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APV (Work Place Assessment)

Survey and best practices

In 2016, Aarhus University conducted a survey about work place satisfaction among all staff, including PhD students. In general, PhD students scored lower than academic staff. PhD students are generally satisfied with their influence on their daily work and their competences to perform the required tasks. PhD students do however feel more stressed and lonely than academic staff.

Because of the survey, AUPA collected some ‘best practices’ among departments who scored high in satisfaction within their faculties.

These best practices are listed below. 

Academic Loneliness

  • Mentor program that partners new PhD students with older PhD fellows at the department (e.g., Psychology, Pol Sci, MBG) or with a more senior researcher (PHAUST/ST)
  • Place mandatory PhD courses at the start of the program (e.g., Pol Sci, Management)
  • Clear supervisor guidelines that explicate the different functions, duties and tasks of supervisors and supervisee in regard to research and teaching (e.g., Pol Sci)
  • Presentations at the department in regular intervals (e.g., “Fagligt Forum” at Psychology, PhD presentations at Pol Sci)
  • Support for PhD teaching in research groups including peer support and guidance from experienced staff (e.g., Psychology)
  • Providing open office hours for informal talks with senior faculty including professors (e.g., Health)
  • Aim to find the best fit for the PhD’s research in specific research sections and journal clubs (e.g., Pol Sci)
  • Regular meetings in working groups/research groups that allow the PhD student to get in contact with different junior and senior researchers in an active research environment (e.g., Health, Psychology, Pol Sci)
  • Writing retreats and PhD seminars at Sandbjerg or other locations (e.g., Health, Pol Sci)
  • Regularly organizing PhD Days (e.g., Health, iNANO autumn school, MBG)
  • Online debate/idea sharing forum for PhD students at the same department (e.g. iNANO)

Ideas and solutions

  • Establishing rules that allow for cooperation among PhD students (e.g. co-authoring a paper that goes into both dissertations) (discussed at Management)
  • Establishing ‘twin PhDs’ containing of two students that work together on an extensive PhD project (discussed at Management)
  • Establishing idea workshops before application deadlines of major conferences to pitch ideas and explore cooperation (discussed at Management)
  • Facilitation of networking across departments (discussed at Management)
  • Establishment of an online platform that allows for collaboration partners by presenting research/ideas/data (discussed at Management)
  • Extension of group-focused teaching in mandatory PhD courses (discussed at Management)

Social Loneliness

  • Providing an open PhD mailing list that can be used for social and work related information (e.g., Law, Psychology, Pol Sci)
  • Regular (weekly) PhD lunch or breakfast meetings with the possibility to socialize and discuss various issues regarding individual projects or general issues (e.g., Psychology, Pol Sci, Geoscience, DPU in Emdrup)
  • System for matching office mates (seniors and juniors) (e.g., Pol Sci)
  • Social activities organized by the PhD group in order to provide venues for socializing within the department: e.g., parties, Friday bars, sport groups, PhD breakfasts, coffee hours (e.g., Psychology, Management, Pol Sci, Health, Physics, Geoscience)
  • Facebook group (e.g., Pol Sci, MBG, iNANO)

Ideas and solutions

  • Organizing writing retreats (discussed at Management) 

Work Related Stress

  • Mentor program that connects new PhD students with older PhD fellows at the department (e.g., Pol Sci)
  • Staff development talks (MUS) (e.g., Pol Sci, Economics)
  • Aim to have an open culture about stress by, for example, regularly discussing related issues at PhD lunches (e.g., Psychology, Pol Sci)
  • Raising awareness and supporting the use of counselling and leaves provided by the University, including Union representatives, Work Environment representatives, PhD student counsellors, and the Psychological Counselling Service for Aarhus University employees (Link to Homepage) (e.g., Psychology, Pol Sci, Health)
  • Offer a "third party" conversation/counselling with a member of the academic staff to discuss project-related or collaboration-related issues (e.g. Health)
  • Increasing awareness among PhD supervisors, that they are responsible for directing attention towards well-being and balance among their PhD students to avoid unnecessary stress (e.g., Psychology) 
  • Implement "Matching Expectations" conversations between the supervisor and PhD student in the beginning of the project (PHAUST/ST and GSST)
  • Establish writing groups for PhD students finishing their thesis (MBG)

