‘PhDs don’t feel connected to the university’

| Michaela Nesvarova

P-NUT (PhD Network of the University of Twente) has started Include-U, a project to facilitate inclusion of international doctoral candidates at the UT. As its first step, P-NUT conducted research into experiences of international PhDs. ‘Based on these interviews, we see there’s a problem with inclusion. The sense of belonging to the UT is missing.’

Include-U, supported by the UT Incentive Fund, began last year. ‘Its ultimate goal is to have a platform that helps all doctoral candidates at the UT to feel included,’ says P-NUT board member Catarina Da Silva Lourenco. ‘There were issues with inclusion that we knew of or heard of, but we had no actual data. That’s why our first goal was to collect data about the perceptions and experiences of international PhDs.’

‘We conducted twenty interviews with UT PhDs of different nationalities,’ clarifies P-NUT member Roberto Cruz Martinez. ‘We purposely included nationalities that are both “well” and “under” represented here. We now have the first findings and can see where the most pressing issues lie.’

‘Superficial introduction’

While the study shows that the feeling of inclusion depends on the PhD’s personality and individual circumstances, it also reveals that none of the participants feel connected to the university and don’t see themselves as an important part of the university system. ‘Every participant expressed they felt distant from the university as an organisation beginning from the “superficial” introduction they received at the start of the PhD,’ state the findings presented by P-NUT.

 ‘Every participant expressed they felt distant from the university’

‘The lack of systematic introduction of new PhDs is something we already knew of,’ says Cruz Martinez. ‘There are no university-wide guidelines for this and PhDs can face lack of information. We also see that there is a big difference between what the PhDs hear before they come here – the marketing of the UT - and the reality of it. Yes, the campus is nice but the PhDs get no incentive to use it. There isn’t much identity building and therefore no sense of belonging.’

Bigger survey

‘Although this confirmed our suspicions, this is the very first and the only data we currently have,’ says Da Silva Lourenco. To get a better and fuller picture on inclusion, P-NUT will distribute a survey to all PhDs at the UT this month. They will also organize a series of interactive events focused on inclusion and culture. ‘By the end of this year, we will submit a report to the Executive Board and to other parties at the UT.’

The goal is to not only deliver findings, but also practical suggestions, says Cruz Martinez. ‘For example, we are working on a PhD manual, a document that could be shared with every new PhD to help them get started here. We will also come up with policy recommendations. Our main advice will certainly be to do all of this regularly, not just this year. We have developed a framework that can be applied in the future to support PhDs. The UT has the opportunity to set an example and be fully inclusive. It’s not only about marketing, we need actual solutions.’ 

kick-off event

Include-U will officially kick off with an event on the 18th of March. During this online meeting, P-NUT will also present results of the ongoing research on inclusion of international PhDs.


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