The letter initiators noted that the pandemic has left a lot of PhD students unable to continue their research. Many forms of data collection cannot continue and cannot easily be converted into alternative research data collection methods. The teaching load also increased for them as all the teaching suddenly needed be done online over the past few months. They also referred to a recent university survey that showed that PhD students have significantly higher problems with loneliness, worries and anxiety than other university staff.
“A number of PhD students have serious problems with data collection,” explained Rick Everts. He is one of the initiators of the letter and is a PhD student at ESHCC. “For example, I have colleagues who were going to collect data at festivals this summer. None of these are going ahead. If you want to collect data in the same way, you’ll have to wait a year. Other PhD students have put a lot of time and effort into digitising teaching.”
The letter’s signatories have made several demands: extra time in the form of contract extensions, where necessary extra financing and a flexible approach to the credits they still need to obtain. “We find it really important that those PhD students who are hampered by the crisis are given a contract extension. Additional financing is also sometimes needed to start other forms of data collection. And as PhD students, we are also following education. These courses have largely been cancelled or postponed. It would make a huge difference if there were to be a flexible approach towards PhD students who have not yet obtained all the required credits.”
Reducing the quality requirements for a thesis is difficult, according to Everts. “Obtaining a doctorate is, after all, your calling card to make your way in academia.” He is afraid that future employers will not take the circumstances into account. “If you obtain a doctorate using poor data or with a chapter less, this could have consequences.”
No off-the-shelf solutions
The authors of the letter understand that there will not be any immediate off-the-shelf solutions, stated Everts. “Take my project, for example. That is financed by NWO. So I completely understand that they won’t immediately have funds lying around to compensate everyone facing delays.” His research is also delayed by at least a month due to additional teaching duties and problems with childcare. “I can probably play catch-up, but that will take a huge effort.”
“We also know that the university is considering solutions for PhD students but has not identified any as yet. We’d like to start a dialogue with them, which is why we wanted make the university aware of our views.”
The Executive Board was asked for a response to the letter on Friday, but a spokesperson says the board cannot respond until it has received the letter officially, which it hasn’t yet.
At the end of March, Promovendi Network Nederland (national network for PhD students) also called for leniency for PhD students.
Update 4 June: The Executive Board has informed EM on Thursday that it would have an informal conversation with a delegation of PhD candidates. This meeting will take place on Thursday 11 June.