Getting a PhD is learning and finding the right help

Gepubliceerd op 15 maart 2024 om 12:00

In the Netherlands, getting your PhD is a paid profession, while you are still kind of in-training. In four years of (full-time) PhD research you are trained to become an independent researcher. You will therefore have to obtain all kinds of knowledge and learn different skills during these years as a PhD candidate. As a researcher, you need to be able to do quite a few different things, from managing a research project to writing a thesis.

Spider in the web

You can think of a job as a doctoral candidate as being a spider in the web. The web is your dissertation and you are the one who has the overview of all the individual threads. In order to accomplish this, you have to be able to do a lot of different things. You have to be able to find, read, interpret and use the appropriate scientific literature to design your papers. You must be able to write your papers in good scientific English, but also be able to explain your research in a simple way to a broad audience. You need to collect, process, edit and analyze data. You also have to be able to coordinate your research, present, communicate with all kinds of different people, and many more things (depending on the type of research you do). That is quite a lot you have to do, right? Fortunately, you may have already mastered some of these skills and you have four years to master the rest of them.


Naturally, no one expects you to be able to do everything at day one of your doctoral research. After all, you are on a learning journey! As a PhD candidate, you are always attached to a university and every university has Graduate Schools, where you can take all kinds of courses. Some courses you are required to take as a PhD candidate (such as Academic Integrity) and you can consult with your PhD team to see which other courses are relevant to you. In addition, you usually have a training budget as a PhD candidate. You can use this for conference visits, but you can also spend it on courses both at and outside the university. There is also something called learning by doing. You may learn how to write on a scientific writing course, but you also learn this through feedback on your articles from co-authors.

Supportive services

Does this mean that a PhD candidate has to be able to do all these things completely perfectly by themselves? No, of course not. That would not be realistic. Fortunately, there are people with specific expertise whom you as a PhD candidate can always consult. Naturally, you have to be able to find literature yourself to design your papers, but conducting a complete (and accurate!) search for a meta-analysis is an entirely different story. That involves so much precision that it may be wise to call in an expert, such as the information specialist at your university's (medical) library. Similarly, you will probably have to learn how to do some statistics by yourself, but statistics are really a separate profession. It can therefore be very useful to consult an expert for your analyses, so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel.  We don’t recommend wasting too much time figuring out one specific analysis that you yourself may never use again after you are done. Universities often have experts or support services in the field of statistics, programming and data analysis that can be of great help to you. So even though it is your learning journey, getting your PhD truly requires teamwork!

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