Ideas and solutions

  • Establishing an early warning systems for overtime (tentatively discussed at Pol Sci)
  • Clarifying expectations towards PhDs (discussed at Pol Sci)
  • Allowing for working with one's project in the context of PhD courses (discussed at Management)
  • Introducing better project management tools to ensure progress/monitoring of projects (discussed at Health) 

Discrimination and Bullying

  • Encouraging a culture of speaking up (e.g., Psychology, Pol Sci)
  • Preventive measures by e.g., maintaining and developing a good social environment (c.f. above) at the workplace (e.g., Psychology, Pol Sci)
  • Raising awareness for Aarhus University’s zero-tolerance policy on discrimination and bullying (e.g., Psychology, Pol Sci)

Ideas and solutions

  • Providing clear definitions of discrimination and bullying (discussed at Pol Sci, Management)
  • Providing details for contact persons (discussed at Pol Sci)
  • Improving gender equality among senior staff and leadership positions (discussed at Management, Pol Sci)

Best Practices from ARTS

From DPU in Emdrup, on their breakfast meetings

Usually I send out invitation by a mailing list that the graduate school provides. Here is an example of what I sent out last time for a breakfast we actually had today. 12 people showed up, which is more than regularly, perhaps because a new bunch of PhDs started 1 Feb and they are curious and not yet accustomed to the “I do just sit for myself culture”.

“We will have this year’s first PhD breakfast meeting on February 1 at 9-10. Jacob Williams Ørberg, who recently defended his dissertation, will join us and share some experiences from his own stay abroad. We will discuss the practical issues that we have or might have encountered such as funding, length, place etc. Hope to see as many of you as possible.”

What the regulations say:

Plan for participation in active environments (change of research environment)

In order to ensure that the PhD programme is on an international level, it must include a lengthy research stay in an active environment overseas for an all period of at least two months. Reflection concerning change of research environment and international research stays must appear in the PhD plan. The head of the graduate school may give exemptions from this requirement in connection with approvals of the PhD plan, if there are academic or other important reasons for doing so.

Total stay overseas may not normally exceed one year. Because of the need to ensure that, the PhD dissertation is handed in before the end of the enrolment period, lengthy stays abroad may not be placed in the last semester of the programme.

It is expected that PhD students will participate actively in international academic conferences and workshops.

From IKK (specifically media studies) in Katrinbjerg, on their informal network

We have an informal Katrinebjerg network for junior researchers (below associate professorship) usually referred to as Vrede Unge Forskere (or VrUF)(=Angry Young Researchers).

It started out as a Facebook-group where a few PhD-students were coordinating lunchtimes, asking practical questions and ranting about the PhD planner. From there it has developed organically into a rich stream where we crowdsource anything from teaching experiences/advice, recommendations for ‘great music for writing’, good transcription software, and organising tools, pictures/updates from our research travels, social event notifications/invitations, etc. We share our insecurities, ask for help, and help each other out. In addition, we add our new young (in terms of academic youth) colleagues in order to integrate them in our social environment.

Now and then, we arrange shut up n write sessions, which basically means that one of us books a room on a certain date where those in need of a structured social setting for dedicated writing show to up to shut up and write, typically in sprints of 30 minutes at a time. In between these sprints we make a round where people do shortly (30 sec or so) state what they have been working on in the last 30 minutes, and what they will do in the next 30 minutes. This is a great way to make transparent what other PhD’s are working on and how, and usually it inspires to further talking.

Based on the themes commonly discussed in the Facebook-group, at shut up and write, and in the lunchroom, we sometimes arrange themed lunch-meetings (about monthly). The concept here is that we bring our lunch, we make a round where we do shortly introduce ourselves and what we are currently working on, and one of us presents something that might interest others, such as “How I did my literature review”, “How I use Scrivener as a writing software”, “How do I organise/structure my PhD process”, “How to deal with AURUS" etc.

It is pretty central to the meaningfulness of our network that it is not institutionally imposed but has sprouted from our needs to connect with each other. To a great extent the network is based the local environment that we do already share; thus the network supports, enhances and extends a sociality that is already there (and experienced as meaningful), instead of “artificially” creating a new one.