Dedicated doctoral students could need support

Being able to explore a specific area in depth and build solid knowledge and experience by joining a research group is appealing. The competition to be offered a place on a doctoral course is tough. Once you have gained a place, it’s then all about hard work where work encroaches more and more into your outside work time.

I remember from my own days as a doctoral student when I also became a parent for the first time. My doctoral studies and family time merged into one. Having said that, it was a fun time, at no time since have I had the same opportunity to delve deeper into a subject area. Naturally, you face demands during your time as a doctoral student, some of which are framed into a competition with yourself.

During the course of last year, just over 200 doctoral positions were advertised at KTH for which we received 14,788 applications. Around a third of the applicants accepted onto a doctoral course were KTH graduates. Around half had a degree from a country other than Sweden. There are various forms of financing available to doctoral students at KTH, grants or industrial scholarships where the company for whom the doctoral student usually works pays their salary.

This means that circumstances vary for the group of around 2,000 doctoral students at KTH today.

The road to a thesis and doctoral gown means hard work. A survey performed in the spring by the ST union, shows that being a doctoral student can put you in a vulnerable position. High ambition and tremendous commitment are naturally both good and necessary attributes for a researcher, but it can sometimes be difficult to set sensible boundaries for your work.

Stress, unclear future job prospects, far too few hours of supervision and very extensive individual responsibility can sometimes make it difficult to take a dispassionate look at your third cycle studies. It is therefore important to spot danger signs at an early stage.

According to the survey, 30 percent of the 229 doctoral members who responded to the survey, said that they had not known what was expected of them and around half said that they are unable to complete the work they need to do within normal working hours.

These are worrying tendencies. And something we are actively addressing at KTH.

Naturally, our doctoral students have the right to a good work environment. Self-evidently, principal supervisors and assistant supervisors should allow sufficient time for each individual doctoral student. Having said that, if you are studying to become a researcher, you need to possess initiative and independence. However, there is an unhealthy culture that is of the view that unless you dedicate all your waking hours to your “calling”, you are not a good enough researcher or research student. This culture stifles creativity. Creativity can surely blossom when you give your brain the occasional chance to rest.