Portal for

    Research is a learning experience

    The PhD survey was initiated to monitor and better support PhD candidates during their trajectory. Several initiatives are already in place to support doctoral candidates' general wellbeing (the PhD buddy project, ombudsperson, Centre for mental health support,…). However, for some doctoral candidates, the threshold to these services remains too high. Therefore, the Doctoral Schools and the Central PhD Office decided to install an annual survey.

    What is the PhD survey?

    Once a year, doctoral students will be invited to fill out a PhD survey with questions about their supervisors and scientific guidance networks, the students' perceived progress of the research, their career plans and training needs.

    Via the survey, doctoral students can request to meet up with the faculty PhD survey coordinator or the ombudsperson for an informal talk concerning issues of their doctoral progress.

    Completing the PhD survey is highly recommended but not obligatory. You can look at the survey as the subjective counterpart to the annual PhD progress report. While the progress report mainly focusses on your research results so far, the PhD survey highlights your perspective and gives you an opportunity to detail problems and doubts anonymously.

    How do I participate in the survey?

    The survey will be introduced to all faculties in 2018 (after a well-received pilot survey in three faculties in 2017). You will receive an e-mail with a personal token and a link to enter the survey. The server used is https://www.motusresearch.io (this allows you to verify whether or not you are dealing with a phishing mail / website).

    The more students participate, the easier it will be to see what went well and what went wrong. Don't forget to mention any problems you encountered during your research. An issue that many students have encountered could indicate bad practices, while unique problems offer new perspectives!

    Start the PhD survey now!

    You will be redirected to the website of MOTUS research, an online survey platform of the VUB sociology department, who are in charge of the data collection and analysis. You can login by filling out the login and password you received via mail. Thank you very much in advance for your participation!


    The main goals of this annual PhD survey are threefold:

    1. Self-evaluation. It gives PhD candidates the opportunity to reflect on their PhD trajectory and to compare their own answers to that of other VUB PhD candidates.
    2. Early-problem detection mechanism. It gives the opportunity to signal problems (concerning supervision, overall satisfaction with VUB, etc.) to the faculty and – if needed – to the ombudsperson
    3.  Feedback mechanism to different services and entities within the university. The results will be used to adjust support offered by the Doctoral Schools & the Central PhD Office, its reports will be presented and circulated to all doctoral candidates and supervisors.

    These goals are further detailed in Figure 1, a visual representation of all involved parties and the different layers of the survey.  We observe the PhD candidate within the scientific guidance network, including the supervisor(s), advisory committee, buddy/colleagues.

    The PhD candidates answer the questions in the survey, which are collected and analysed by the research group TOR of the Sociology Department. Your answers to the questions are confidential and will be stored anonymously together with a token. This token is also present in a database containing your personal (contact) information and student number. All information is stored in a separate database on a secured VPS-server owned by the Research Group TOR. Your contact information will only be used to contact (eg. Reminders, follow-up email) you throughout the study. This is done by automatic processes. Your student number will be used to link your results on a yearly basis to create a longitudinal database. This longitudinal data will be linked to student-specific administrative information concerning the status of your doctoral trajectory (if you finished your PhD or not). The linkage is done through the common token and can only be made by one appointed person of the Research Group TOR. The data is stored by TOR indefinitely.

    Since the information to identify each individual is stored in a separate place, the analysed database itself is coded and anonymous. Both the anonymous database and the report are sent to the Central PhD Office to be further distributed to the faculty PhD survey coordinators. Each faculty PhD survey coordinator signs a confidential agreement and receives two datasets: one with contact details from PhD candidates who gave their email address at the end of the survey and one anonymised dataset with faculty-specific data. They can use the data for faculty-specific questions and to report faculty-specific aggregated results to their faculty members. Confidential remarks from PhD candidates remain between the faculty coordinator and the PhD candidate, except if the latter agrees to inform third parties (in case this is needed to solve a particular problem). No personal information is shared with other parties without explicit approval of the PhD candidates, except when other legislation requires the notification of competent authorities (for example: suicidal inclination or unacceptable behaviour).

    PhD candidates can thus signal problems themselves, but next to that a cluster analysis is performed to get an overview of cases who are unsupported and/or uncertain about their PhD trajectory. These persons can be contacted via the separate database of TOR. The faculty PhD survey coordinator doesn’t know the person’s identity as long as this person does not reply to the message. We want to maximise the opportunities for the PhD candidates to get back on track – if needed.

    Figure 1: Feedback loops of the annual PhD survey


    If you have other questions concerning the PhD survey, please check our FAQ pages.

    The GDPR legislation is respected concerning the full set-up and execution of this survey.  You can coerce your rights concerning access, rectification, deletion and objection via  dpo@vub.be . If you have any questions regarding privacy or your personal data, you can contact the VUB Data Protection Officer. A formal complaint is possible via the Privacy Commission. commission@privacycommission.be.


    PhD survey: frequently asked questions

    Confidentiality, use of data and contact details. To make the most out of your PhD survey, here is some information that could help.

    General questions

    Is the survey compulsory?

    No, but it is in you and your colleagues’ best interest to take your time to fill it out.

    Based on your answers, PhD policy plans of the central PhD office, doctoral schools and faculties can be adapted. It also contains a wealth of information about the PhD process you might not yet be aware of and can help you in clarifying some issues.


    What is a “scientific guidance network”?

    The scientific guidance network comprises all the people involved in the scientific progress of the PhD research. It includes the supervisors, daily advisors, the guidance committee, PhD colleagues, postdoctoral researchers, …


    What is a “doctoral advisory commission”?

