PhDs want more informal contact

Working from home frequently hampers social interaction with supervisors.
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The Wageningen PhD-Council calls for more room for informal interaction between doctoral candidates and their (day-to-day) supervisors. The hybrid working approach that was adopted after the covid pandemic has put informal contacts on the back-burner says Council chair Anne-Juul Welsink. She bases her conclusion on a survey among 241 doctoral candidates.

The survey shows that most of the PhD students work on campus for 4 or 5 days per week. On average, supervisors and doctoral assistants spend one day less working on-site. That makes contact more difficult. Furthermore, the differences between the Graduate Schools are considerable. Welsink: ‘Some supervisors rarely ever come to the office. Ten per cent of the supervisors work on the campus for one day a week or less.’


The number of live interactions between supervisors and doctoral candidates is few. Formal meetings with the day-to-day supervisors generally occur once a week or once a fortnight. Four out of ten PhD students see their day-to-day supervisor once a month or less, or not at all. Meetings with their promotors are equally scarce. Informal interactions follow the same pattern. Online meetings are almost entirely void of casual contact.

Many students know no better than that this is normal

Anne-Juul Welsink, Wageningen PhD-Council chair


Doctoral candidates appreciate informal contact because it inspires them and fortifies the connection between supervisors and the group. Informal contact helps to solve minor issues instantly so that work can continue without interruptions, and it also contributes to the PhD students’ well-being. According to Welsink, supervisors are insufficiently aware of the social purpose of such interactions.

A PhD student needs to be seen by the supervisor

Welsink: ‘A PhD student needs to be seen by the supervisor, and that is a good thing. We aim not to say what is lacking. We aim to underscore the importance of the supervisors’ roles.’ But that does call for more effort, for example, by planning informal meetings and coffee sessions.


WUR’s housing plans should also take this into account. ‘Having PhD candidates and their (assistant) supervisors work in the same location at the same time is important. So that there can be informal interaction, and that time is made to ensure interaction can take place.’

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