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    Why do a PhD?

    Innovation and discovery are the bases of a PhD. But what exactly does it mean to do a PhD at our university? Find out what we have to offer, and explore research options that match your tastes!



    A doctorate might suit you!

    VUB is researching a variety of topics and providing support for passionate candidates.

    A long-term relationship

    The first step of any journey doesn't have to be the hardest, but it certainly is the most important. Here, you can find our research offers, as well as some advice to help you pick a PhD subject you are comfortable with.

    PhD candidates wanted in various fields of study!

    Feel free to browse our list of available PhD topics. Once you find a subject that you are interested in, contact the supervisor to see if you could arrange a collaboration.

    Tips for picking a suitable topic

    First and foremost, you can choose a subject and supervisor that may allow you to apply for a scholarship. Candidates of Chinese nationality may be eligible for a CSC Scholarship, which covers transport and health insurance and also offers a monthly allowance.

    In addition to the list provided above, you may find more fitting topics and willing supervisors within the university's website. Even if they do not appear on the list, these professors are definitely interested in discussing the topics with you. The search engine available on the VUB research webpage can help you find research subjects, researchers or research teams.

    Finally, remember that many supervisors are open to new ideas. Don't be afraid to suggest a research topic you are fond of to a professor in your field of study.

    Profile of a good supervisor

    The supervisor has the responsibility to guide and stimulate the PhD candidate throughout the research process. Doctoral candidates have the same obligation towards their supervisors.

    In order to clarify the expectations of both parties, the "Profile of a good supervisor" was drawn up by the Research Council (OZR).

    This document is used by the PhD Progress Monitoring Commission (CDO) in their yearly assesment of the PhD project. The commitment between supervisor and PhD candidate is ratified by the "Research registration Form" that needs to be filled out by both the supervisor and the PhD candidate with every appointment.

    Applying for a PhD at the VUB

    Prerequisites, necessary documents and fees. Find out everything you need in order to apply for a PhD.

    Application problems

    Enrolment issues, certificates, studentcards or invoices

    Education and Student Administration

    Useful documents

    PhD regulations and forms used for application, course registration and more

    Rules and Forms for PhD candidates

    Starting a joint PhD

    It's possible to do your PhD in collaboration with two educational institutions

    Joint PhDs

    The yearly progress report

    PhD candidates must submit an annual report describing the progress they've made. The progress report determines whether the candidate gets permission to enrol in the next academic year.

    Deadline and procedure

    Each academic year PhD candidates are obliged to submit an annual report outlining the progress they have made in their PhD research. Deadline and practical information is provided by your faculty.

    The annual progress report will be assessed by the faculty's PhD Progress Monitoring Commission:

    • If the Commission is of the opinion that the PhD process is continuing favourably, the Registrar's Office will issue the PhD candidate with the appropriate form for automatic re-admission.
    • If the Commission is of the opinion that there is not enough progress, it may decide to interview the PhD candidate and the supervisor. At the candidate's request, the ombudsperson may also be present for the interview.

    By the end of June, the Commission must report to the Rector with a full account of its reasons for advising why the PhD candidate should not be readmitted. 

    The decision whether or not you will be given permission to enrol for the next academic year is based on this assessment. If you do not submit a progress report, you will not be able to enrol for the following year.

    Submit your progress report by the 30th of April

    Content of the progress report

    Most faculties issue documents or templates to outline the structure and content of the annual progress report. According to the Central PhD Regulations, the PhD progress report should contain:

    1. an overview of activities dating from the end of March of the previous academic year until the end of March of the current academic year.
    2. a plan of the PhD process for the upcoming academic year
    3. an indication of problems encountered: a description of past or possible future problems and the manner in which they were or could be dealt with
    4. a report by the supervisor outlining the PhD candidate's activities
    5. proof of attendance for the first day of the PhD Introduction Days, if the candidate has started their PhD programme from 2017-2018 onward. If you've attended and signed the registratrion list, we will upload proof of your presence to your 'attended seminars' in Portfolio. You can screenshot this as proof for your progress report.

    Each faculty is free to add items to this list and lay down the format of the document to be submitted. Students are advised to consult the faculty-specific progress report rules and templates. You can find the credit table with the quadrants and credits for different activities here.

    • Does your doctorate exceed the competence of a single faculty? If so, check for progress report templates on this page.
    Let us know how your PhD was handled

    Your opinions, questions and feedback

    Every year, doctoral candidates will be invited to participate in a confidential PhD survey in which they can assess their own progress and the help they have received so far. Candidates can also request a meet-up with their faculty representative or ombudsperson.

    As a result of this survey, candidates can benefit from clarification and support for the obstacles they encountered. It also helps faculties improve their research and communication methods, while acknowledging efficient practices and good supervisors.

    We look forward to receiving your feedback in the next annual PhD survey!

    Progress report rules and guidelines

    Faculty progress reports

    Find out more about the annual PhD survey

    PhD Survey

    Publishing your dissertation

    Publishing your PhD thesis is not mandatory, but if you want to make your work known there are ways to fund the process.