    Each PhD researcher has a doctoral advisory commission. This commission minimally consists of your supervisor and another expert in your specific research field (in- or outside of your research group)

    The doctoral advisory commission monitors the progress of the PhD candidate and provides advice for its future development.

    Confidentiality and asking for help

    Who can see my responses to the survey?

    Only the TOR researchers who are responsible to analyze the data have access to your responses. The main coordinator of the PhD survey only gets access to the anonymized data in which your answers cannot be traced back to you.

    At the PhD researcher's own request, the faculty PhD survey coordinator and the ombudsperson can be granted access to your non-anonymized responses. All other stakeholders only have access to aggregated databases where the identities of the PhD candidates are hidden.


    Can my supervisor/guidance committee see my responses?

    No. The survey is anonymous by default.

    Even if you decide to lift your anonymity by request, e.g. by specifying your contact information, your supervisors and your guidance committee still don’t have access to any of the responses. On request, only the faculty PhD survey coordinator and the ombudspersons will have access to the responses and will treat them in a confidential way.

    Your supervisors and guidance committee will only have access to general reports where the results are aggregated on department or faculty level. The identity of the PhD researchers and the supervisors cannot be revealed.


    Will the data be used in academic file of the supervisor?

    No, the supervisors are not identified in the survey.


    The survey triggered some personal questions. To whom can I turn to?

    If you want to talk about some issues without waiting for the analysis of the survey, you can always contact your faculty PhD survey coordinator or one of the ombudspersons.


    When is it appropriate to reveal my identity?

    If you decide to reveal your identity, the survey can be seen by the faculty coordinator and the ombudsperson. Your identity will not be known by your colleagues or faculty.

    Revealing your identity is important if you are looking for help. You can specify contact information so that the faculty coordinator will be able to contact you for a confidential discussion.


    What is the task of the faculty Phd survey coordinator?

    Faculty coordinators receive a report which summarises general survey results per faculty and highlights particular questions and problems of the respondents on the faculty level.

    To discuss and mitigate individual problems, he/she contacts the respondents who agreed to give away their contact details.

    The faculty coordinator will try to solve the flagged issues, preferably by coaching the PhD researcher. If he/she is unable to solve the problem, the issue can be passed on to the ombudsperson.


    My supervisor is the faculty PhD survey coordinator. Is there a conflict of interest?

    We make sure that the faculty coordinator cannot process the responses of the PhD candidates they are supervising. A substitute is appointed for this purpose, and will also handle your questions confidentially.


    Do I get feedback from this survey?

    Overview reports will be generated once the survey will be closed. Using a token-based system, you will have the ability to relate your responses to the overall responses of the other PhD candidates.


    Data collection and technical matters

    How is my anonymity guarded in this survey?

    The survey is token based, which means that your personal data is uniquely identified with a token instead of your name. The database which links the user to the token is kept separately from the now anonymized survey database that is used for further data analyses. For this survey, a single, mysterious VUB MOTUS employee has been chosen to guard the database which links the user to the token. This employee is neither a PhD researcher, nor a promotor, nor a member of the central administration of the VUB. He or she treats this database with full confidentiality.


    I have some general questions on the data collection and processing of the survey. Whom can I turn to?

    Please contact the Researcher Training & Development Office


    Whom should I contact for technical issues with the survey?

    Report technical issues with the survey to motus@vub.ac.be

    Did you participate last year and want to compare your results to others? Check it out...


    Results 2021

    The results for 2021 can be found here:

    Report VUB PHD Survey 2021


    Results 2020

    The results for 2020 can be found here:

    Report VUB PHD Survey 2020

    Appendix to the main report

    A seperate report was prepared specifically on the Corona-related questions in the survey. You can find it here.


    Results 2019

    Read the full report.

    Results 2018

    Read our first compendium to get insight into the characteristics of those who participated in the survey, to reflect on what PhD-candidates’ research plans have in common, and get a better understanding of the doubts respondents had about finishing their PhD trajectory successfully. 

    This second compendium about the PhD survey will focus on two key components of PhD candidates’ work satisfaction: support of the supervisor and the research environment. What do PhD candidates appreciate most about their supervisors and how do they perceive the assistance offered by the larger guidance network at the university?

    This is the third compendium of the PhD survey 2018 in which we will continue to explore job satisfaction at VUB amongst doctoral candidates. In this respect four clusters were identified. Some PhD candidates are lyrical about their PhD: they follow a smooth path and are very happy with the support they receive, while others feel more neglected and concerned about successfully defending their PhD. How we identified these groups and how it relates to other characteristics of doing a PhD, you’ll find out here. 

    Do you want more details or hungry for more results, please read our full report

    Did you receive an invitation for the VUB PhD Survey but you did not participate yet? Don’t waste more time and start it right away!

    You need extra incentives why it is important to share your thoughts and experiences with us? Read our fourth compendium and learn more about the recommendations to the faculty boards and new initiatives RTDO started with your input!

    Results Pilotsurvey

    Read the results of pilot PhD survey of 2017. Each compendium sheds light on a specific theme/part of the survey.

    The Researcher Training & Development Office and the Doctoral Schools collaborate with the research group TOR (Tempus Omnia Revelat) to collect the data. They performed the first analyses for the PhD survey and were involved in drafting the first results. The involved researchers are Julie Verbeylen, Joeri Minnen & Ignace Glorieux.

    First compendium: background of the study; results concerning the level of passion in research, perception on successfully defending etc.

    Second compendium: research plan & guidance network

    Third compendium: time use of PhD candidates: multitasking and flexibility