Everyone is feeling the impact of the corona crisis, and that includes doctoral candidates. Some cannot gather data or are not allowed access to the lab. Others are unable to defend their thesis.

But there’s something else that affects doctoral candidates, says PNN chairperson Mattijssen. They are very dependent on their promotor for their doctoral research, so they want to keep them on board. Sometimes they feel under pressure to continue with their research, even though they are worried about the virus. “Some doctoral candidates don’t feel they can stay at home.”

Why should doctoral candidates need to leave home at this time?

“Everyone is required to work from home unless they really can’t. Only research that needs urgent attention can go ahead.”

That doesn’t sound complicated. So if you work with chimpanzees, for example, they need to be looked after even now.

“But who determines what research must continue? If lead researchers are allowed to decide that themselves, they may prioritise their own research and ask doctoral candidates to come to work, even though those doctoral candidates might prefer to stay at home.

“Conversely, doctoral candidates might find their own research very important too, particularly if they don’t know whether they will receive compensation for their delay. They might then take unnecessary risks. So we feel that universities should be strict when they determine which research should continue and which research should be put on hold. Health is more important than research.”

How could they give doctoral candidates more leeway? Can you just give doctoral candidates more time?

“An extension would seem the most obvious solution, but sometimes that isn’t useful. Take longitudinal research, for example. It’s now impossible to collect the data for that. Or research that requires you to take measurements before and after. That could badly affect the research. So you need find another solution.”

What then?

“Some doctoral candidates have already published three articles, for example, and according to the rules of their university they still need to write a fourth. In these circumstances, you might reconsider that requirement. Like in the case of the national school exams that have now been cancelled.”

Wouldn’t you be lowering the requirements for the PhD?

“It’s then about quantity, not quality. In these exceptional cases, we should leave it to the promotor and the doctoral committee to assess whether a doctoral candidate is good enough. If a doctoral candidate is on schedule and is only having problems due to the corona crisis, the quality of the research really isn’t a problem.”

Is your own thesis affected?

“Luckily I don’t depend on labs. I’m researching flex workers based on data from Statistics Netherlands, so I can get access to what I need. I’m healthy and I work from home. I don’t need to collect data myself, like many other doctoral candidates.”