    Publishing grants

    VUB regularly offers grants to improve the quality of PhD research. These grants consist of up to € 750 and are used to fund travel, publishing and other research activities the doctoral candidate may partake in.

    Publishing grants are only available for the Doctoral School of Human Sciences (DSh) and the Doctoral School of Life Sciences and Medicine (LSM). No publishing grants are available for the Doctoral School of Natural Sciences and (Bioscience) Engineering (NSE).

    Find out when and how to obtain them on our page about VUB publishing grants.

    Language support

    To improve the quality of academic English, the university also offers grants for language vouchers. PhD candidates enrolled at the VUB may request language vouchers periodically. These are used for editing and proofreading their PhD thesis or any publication targeted at participating on the international level.

    For more details on language vouchers, please check our page on VUB language support.


    As an academic publishing company, VUBPress offers PhD candidates the possibility to publish their doctoral thesis in a professional way, at competitive prices and with flexible services going far beyond a mere ‘printing’ assignment.

    The shop offers extensive customization, layout correction and copyright protection arrangements. With the candidate's permission, VUBPress can publish the thesis and promote it online, internationally.

    You can find their offers and contact details on the VUBPress leaflet.

    Intellectual property and valorisation

    Via technology transfer, the university may pass on intellectual property rights. If your research may lead into the development of a product, here's what you should know.

    The conclusion of your PhD research

    Doctoral candidates can arrange a defence for their thesis any time of the year. You will have to defend your results in front of an academic board before finally presenting your thesis to the public.

    Update September 2021: official guidelines on PhD Defences in light of COVID-19 measures

    As of 20 September 2021, doctoral defences are possible on campus or other locations with a maximum of 200 people physically present. Also receptions are possible, outside as well as inside, for the same amount of persons. Please take the capacity of the auditorium/room into account – maximum half the capacity can be used. For the “promotiezaal” (D2.01) for example this means a maximum of 40 persons are allowed in the room. There are also still travel restrictions that apply, so if needed please make sure your international jury members can attend the public defence online. You are no longer obliged to provide a script for the event itself nor for the reception. Keep in mind that Brussels’ rules regarding catering apply here: when organizing the reception inside, people need to be seated at tables of maximum 8 persons and respecting the distance of 1,5m. Doctoral defences are also still possible in a digital format. Please check our digital reference guide  that shows how you can organize this. The reference guides are compliant with the Central PhD Regulations and the best practices of the VUB Teams team. This way of working can be adapted according to supplementary agreements within the respective faculties. This way of working is possible until the end of the academic year 2020-2021 until further notice.

    By derogation from the central doctoral regulations the period of 1 month in between the successful private defence and the public defence can still be extended when all parties involved (supervisor, doctoral candidate and jury members) agree to this.

    >>> Follow all official Corona updates from the VUB here <<<

    Compulsory enrolment

    You will only be admitted to a public defence of your thesis if you are formally registered as a PhD candidate. All junior researchers working on a PhD will have to enrol from the moment they start their research.

    To get started, have a look at our admission requirements and the enrolment procedure.

    Submitting your doctoral thesis

    Before submitting your thesis, you are advised to study the Central PhD Regulations, particularly articles 27-30, as well as the supplementary faculty regulations.

    Once you have finished writing your doctoral thesis, it is time to schedule the defence. When you wish to take the doctoral examination, you need to send the following items to the Dean of your faculty:

    • a written request co-signed by the supervisor(s)
    • a number of printed copies of your thesis equal to the number of jury members + one or more copies for the library, depending on faculty regulations.
    • an electronic version of your thesis. One copy shall remain at the faculty secretariat for the academic staff.

    You will also have to provide your faculty secretariat with an abstract of your thesis, which will be published on the university's website along with the announcement of your oral defence.

    The doctoral thesis may be written in either Dutch or English. Deviations may be allowed.

    Private and public defences may take a few weeks to organise

    Procedure of the defence

    While preparing for the public defence procedure, you are advised to study the Central PhD Regulations, particularly articles 31-37, as well as the supplementary faculty regulations.

    After receiving your request, the Faculty Council shall set up an examination board consisting of a minimum of three professors (“ZAP”) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and a minimum of two external members. All jury members must hold a PhD, and the candidate's supervisor cannot be the chair of the examination jury.

    There are several stages to your defence. You can consult this defence schema to get an overview of the process. To summarise, here's what you can expect:

    1. Within two months, the examination board will evaluate the submitted doctoral thesis and reach a conclusion.
    2. First, the private defence takes place. The examination board will decide whether or not you are allowed to move on to the public defence, with or without changes. The defence will take place in either Dutch or English.
    3. The public defence takes place up to 1 month after the private defence. You will need to give a presentation to the jury and the lay audience about your research, after which the jury and the audience have the right to question you. The examination board will deliberate immediately after the discussion phase and publicly announce their decision.