PhD candidates experience high work pressure and mental issues

Many Wageningen PhD students fail to complete their doctorate in four years.
Wageningen theses, photo: Albert Sikkema

Moreover, they suffer from mental issues, according to a nation-wide survey carried out by Promovendi Netwerk Nederland (PNN – the Dutch PhD student Network). Almost 60 per cent of the Dutch PhD candidates experience a workload that is high or too high, particularly resulting from the amount of work, perfectionism and the pressure to publish. Additionally, over 60 per cent of the candidates work more than the number of hours stipulated in their contract. One quarter does not expect to finish their PhD trajectory within four years, the survey reveals.  

These results are relevant for WUR, since no less than a quarter of the 1600 PhD students that completed the survey work in Wageningen. Most respondents are between 26 and 30 years old, 40 per cent is international.


Almost half the PhD students are at risk of developing mental issues, says the network. They experience stress, lack of sleep, concentration issues and even depression. ‘It comes as no surprise that 41.6 per cent of the candidates has, at some point, considered terminating their studies. Six per cent even considers doing so regularly’, the PNN survey states.


During the survey, the universities went into lockdown due to the corona pandemic. The lockdowns resulted in increased stress and problems for many PhD students but did not affect the outcome of the survey. The workload is equally high at all universities, regardless of the type of institution, the field of research, or type of PhD trajectory, according to PNN. The network urges universities to create a healthier working environment, ‘or face the risk that many PhD candidates will permanently abandon science.’

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