are sufficiently equipped to deal with PhD issues.

They will also investigate how to make transferable skills courses more accessible to everyone, regardless of which graduate school you belong to, or what your budget is.

Next steps

We are happy that the UU board agreed with almost all of our recommendations (except the PhD psychologist – the first recommendation on our list). We have agreed to re-evaluate these measures with the UU board in October, to see if they are sufficient.

However, we still think that it would be very important to provide psychological support to PhDs at UU, so we decided to start a petition! You can read it and sign it here.

Information Market

Prout is organizing an Information Market for PhD Candidates about all you need to know about the final stage of your PhD, such as defending your dissertation, printing your thesis and more. There will be a number of printing companies present that will offer their services to you, allowing you to compare their offers.

In good Prout tradition, we will conclude the event with drinks!

Come get a helpful info sheet with tip and tricks for your defense, and/or negotiate a good price for printing your thesis on Thursday 14 June from 17:30 to 20:00 in the foyer of the Educatorium! You can drop by at any time.

Where: The Foyer of the Educatorium (Uithof (Utrecht Science Park))
When: 17:30 – 20:00

Visit the Facebook event for more information https://www.facebook.com/events/187194318779497/

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.

Newsletter February

Word from the chair

Dear PhD Candidate,

How are you feeling? According to several studies about one-third of us is feeling depressed. Could it be you? Don’t be embarrassed, you are not alone! Talk about it so people can help.

In response to the prevalent mental health problems among PhDs, Prout organized a Mental Health Symposium together with UPP and GSLS. Read the article to find out what came out of the symposium.

The need for mental health support is also recognized at other universities. For example, TU Delft has a fulltime PhD psychologist who was recently interviewed by the NRC. The UVA will start a project to improve the mental wellbeing of their PhDs, which includes an online screening and prevention tool for common psychological issues, a health week with activities for mental and physical health, and psychological consultation.

These are promising developments and set an example for other universities. Now, it is time for Utrecht University to invest in your mental wellbeing.

Yours sincerely,
Mariska Schimmel
Prout Chair


Mental Health
The UU must take action on PhD training, supervision and mental health.

This was one of the conclusions of the PhD mental health symposium that brought together 130 PhD candidates and UU policy-makers to discuss what can be done to improve PhD wellbeing. Check the summary of the event, the presentations, and other resources on our website.

A result of the symposium is the PhD wellbeing guide: collective wisdom on how to keep yourself happy in your PhD and life. The guide also mentions what the university should do to improve PhD wellbeing.


Entrepreneurship and your PhD
Have you ever entertained the idea of becoming an entrepreneur? Prout and the UU-wide start-up incubator, UtrechtInc, are organizing an event for PhD’s who want to know more about building a start-up. A interactive workshop given by a coach from UtrechtInc will provide practical examples and fresh ideas for interested participants.

Come join us on March, 22 at 4:00pm – ± 6:00 pm at UtrechtInc, Padualaan 8. Registration is required.


Tax lecture
This March, Prout, in cooperation with tax advisors of the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), will hold an interactive tax advising session for PhDs. Do you know what all your rights and responsibilities are as a taxpayer? Could you use the advice of a professional? Then register for the Tax Lecture! Sessions are held for both Dutch and foreign employees.

Join us on March 8th, 17:30-19:00 at the Janskerkhof 2/3. Click here for more details and to register.


The UU Ombudsman: Paul Herfs
At the University of Utrecht, we have an ombudsman: Paul Herfs. With him, PhD candidates can discuss sensitive and confidential issues such as performance review, dismissal issues, problems affecting PhD candidates, working conditions, returning to work after chronic illness and clashes with colleagues.

Learn more about him here.


Thesis printing workshop
Would you like to know everything on getting your booklet printed? Family business Ridderprint will give a workshop in which they will explain the ins and outs of getting your dissertation ready to be printed. They will instruct you on important aspects, such as how long the process takes, what options are available to you and how you should prepare the document prior to submitting it for printing. It’s on!

On Thursday 12 April from 16:00-17:00, in the Van Unnik building, room 210, with drinks afterwards in the Basket. Please register for the event here!


Booghkring
Want to spread your knowledge outside of your scientific bubble? Here is your opportunity to give a layman’s talk! De Booghkring is society for higher educated people with acquired brain impairment. This society organises monthly Science Cafés in Leidsche Rijn and they are looking for researchers who can give a lecture in Dutch. For more information, visit their webpage, or email Miranda Thoen.


Prout workshop series: Engage your audience
Do you think it is important to talk about your research to a general audience? And would you like to learn how to do that effectively? Then we have a unique opportunity for you!

