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.