Good mentorship and supervision are crucial. The role of the PhD supervisor has changed over time. Supervisor support aims at improving supervision and PhDs.
The PhD supervisor is fully responsible for the academic training of the PhD candidate. The outcome of a PhD project is a young scientist, not just a PhD thesis.
The evaluation and appraisal of PhD candidates and their scientific progress and professional development are part of the PhD supervisors’ coaching tasks. Offering support to the supervisors is part of the AMC Graduate School’s mission. To that end, the AMC Graduate School offers a number of instruments, including guidelines for good mentorship, progress evaluation interviews, a timetable for supervisors and workshops on supervision of PhD candidates (in cooperation with HR department). A handbook for PhD supervisors is also available.
The VUmc Academie organizes training courses for junior and senior PhD supervisors, called Superb Supervision. For senior PhD supervisors a two-day tailored training course has been developed, and for junior PhD supervisors a three-day training course is offered. Both courses combine personal development and soft skills (e.g. feedback) with practical suggestions that contribute to responsible research. Both courses are open for Amsterdam UMC PhD supervisors.
Qualifications and procedure
According to Dutch law, a PhD supervisor (promotor) must be a full professor at a Dutch University. If the PhD supervisor is a professor at a university abroad, another Dutch university full professor must also be appointed as PhD supervisor. A professor receives the right to act as a PhD supervisor – “ius promovendi” – by appointment. The willingness to act in that capacity suffices to become a PhD supervisor for a specific PhD candidate. The Dean must approve this nomination. Under strictly specified conditions, an associate professor (UHD) may obtain the right to act as promotor, to the decision of the Dean.
The PhD supervision of an individual PhD candidate may end prematurely by mutual consent, through mediation by the Dean or by intervention of the Doctorate Board. The PhD supervisor may delegate his duties as a supervisor to one or more co-supervisors, but remains responsible.
The PhD supervisor has overriding responsibility for supervision with regard to the planning and implementation of the research project, as well as responsibility for the doctoral training of the PhD candidate.
Duties at the start of the AMC PhD project
The PhD supervisor is usually – but not always – responsible for the funding of the PhD research project, for the selection of the PhD candidate who will work on the project and for ensuring that the PhD candidate's appointment and working conditions are in accordance with the general and specific demands of the PhD project.
In the early phases of the PhD project, the PhD supervisor compiles a training and supervision scheme with the PhD candidate. The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that doctoral training is completed and supervision is provided as stipulated in this scheme.
The PhD supervisor oversees that the PhD candidate meets the qualifications for pursuing a PhD and that the PhD candidate submits an application to be admitted to the procedure. The PhD supervisor approves the final manuscript, assembles a Doctoral Committee to review the PhD thesis and oversees arrangements for the public defense of the PhD thesis.
PhD supervisors must be fully aware of the UvA Doctoral Regulations and the AMC Further Regulations. They shall be available for their PhD candidates, be clear and consistent in their supervision, and critically review results achieved. Supervisors shall fulfil their expected duties for doctoral education and always strive towards equal treatment by actively counteracting all forms of discrimination and harassment.
Supervisors are requested to give special attention to the AMC-VUmc Research Code, in which a chapter about Good Mentorship provides specific information about the duties of all mentors (including the specific duties of PhD supervisors) and about the duties of junior researchers/PhD candidates.
Roles in PhD supervision
PhD supervisors take various roles and duties when supervising PhD candidates: evaluator, supervisor, manager and coach. The duties that come with these roles are described briefly below. In addition to these roles, supervisors often serve as mentors to their PhD candidate.
See also chapter 2 of the AMC-VUmc Research Code about Good Mentorship.
In their role as managers, supervisors should hold a formal performance appraisal interview at least once a year. During every meeting between supervisor and PhD candidate, the specific role the supervisor is taking should be clear. In daily practice, the various roles might interact.
Duties associated with the various roles
- Supervisor: make formal decisions based on judgment about suitability for the job (appointment, ‘go/no go’ after first year, approval of PhD thesis); acts as a more distant supervisor, a daily supervisor, or both.
- Evaluator: make assessments based on conclusions about mutual functioning and cooperation
- Manager: provide organization to achieve concrete results (project planning, attainable goals)
- Coach: provide guidance about obtaining knowledge, skills and competencies
- Communicator: provide and receive feedback on performance and behavior (positive and/or negative)
These duties apply both to distant supervisors and daily supervisors, but to a different extent.
For the distant supervisor, assessment and evaluation are crucial, whereas for the daily supervisor result-oriented managing and coaching is more applicable.
Formal issues regarding PhD project and graduation
A timetable is presented for PhD supervisors with all formal issues regarding the PhD project and graduation, including direct links to the background information and forms, based on the UvA Doctorate Regulations and AMC Graduate School procedures. The Office of Doctorate Affairs (Bureau Promotiezaken) facilitates all formalities regarding the PhD and thesis defense.
Progress assessment interview
Assessment of progress of the PhD project and the development the PhD candidate should be a continuous process that is not limited to one or two formal interviews a year. Below, more information is given about structuring the continuous progress assessment and gaining more insight into the conditions of the PhD project.
Due to practical restrictions, we have provided the examples below because they apply to supervision situations in general. The daily supervisor often discusses the progress of the PhD project and/or the PhD candidate in a less formal setting. The progress assessment interview can be combined with the annual performance appraisal interview (jaargesprek).
The individual Training and Supervision Agreement iTSA (individuele Opleidings- en Begeleidings Overeenkomst) is the foundation of the PhD progress assessment interviews. PhD Track Support can supplement and strengthen the progress assessment of PhD projects.
First interview: at the beginning of the PhD project
- Discuss PhD project
- Explain supervisor’s supervision approach
- Assess PhD candidate’s training and supervision needs
- Make arrangements and formulate an individual Training and Supervision Agreement (iTSA)
- Discuss planning of PhD project, first year in detail, next year globally
- Formulate attainable goals for first year in training, supervision, research, other tasks
- Supervisor gives feedback on performance of PhD candidate
- PhD candidate gives feedback on supervision
- Evaluate agreements in iTSA on supervision: is everything going as planned, do agreements have to be amended?
- Evaluate agreements in iTSA on training: amend, add or remove planned activities.
- Discuss progress and planning of PhD project: have changes been made or are changes expected?
- Discuss interim evaluation of PhD project planning. If applicable: “go/no go” decision after the first year, schedule formal assessment interview after 9 months.
General guidelines are more difficult to apply to the duties of daily supervision. This is because the division of roles and needs of supervisors and PhD candidates vary from situation to situation and with time.
The formal assessment interview (beoordelingsgesprek) about continuation of the PhD appointment after the first year is not discussed in these guidelines because different HR rules apply.
Providing support to PhD supervisors is part of the Graduate School’s mission. To this end, the Graduate School provides a number of instruments, including guidelines for good mentorship and appraisal and progress evaluation interviews, information on formal doctorate regulations and training on supervision of PhD candidates. The AMC Graduate School also arranges individual introductory meetings with newly appointed AMC full professors.
It is not uncommon for PhD supervisors to have questions about qualifications, conditions, conflicts, processes and procedures in relation to PhD projects. At any stage, PhD supervisors can request information, advice or help from the AMC Graduate School to assist them in their role as PhD supervisor.