PhD Supervision Agreement finalised – and ready to be spread

During the GA 2017 in Rostock, a group of people that deeply cared and was concerned about working and supervision conditions at Leibniz institutes founded the working group PhD Agreement within the Leibniz PhD Network. Founding members were Saskia Ripp (IDS Mannheim) and Rosa Grote-Gálvez (BNITM Hamburg) as working group organisers and leaders, Carolin Dittrich (MfN Berlin), Gregor Jatzlauk (FZ Borstel), Wietje Nolte (FBN Dummerstorf), Kerstin Pawletko (HPI Hamburg) and Carlo Marzini (DSMZ Braunschweig). 

Challenge accepted: Let’s get some work done

We had noticed that the working conditions and supervision standards for doctoral researchers at Leibniz institutes widely differ, especially between the individual sections. 

The working group PhD Agreement  therefore aimed at providing guidelines that will help to improve, align and ensure equal rights and rightful supervision standards for all doctoral researchers within the Leibniz Association. 

We began by asking ourselves, how to start that challenge of drafting a template that will provide minimum standards for the working conditions and supervision of doctoral researchers across all institutes and sections. In the beginning, we gathered all possible information available. We were digging through existing supervision agreements of Leibniz institutes, which have very different forms (binding or recommending), lengths and contents. We also analysed the supervision agreements of many universities and tried to filter out those topics which seemed to be useful for our goal of standardising supervision conditions for doctoral researchers of so many different fields. We also consulted various bodies, e.g. from trade unions and associations in the education sector (such as GEW, ver.di Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung, UniWiND).

Luckily, the 2017 Leibniz PhD Survey helped us to identify some of the most pressing issues that needed to be translated into an agreement. Regular exchange with the supervisors, constructive feedback and also the possibility to bring in their own ideas were shown as important for the satisfaction of doctoral researchers during their PhD. 

At that time 48% of the doctoral researchers within the Leibniz Association considered quitting their doctorate, due to the lack of career prospects, financial uncertainty and none or insufficient scientific results. Additionally, only 33% received information on career prospects within and outside of academia. The estimated average duration of doctoral studies was 3.8 years, while funding is mostly limited to 3 year projects. 

If you are interested in the most recent numbers, check our recently published 2019 survey report

The Making of a PhD Supervision Agreement Template 

Getting closer to the core of the matter, we realised that there is so much inequality between institutes that we were overwhelmed with the sensation of bridging between all of them. With the PhD Supervision Template (DE: .doc, .pdf; ENG: .doc, .pdf ), we now proudly present the result of our intense working process. This template can be used to update and improve already existing PhD Supervision Agreements, as well. 

In our document we recommend 

  • the creation of an independent supervision committee of 3 people which will help to minimise possible power abuse, lack of supervision and in general raise the standards of working conditions for doctoral researchers
  • to offer structured training of doctoral researchers, including soft skills trainings, and courses on good scientific practice
  • to offer the possibility to attend conferences and workshops with financial support from the institute 
  • an annual employee interview to discuss future career possibilities
  • that doctoral researchers can dedicate at least one third of their agreed working time  to their PhD thesis
  • the possibility to use a suitable workspace as well as the possibility to work from home when finalising the thesis
  • that committee work should be accepted by the PI’s or supervisors.

We define the rights and obligations of supervisors/the PhD committee and the doctoral researchers, including (but not limited to) 

  • guidance in scope and focus of the dissertation 
  • regular meetings discussing manuscripts and written reports 
  • reviewing the progress of the dissertation 
  • regular participation in offerings of the institution relevant for the doctoral researcher,
  • discussing possible extension of the work contract in good time etc. 

To work this out, we met in several skype sessions and in person during the Leibniz PhD Network Future Workshops 2018 and 2019. It went through a thorough revision process by the Leibniz Association’s Head Office. In 2019 we drafted the last version of the PhD Supervision Agreement and discussed it at the 2019 General Assembly at the PIK with the PhD representatives. In 2020 it went through all meetings of the section directors (called section meetings). 

During the last years, some people left the working group while some others joined, and we are very grateful for all the ideas and work of everyone that helped to finalise this document, especially Carolin Dittrich (MfN Berlin), Eunji Lee (DIPF Berlin) and Saskia Ripp (IDS Mannheim) who contributed their work until the final release of the template. We hope that with this agreement, we can contribute to raising the quality of the doctorate for all doctoral researchers across the Leibniz Association.

by PhD Agreement Working Group

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