Report: PhD-evening

Are you planning on doing a PhD somewhere in the future or are you just curious about the PhD-life? Have you always wondered what it is like to be a researcher at the University of Amsterdam? Thursday the 6th, a PhD. information evening was held, organised by the student association for physicists and mathematicians (NSA) and the student council (FSR). It was a great success, about 100 students attended the meeting and many questions were asked and answered. Did you miss the evening or would you like to rethink the answers that were given? This is a report on the evening.


Introduction: Prof. Dr. Kareljan Schoutens

The evening started with a introduction talk by prof. Schoutens. The slides can be found [here]. The talk covered many different aspects of doing a PhD. An important message that prof. Schoutens gave was: Don’t do a PhD. because it’s the easiest road, dreams may not come true. He also explained that study and research are two very different things.

Then he gave some information on how to get a PhD. position. His advice was to tell everyone that you’re looking for a PhD. and to ask for advertisements. Use your network. Identify an interesting group and email them. Look for funding opportunities. This raises your chance of getting a phd.

When you are working on a PhD., you get a lot from the university and you also master some usefull skills. You are also required to do some things:

  • Training and development

  • Generic skills e.g. mastering your PhD

  • Scientific training in research school

  • Workshops for teaching

  • Attending workshops and conferences

  • Learn about bureaucracy and how the organisation works

These skills and workshops help you in your academic career. They are generally thought of as good for academia and for showing your talent. A downside could be that you are very specialistic. Doing a PhD. will help you end up at good places. Prof. Schoutens did a PhD. himself supervised by nobel laureate Gerart ‘t Hooft.

After the introduction, there was some time for questions. The first question was on whether it’s harder to get post doc when you’re older than 30. Prof. Schoutens explained that it depends on the field. If you are good it will not be a problem. He thinks that taking the next step in your academic career is harder.

A question on finishing a PhD. project was proposed. Prof. Schoutens explained about the UvA system. Your progress as a PhD. is tracked during the first nine months. At first you will have an evaluation about your progress so far. To continue is a decision that is made by the student and supervisor together. There are always difficult moments during a PhD.

Then another question was asked: Is it common to create your own PhD. place as trough grants? Prof. Schoutens explained that some foreign students do that. Sometimes the grant is to lean and they need extra money to have a sufficient budget. It is however not a standard road to take.


How to get a PhD. position:

After the meeting prof. Schoutens gave some more tips on applying for a position. It is very important to start early. You should apply in December if you want to have a place in August. You should check the admission requirements on the university’s website, e.g. like here.

Some interesting websites to find a phd are:

If you want extra information on doing a PhD you can look at this book:
“Mastering your PhD.” – Patricia Gosling, Bart Noordam, ISBN 978-3-642-15847-6

The slides used by prof. dr. Kareljan Schoutens can be found here.

Panel discussion with four current Ph.D. students

After the talk a panel discussion was held based on questions from the audience. 4 PhD.’s from different scientifical field gave their opinions: Sjors, Britt, Guido and Yash.

Question: How many teaching obligations did you have during your PhD.?

  • Sjors: Only first in the first three years I had these obligations. They covered 10-20% of my time.

  • Britt: I had to do two practical courses, for which I also had to learn about the subject I was teaching. Furthermore I had to supervise four master students with their masterproject.

  • Guido agrees with Britt. He also had to supervise some master students. Good students can also help.

  • Britt is able to choose her own master students.

Question:  Which kind of students did you teach?

  • Guido: Master students.

  • Sjors: Bachelor students.

  • Britt: Bachelor students.

  • Yash: I was a teaching assistant.

Question: Did you have to write your own PhD. proposal?

  • Guido: My supervisor had a project and money. He then attracted a PhD. It was quite vague.

  • Britt: There were some things I could change about my proposal.

  • Britt and Yash both said that they had a lot of influence themselves.

Question: How structured is your life as a PhD.?

  • Sjors: You can schedule for yourself. I like to start early at 8:30 am. Around deadlines I am more busy.

  • Yash: I am able to sometimes take a day off on a weekday and a day off during the weekends. My schedule is really flexible.

  • Guido: My schedule is mostly flexible. If things need to be done, my schedule is less flexible.

Question to Guido: What is the difference between a PhD. and an internship?

  • Guido: It’s the same thing only if it goes wrong it is your fault. He rolled in his PhD. from his masterproject. You have to think about what has to be done.


Question: What is the difference to other projects in writing?

  • Britt: A masters thesis is more focused on learning.


The panel was asked to pick their five positives and five negatives about doing a PhD. and order them. They came up with the following:

Question: Why is freedom such an important part of a PhD.?

  • Yash: When you are doing a PhD., you have more freedom than in other jobs.


Question: What was the longest you ever got stuck?

  • Britt: I got stuck for two years. None of the other panel members could top that.


Question: How much publications do you have to get for your PhD.?

  • Guido: Four publications is the guideline.

