3. Planning and Supervision


Second to carrying out research and writing your dissertation, planning activities carefully is of vital importance for a successful PhD candidacy. Before the PhD candidate starts with his or her PhD project, a Quality Plan is drawn up in which a broad overview of the PhD project is given. As this overview is very broad, it is wise to draw up a more detailed plan together with the supervisors. This can be done at different stages of the project, such that the detailed plan is updated regularly during the course of the project. It can be the case that supervisors oblige their PhD candidate to make such a plan, but this might not always be the case. Therefore, the initiative and responsibility for a good plan lies with the PhD candidate. Most Graduate Schools offer general skills courses that can help the PhD candidate in making a successful plan (for example, a course on ‘Research Planning and Management’).


For a PhD candidate, the PhD supervisor (or promoter) is of vital importance. The Doctorate Board appoints at least one and at most two professors as PhD supervisor(s). This can be done ex officio or on the basis of a request from the PhD candidate. In exceptional cases, the Doctorate Board may decide to appoint more than two supervisors. At least one of the PhD supervisors must be a professor attached to Utrecht University. Next to the supervisor, a co-supervisor (co-promoter) and/or daily supervisor may be appointed at the request of the PhD supervisor after the approval of the dean of the faculty in question. A co-supervisor has a doctoral degree and has specific expertise in the discipline in which the doctoral thesis is written, but is not a professor. A co-supervisor is often closely involved in the daily supervision of the PhD candidate.

The supervision of the PhD candidate consists of periodical discussions on the progress of the project and other tasks of the PhD candidate. These other tasks will mostly concern the training that he/she attends and the classes that he/she teaches. Therefore, the main task of the supervisor is to encourage the fulfilment of these tasks. He/she acts as a sounding board and a reviewer. The supervisor coaches the PhD candidate towards the realisation of the doctoral thesis through periodical meetings. When more supervisors are involved in the project, they agree on the division of tasks amongst them, after consultation with the PhD candidate. The details of the coaching role of the co-supervisor are decided in consultation with the supervisor. This can and should be done in writing, and should specifically be put down in the Training and Supervision Agreement (see 3.3).

Some faculties may also involve other persons in the education and supervision of PhD students, such as a PhD coordinator/dean or mentor. Because arrangements differ between faculties, these are not included in the general information provided here. To see if this applies to your faculty, consult your faculty or Graduate School website.

Training and Supervision Agreement

With the introduction of the Graduate Schools within Utrecht University, every PhD candidate has to fill in a Training and Supervision Agreement (TSA, also called Training and Supervision Plan or Education and Supervision Agreement in some faculties). The TSA is a document that details the rights and duties of a PhD candidate, agreements regarding supervision, and an education plan that specifies the parts of the personal PhD training programme. When the requirements of this contract are fully met you can apply for the Graduate School certificate that is conferred at the dissertation. To obtain more specific information regarding the TSA, consult the information provided by your own Graduate School. As an example, you can take a look at the TSA for the Graduate School of Life Sciences.