GRIN is surprised and disappointed to learn that the board of the University of Groningen has decided to increase the scholarship of bursary PhD students by only 4% this year. The bursary contract stipulates very clearly that the scholarship is annually adjusted according to the CBS consumer price index, which was 9.7% in April this year. We feel this decision is unfair to the bursary PhD students that already earn less than their employee colleagues and also did not receive the 450€ compensation granted to employee PhDs in June. Moreover, we are disappointed by the official communication the university has given in response to those PhDs who asked for clarification. We find it especially striking that the 4% increase is justified by comparing it to seemingly unrelated and anecdotal other inflation corrections, like tuition fees or the wage increase of employee PhDs. We consider the University a trustworthy employer and we hope that this wrongdoing is corrected shortly.
During the PhD RALLY, together with the PhD councils, GRIN raised the awareness of the University Elections within the PhD community. We are pleased that many PhD candidates were elected. We would like to congratulate the following PhDs who were involved in the PhD RALLY:
- Alexine de Wit (University Council, staff section)
- Taichi Ochi (University Council, student section)
- Taís Fernanda Blauth (Faculty Council Campus Fryslân, student section)
- Alva Bechlenberg (Faculty Council of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, student section)
- Teja Rebernik (Faculty Council of the Faculty of Arts, staff section)
The full results can be found here.
The university elections are coming up soon! From May 17th to May 21st, you can vote for the University and Faculty Council. Here, highly relevant issues to PhDs are discussed and decided upon: the PhD scholarship experiment, PhD wellbeing, an inclusive university and scientific career development, just to name a few. We think it is important that PhDs are well represented within these councils, so please go vote for a PhD candidate! You can find more information here.
If you are interested in the candidates and ideas they have for the university and faculties, please join the PhD RALLY, organized by GRIN. Here you will be able to meet the candidates and discuss some of the issues mentioned above. It will be held online, May 17th at 5pm. Sign up for the election event here.
A couple of times during the academic year, GRIN organizes the PhD platform meeting. Here all PhD councils have the opportunity to discuss the most pressing PhD-related issues with the Dean of Groningen Graduate Studies (currently Petra Rudolf). Last Wednesday, we had a platform meeting where the following points were discussed:
There are different experiences regarding extensions in all faculties, but one thing is clear: there is a lot of uncertainty. Guidelines regarding the allocation of extensions would be beneficial in this light. However, in the discussion with Petra Rudolf, the message becomes clearer: “Everyone should try to finish within the allotted time – when this is not possible, there will be a regular inventory made, also in the coming years, regarding extensions. This should be discussed during the fourth-year interview.” This means that the extensions were not a one-off thing and should always be discussed with the supervisor first. The Dutch government has recently announced €162 million to be made available for young researchers facing delays. The university board has not yet clarified what share of this money will go to PhDs; GRIN will of course follow this development and try to make sure PhDs will be involved in the decision-making process.
This discussion was sparked by a three-part article in the University Newspaper (UK). Giving the innate hierarchy in the PhD-supervisor relation, it is very hard to address these issues. For councils, when a PhD comes to you with such issues, it is recommended to offer support and direct them to the appropriate channels. The RUG has various structures in place for PhDs dealing with supervisor relation problems. These include: Peer support groups; PhD advisors; the PhD psychologist; confidential advisors (at the faculty or university level), and the occupational physician. The graduate schools are working on courses for PhD supervisors to prevent these problems.
Mental health issues
There remains to be a taboo on discussing mental health issues. Many PhD councils are organizing events to aid PhD candidates in dealing with these issues and the university has e-learning materials available, which have been used by hundreds of PhDs in the past year. There are very positive experiences with peer support groups, which are also organized by some councils.
There are university elections coming up and GRIN will organize an event in May regarding PhD-related issues. More info is coming later!
A couple of times during the academic year, GRIN organizes the PhD platform meeting. Here all PhD councils have the opportunity to discuss the most pressing PhD-related issues with the Dean of Groningen Graduate Studies (currently Petra Rudolf). In November 2020, we had a virtual platform meeting due to the COVID-19 measures in place. The topics discussed were the following:
The pandemic is causing a lot of problems: both organisational (e.g. due to less efficient work in laboratories) and mental. All councils agree that there should be more budget allocated to PhD extensions for COVID-related delays. Some PhD councils also indicate that their faculties are currently more strict with handing out regular extensions, however, according to the Dean, this should not be the case. Regarding teaching, within some faculties teaching hours have been increased. There are also some PhD candidates who have been infected by their students.