The Public Engagement Programme of Utrecht University is piloting a training series especially aimed at PhDs. The pilot consists of four training sessions and a grand evening to showcase your newly acquired skills. More information can be found here.

Prout workshop series: Engage your audience

Do you think it is important to talk about your research to a general audience? And would you like to learn how to do that effectively? Then we have a unique opportunity for you!

The Public Engagement Programme of Utrecht University is piloting a training series. In four afternoons, you will find your core message by learning how to pitch it to an 8-year-old, hone your blog-writing skills, learn about how and why public engagement is effective and which audience you can aim at, and how not to implode in front of a camera and a journalist. At the last evening, you will use your newly acquired skills to pitch the importance of your research to an audience of friends and family at Café Hofman. As this is a pilot, meant to develop a structural course for PhD’s, we will use your feedback to build this into an indispensable training for every PhD.

Tuesday 27 March, 15.00-18.00, Bestuursgebouw, Heidelberglaan 8, 033C
Tuesday 17 April, 15.00-18.00, Bestuursgebouw, Heidelberglaan 8, 033C
Tuesday 8 May, 15.00-18.00, Bestuursgebouw, Heidelberglaan 8, 033C
Tuesday 29 May, 15.00-18.00, Bestuursgebouw, Heidelberglaan 8, 033C
Wednesday 6 June, 20.30 Science Café at Hofman, Janskerkhof 17A

As there is only place for 10 participants, be sure to sign up quickly at publicengagement@uu.nl

“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.

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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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Newsletter January 2018

Dear PhD Candidate,

In 2017 we celebrated Prout’s 30th anniversary. We marked the occasion with a celebration at the Faculty Club, where we were joined by a number of Prout alumni – and even one of the founding members – who shared their experiences from their time at Prout. Last year also saw a number of fun, informative and successful events such as the annual PhD Tax Lecture, our information market on how to finish your PhD, and of course our trademark PhD drinks events.

For 2018, I would like to wish you all the best on behalf of the Prout board and all our representatives! At Prout, we hope to make this year as successful as the last one.

Best wishes,
Elmar Schmidt
Prout Secretary


Mental Health
The psychological well-being of PhD’s has received much attention since a 2017 publication reported that PhD’s have a higher rate of mental health problems than their other, highly educated, counterparts. At our own university, recent surveys undertaken by the GEO-GS and GSLS have shown similar results. Are you interested in this issue, or would like to hear tips and tricks to keeping sane during your PhD? Register for our UU-wide symposium on January 25th here.


Entrepreneurship and your PhD

Have you ever entertained the idea of becoming an entrepreneur? Prout and the UU-wide start-up incubator, UtrechtInc, are organizing an event for PhD’s who want to know more about building a start-up. A interactive workshop given by a coach from UtrechtInc will provide practical examples and fresh ideas for interested participants. Come join us on March, 22 at 4:00pm – ± 6:00 pm at UtrechtInc, Padualaan 8. Registration is required.


Engaging the public in your research
Finishing a PhD takes years of hard work. Sadly, your hard-won results usually fail to reach the non-academic audience. Utrecht University has started a public engagement programme to help PhD’s share their knowledge with the public. In the future, the UU and Prout will be collaborating on events meant to help researchers widen the awareness of their work. We will keep you updated on any developments!


Update from Utrecht PhD Party (UPP)
Recently, the UPP has brought important issues to the University Board’s attention. We requested that PhD’s be given the option of providing a layman’s talk just prior to a PhD defence. We also discussed parental leave issues. Another important issue was this year’s “graduate agenda.” The graduate agenda address how the PhD-trajectory can be improved, and what rights PhDs are entitled to. – We want to know your opinion on all these topics! – If you would like to comment on any of these issues, or want to inform us of other issues, please send us a message on FB or via email on upp@uu.nl.


Scientists’ labour unions
If you feel the need to join a labour union, for example to ensure a fair treatment in the workplace, then there are two options for you as a scientist: the FNV and the VAWO.

The FNV is a federation of Dutch trade unions, with a specific branch for scientists, and is committed to maintaining and improving PhD working conditions. Membership can be reimbursed via the UU, and this gives you benefit from workplace-related legal assistance, tax advice, and reduced insurance costs. Contact: mail and website.

The VAWO represents the permanent and temporary staff of universities, research institutions and academic medical centers, and is committed to the quality of academic education and research. They offer professional legal assistance for members. Membership costs 65 euros per year. Contact: mail and website.


Upcoming Events
Thu 18 Jan: New Years drinks with JongOBP
Thu 25 Jan: PhD Mental Health Symposium
In February: Prout’s Tax lecture
Thu 22 Mar: Entrepreneurship and your PhD, with UtrechtInc