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    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.

    Why participate in this survey?

    The main goals of the annual PhD survey are threefold:

    Self-evaluation. You’re invited to reflect on your PhD trajectory and to compare your own answers to those of your peers.

    Early-problem detection mechanism. It gives you the opportunity to signal problems (concerning supervision, overall satisfaction with VUB, etc.)

    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.

    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!

    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 confident 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.


    General questions

    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.

    Is the survey compulsory?

    No, but it is in your 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 information about the PhD process you are not yet 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, buddies…


    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- our outside of your research group)

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

    Confidentiality and asking for help

    Who can see my response to the survey?

    Only you and the coordinator of this project (while the survey is taken) will be able to look at your survey directly.

    At the PhD researcher's request, the faculty PhD survey coordinator and the ombudsperson can be granted access by the coordinator. 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 should 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.

    To discuss and mitigate the 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.


    Do I get feedback from this survey?

    Overview reports will be generated once the survey will be closed. Using the 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

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

    Please contact the Central PhD Office.


    Whom should I contact for technical issues with the survey?

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


    Who guards the token database?

    The survey is token based, implying that the database which links the user to the token is kept separately from survey database.

    For this survey, it has been chosen to give the responsibility of the token to a single, mysterious VUB MOTUS employee. The employee is neither a PhD researcher, nor a promotor, nor a member of the central administration of the VUB.

    Results pilot survey


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

    The Central PhD 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