PhD scholarship experiment
There is still a discrepancy of information on the status of bursary students (e.g. supervisors not updated, defining difference between bursary and employee). With a new incoming batch of bursary PhD students, clarity of information is needed to ensure there are no issues arising teaching and rights of bursary PhD students. Although there is a push towards better transparency of information, many students (especially incoming) still perceive a gap of information in relation to the new rules. The Dean is continuously working on improvements of the communication related to the experiment. All updated information is now available online, but it is up to the individual PhD student to make sure that these points are clear to the supervisor.
The GSS is currently working on a platform that will display all university-wide PhD courses. It should be ready within six months. Furthermore, the GSS is establishing means for PhDs to improve their teaching skills. PhDs will be eligible to obtain their UTQ, the qualification for academic teaching. There is also support for PhDs who would like to teach in high school after their PhD (only in Dutch).
It has proved difficult to get PhDs in elected positions, such as the University Council and Faculty Councils. This is especially true for scholarship PhDs who have to be elected in the student factions. There are several examples of faculties where scholarship PhDs tried to get elected, but did not receive sufficient votes. This is a problem that GRIN and the PhD councils will collaborate on later, as the next university elections will be held in May. Information on why it is important to vote, as well as getting PhDs in high positions on the various lists, will be the priority.
The academic year has started a while ago. It will be a strange year probably, with all the Corona measures that need to be taken. Nevertheless, GRIN will continue to represent all PhDs in Groningen, especially now that it is needed most. Below you can find what we are planning for the coming months and some information on our board.
Upcoming Tuesday the first series of GRIN workshops for PhD councils will start. We hope this gives practical ideas to PhD councils to represent PhDs within their faculties even better. We’re very excited to announce that both PNN and GOPHER have agreed to collaborate with us in in this initiative, and will each be facilitating one workshop respectively. The subjects covered in four hour-long workshops are: RUG governance, role of a PhD council, know Your Rights (by PNN), communicating with your PhDs (by GOPHER).
The workshop series is open for all PhD council members, if you are not a PhD council member, but are interested in participating, please let us know.
A couple of times each year, the PhD platform meeting is organized by GRIN. Here all PhD councils gather and discuss relevant topics with the Dean of Graduate Studies (currently Petra Rudolf). This is currently planned for November 4th.
Some changes have been made in the composition of the board of GRIN. First of all, Jaap is stepping down as secretary of the board to take on a more supporting role in the upcoming year. Furthermore, we will be joined this year by Alexine de Wit. Finally, we are changing some functions within the board and have come to the following composition:
• Chair: Samuël Nelemans, email@example.com
• Secretary: Simon van der Pol, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Treasurer: Taichi Ochi, email@example.com
• PhD Council Empowerment: Alexine de Wit, firstname.lastname@example.org
We would like to thank Simon and Jaap for reviving GRIN when it was most needed and for their outstanding work over the past year as chair an secretary of the board. We are happy and grateful for their past and continued contribution to the wellbeing of all PhDs throughout the university!
New Corona measures
For anyone who missed it, please have a look at the new measures the university took with regards to the Corona virus, as well as the measures announced by the government. In short, for PhDs this means we should go back to working at home as much as possible, but can still access university facilities if we really need to. Condition is that we uphold the regulations with regards to social distancing and personal hygiene, and we are strongly recommended to bring a face mask when visiting the university.
All PhDs are represented on the national level by the PhD Network Netherlands (PNN). Currently, PNN is looking for new board members. For this opportunity you have to be fluent speaker of Dutch. You can find all necessary information (in Dutch) here. The deadline to submit your application is September 11.
This week, the student parties have elections at the University of Groningen for the University Council and Faculty Councils. This means that all PhD students under the scholarship experiment and some PhDs with other grants (such as an Indonesian DIKTI scholarship) can vote! This is an important way to make sure the interests of PhDs are represented at the central and faculty levels. So please go to rug.nl/vote and cast your vote.
We would have liked to provide a list of PhD students you could vote for, but unfortunately, no PhDs are on the lists for the University Council elections. But please, have a look at your faculty council list and see whether a PhD is on there who can use your vote!
GRIN has written an open letter to the new Dean of Graduate Studies, together with the PhDs behind the manifesto and the PhDs in the University Council. In the letter, we discuss the recent developments of the PhD scholarship experiment and how things should move forward.