Well-being survey: Doctoral candidates impacted by loneliness

| Michaela Nesvarova

Results of a well-being survey show that UT doctoral candidates are impacted by loneliness and wish for more sense of belonging. The survey was conducted by the EQUITY working group from P-NUT (PhD Network of the University of Twente) from December 2021 to February 2022.

P-NUT group EQUITY is dedicated to supporting female doctoral candidates at the UT. Last week they published the results of their independent survey, which aimed to assess the well-being and overall experiences of doctoral candidates at the University of Twente. PhD researcher Verena Menzel, one of the organizers of the initiative, highlights the main findings.

Why was the survey initiated?

Menzel: ‘Upon starting EQUITY, we wondered about the gender balance at the UT. We wanted to get a clear picture of the situation when it comes to gender, but also internationalization, sense of belonging and the impact of COVID-19 on doctoral candidates. We wanted to research how satisfied, burdened or encouraged the candidates currently feel and to see if there are structural differences between genders, origins and other differentiations. ’

Can you summarize the main findings?

‘The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still heavily felt by PhDs and EngDs. Many respondents reported being lonely – also partly because of the pandemic. The results show that many doctoral candidates are feeling disconnected from the UT, they don’t feel properly recognized and valued. When it comes to sense of belonging, there is certainly a room for improvement. On the other hand, we are positively surprised to see that there are no big differences between genders. Doctoral candidates, no matter their gender, face similar feelings about the PhD/EngD journey. Moreover, we are happy to see that the vast majority of doctoral candidates never faced any sort of discrimination and harassment.’

What were the main negative and positive points raised by the respondents?

‘The main shortcoming was the feeling of not being valued and integrated at the UT. We received a lot of positive feedback on the freedom that comes with a PhD/EngD trajectory. Many people are very excited and passionate about their research, and some also praised the good facilities offered by the university.’

Were there any completely unexpected findings?

‘We were quite surprised to see that doctoral researchers are unlikely to approach HR, TGS and/or P-NUT in case they experience any problems. We should all look at how we can improve this, because all these entities should represent a safe space.’

What are the next steps?

‘From the start, our idea was to repeat this survey regularly. We plan to conduct the next one in 2023 in order to see how the situation evolves and if there are any trends. We are also trying to start a qualitative student project  focused specifically on external doctoral candidates, because they are sometimes overlooked. We got some feedback from this group in our survey, but not enough to properly analyze. This group faces specific challenges, and so we want to know what they expect and need – and what is actually done.’

The report also includes a number of recommendations. What would you like to see changed at the UT?

‘As EQUITY, we will try to organize more events to create connections between PhDs and EngDs, to create more sense of belonging to the UT and the community. We also plan to invite recent graduates to help PhDs see where life can lead. The survey showed that many doctoral candidates have negative thoughts and concerns about their life after graduation. We have also shared the report with HR, PhD counselors and TGS and we are prepared to advise them on any actions they’d like to take. We’d especially like HR to offer more support to international candidates from outside the EU. Topics such as acquiring a visa create a lot of unhappy people on campus, and so we believe more support with these practical matters should be included in the onboarding process.’


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