  • Britt: You usually write four chapters in your thesis.

  • None of the panel members had published four papers so far.


Question: How do you write three papers Sjors?

  • Sjors: It depends on the field. In my field there’s lots of data available freely.


Question: Are you afraid you might not finish your PhD.?

  • Britt: Yes. I’m halfway with writing, I hope I end it.

  • Guido: Four years is not enough. All my colleagues have more than 4 years. That is scary, because I have to do it in four years. I know someone who did their PhD. in 7.5 years.


Question: What are your salaries?

  • Guido: The salaries are by law.

  • Sjors: You can look it up. In the first year it’s 2000 euro gross, 1665 netto. After one year it’s raised by 300 euro. At 2600 euro it stops.


Question: Have you explored more than you expected?

  • Yash: In isa first 2 years scouting for subject. change for to long


Question: Have you applied somewhere else?

  • Sjors: I started my PhD. in Utrecht. My previous institute was closed. Luckily my supervisor moved to UvA, so I could continue my PhD.


Question: Do you attend any lectures?

  • Britt: I did one on microscopy, but it was not obliged. There are invited speakers, once every two months. You can enroll in courses if you’d like to attend any.

  • Sjors: You can go to summer or winter schools to learn extra skills, like programming.



Question: How often do you see your supervisor?

  • Yash: Lunch, once a week

  • Sjors: When I have a question.

  • Guido: Once a week. My actual promotor a lot less.

  • Britt: In the beginning I met my supervisor every day to learn. Now it’s still a lot.

  • Sjors: I know people who quit after 1 year because they had no good relation with their supervisor. It’s possible to switch supervisor.


Question: When choosing a PhD., did you mainly pick your supervisor or your topic?

  • Britt: I chose the topic. Interview was on Skype

  • Guido: I mainly chose my supervisor. I prefer more contact over a bigger name.

  • Sjors: I picked the project. I heard that the supervisor was good.

  • Yash: I picked the topic.


Question: What should you look for in a supervisor?

  • Guido: Availability is very important.

  • Britt: Personality is also important.


Life besides your PhD. programme

Question: Is there a social life?

  • Yash: I find that I have more social life while working on my PhD. than when I was working on my job.

  • Guido: Yes, I’m still allowed to have a social live. At the end of a PhD., it should get more stressed. I had to come in with Christmas, but that’s ok. Someone has to check the mice.

  • Britt: It was ok. The PhD. gets more stressful towards the end.


Question: How much time do you spent at the coffee machine?

  • Britt: Now and then.

  • Guido: About half an hour a day.

  • Sjors: You can spend all day at the coffee machine if you want.

  • Guido: At my department we have an unwritten difference between social and non-social coffee machines.

  • Yash: Close to an hour.


Question: How well do you keep your work and private life separated?

  • Guido: It can’t be separated. My colleagues are great to socialise with.

  • Britt: When you are from abroad, everyone you meet is via your PhD.



Question: How do you cope if you get stuck in your PhD.?

  • Britt: You will eventually get trough it.

  • Guido: It’s a group thing. There are a lot of people around me who are also stuck on something.


Question: Which skills did you learn?

  • Britt: Project management.

  • Sjors: Project management, programming, colaborating, presentations.


Making the step from the master to PhD.

Question: How is the transistion from master to PhD.?

  • Britt: I applied for one and got it, two weeks after finishing my master. It wasn’t really a transition.

  • Guido: I didn’t even apply. I got my PhD. from my internship.


Question: Is it advizable to choose your masterproject at the same place you want to do your PhD.?

  • Guido: You shouldn’t do too many projects at the same place. One project during your master at the same place as your PhD. is good.

  • Sjors: It helps for your application to work at different places, in order to have more reference letters.

  • Yash: It’s good to look for positions outside your home country.


Question: What was the moment you decided to do a PhD.?

  • Britt: I didn’t want to do a PhD. at first, but I like to do research. I only wanted to do something if I really loved it.

  • Guido: During my internship, I realized that I liked to do what I was doing.

  • Yash: I have wanted to do a PhD. from undergrad. When I finished my masters, I had some slight hesitations. I did a bit of work but then started a PhD. If you work, it is harder to got reference letters. Switching was not hard, I love doing a PhD.


Question: What is a deal breaker?

  • Guido: No empires

  • Yash: Non stable groups. If the professor leaves, you have to be lucky if he takes you.

  • Sjors: I only found out that my former group at Utrecht was going to be cut off one month before it happened.

  • Guido: I would not do a PhD. if the research group is about to move. Moving can cause a lot of delay.

  • Sjors: You have to like your supervisor.

  • Guido: Talk to the other PhD.’s of the group before accepting the position.


Question: How much do you actually work?

  • Sjors: I try to work from 8.30 am to 6.00 pm. I have days it just doesn’t work, but I make up for them with some really good days. I find that I get the most work done when I work at the office.

Oumaima zegt:

Arltices like this are an example of quick, helpful answers.