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Finalizing your dissertation and the PhD defence require the necessary preparations. Start these early and read through some of our suggestions.

Costs

A PhD defence is costly. The total costs depend on a number of issues, including how many books you will have printed and the number of pages of your dissertation. The costs to have your dissertation printed also depends on the printing business. Inform yourself early on about the costs at various printing companies, that your own university is the least expensive one is not a given. The costs for a reception, party or dinner depends of course on the number of people you will invite.

Below some indicative amounts:

    • Dissertation: € 2.000 tot € 6.000
    • Clothing (buy or rent): € 100 tot € 500
    • Reception: € 350 tot € 700
    • Diner/buffet: € 25 tot € 50 per person
    • Party: € 1.000 tot € 5.000

There are also some financial advantages to a PhD defence. The university reimburses the costs for the number of books they receive through the Beadle’s Office. Often there is an additional compensation as a number of dissertations will be sent to other universities, the so-called ‘mandatory lists’. There are also foundations who (partly) finance the printing of dissertations about specific topics, but you may also try to apply for funding from the private sector, for example in exchange for mentioning a company’s name in your dissertation or by sending them copies of the book. Always inform however at your university whether this is allowed. At some universities this is explicitly forbidden.

The costs of a PhD defence are tax deductible as training/educational costs. This is because receiving a PhD degree to the improvement of one’s financial position. The following costs are tax deductible: the costs of publication, the costs of the required clothing, and the costs for the paranymphs (ceremonial assistants). The costs of the reception are since 2013 no longer tax deductible. For more information, please see the website of the Belastingdienst. You can also call them on the free number 0800 0543.

Planning

You need to prepare a number of things before your actual defence. Read about these below.

6 months prior to the defence

    • Read your university’s doctoral regulations and other information related to the PhD defence.
    • Fill out the first form regarding the promotion (‘declaration of intent’).
    • Together with your supervisor, establish a committee for reading en evaluating the dissertation and for playing the opponent’s role during the defence. Often, there are a number of rules about the composition of the committee, such as with regards to the number of committee members that have the ius promovendi, the number of full professors and the gender balance.
    • Gather information from different printers.
    • Think about how you want to organize the PhD defence day, and request information and quotations for a dinner and/or party.

3-4 months prior to the defence

    • The thesis must be submitted to the reading committee.
    • Make an appointment with the Beadle’s Office and set a date, in consultation with your supervisors, co-supervisor and any foreign opponents (sometimes the date may only be established after approval of the reading committee).
    • After the reading committee has approved your dissertation, a form must be filled out (by your supervisor).
    • Make an appointment with the printer and discuss the possibilities, such as with regards to lay-out, for your dissertation.
    • Request an ISBN-number for your dissertation.
    • Obtain potential funding for printing your dissertation.
    • Finalize the thesis, including the cover and title page (often the approval of the Beadle’s Office is required for this), the summaries and acknowledgments.
    • Lay-out of your dissertation.
    • Think about who your paranymphs (ceremonial assistants) will be.
    • Have a look at potential locations for the party and make the final reservations.
    • Arrange the reception (information can be gathered from your university).

2-1 months prior to the defence

    • The dissertation must go to the printer!
    • Create an address file for dispatching your dissertation (supervisors, cosupervisors, opponents, funding agencies, colleagues, contacts outside university, people working in the same field, friends, family, etc.) The Beadle’s Office often takes a few theses for the professors of your faculty.
    • Distribute the books.
    • Buy or rent suitable clothing.
    • Arrange a photographer, video recording, sound recording, etc.

The last weeks

    • Reconfirm the arrangements made for the reception, dinner, party and photographer and discuss the details.
    • Prepare for your defence by for example:
      • Reading the regulations again. For example: how should you address your opponents?
      • Organize a mock defence with colleagues.
      • Re-read recent and classic articles.
      • Re-read the reviewers’ comments on your articles/dissertation and re-read your answers to these comments.
      • For each chapter of your dissertation: list the strong and weak points.
      • For each chapter of your dissertation: think of possible questions.
    • Finally, don’t forget to, above all, enjoy your PhD defence!

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Loopbaanbegeleiding

Since the amount of available PhD positions by far exceeds the amount of available post-doc positions in the academia, not every PhD candidate will be able to continue working as a scientist after finishing his or her thesis. Unfortunately this is not known by a significant percentage of both PhD candidates and their supervisors, leading to unrealistic expectations and potential disappointments.

Consequently it can be said that it is essential to also incorporate possibilities to obtain non-academic skills in PhD programs, improving career-perspectives for the PhD candidates and making the choice to do a PhD more attractive. While considering a PhD as well as while doing a PhD it is crucial that the PhD candidate takes his chances on a non-academic career in consideration. For example it can be beneficial to obtain cross-border experience when one aims for an academic career.

Next to aiming at an academic career one could also focus on a non-academic career. A PhD can certainly be of additional value when focusing on a career in finance, or governmental organization. The additional value of a PhD for these sectors can be significantly increased by doing a dual PhD, or by gathering external contacts by cooperating with interesting companies or organizations. Regarding the acquisition of non-academic skills during the PhD project it is important to realize that the obtained skills are as much as possible transferable to a setting outside of research. Improving communication, management and presentation skills are just a few examples of the many possible benefits of doing a PhD project.  Universities can also play a role in improving post-doctoral career perspectives, for example by offering career support or keeping overview of available post-doctoral positions.

Career support for PhD candidates affiliated to universities
In the cao-NU (article 6.5) it has been determined that every employee that is appointed for at least 2 years has to have the opportunity to seek professional career support. This has to be paid by the university. The moment on which career support is searched, has to allow the possibility of increasing individual career perspectives. This way universities seek to improve career perspectives of their PhD candidates.

Although the Opleidings en Begeleidsplan (OBP) already has to describe the PhD’s rights regarding education and supervision, article 6.9 of the CAO-NU on the other hand describes the right of a PhD to obtain relevant education. A PhD is obliged to participate necessary educational programs and the university is obliged to allow the PhD to participate educational programs that he or she thinks are relevant. Workshops or educational programs in non-academic (transferable) skills that increase the PhD’s career perspectives can also be seen as relevant. Internships can also be seen as relevant.

Career support for PhD candidates affiliated to UMC (academic medical centers)
Chapter 3 of the cao-UMC describes career development, education and personal functioning of employees. When appointed as an “OIO” (onderzoeker in opleiding) the PhD candidate has the right to participate in educational programs necessary for the appointed position. Working hours and expenses have to be paid by the UMC. Furthermore, the PhD candidate has right on additional education for a different function in the future when this has been approved by your employer in an annual progress evaluation. Fifty percent of the expenses for this are paid by the employee, but possibly the employer can be persuaded to compensate all of the expenses.

In addition to salary every employee of an UMC receives a personal budget. Over the year 2008 the personal budget valued 0.25% of the annual salary. In 2009 this was 0.5% and in 2010 1%. In concept the personal budget is to be used for individual development purposes. For example this can be used for career support, although career support can also be obtained via the employer, who can refer you to any form of internal career support. PNN advises to seek for external career support.

Career support for PhD candidates affiliated to a research institution
The cao-OI describes the possibility of making an arrangement to use 10 leave days for career-purposes. Since 2007 it is obligatory to first have this approved by the employer during an annual progress evaluation. Since PhD candidates often do not use all of the available leave days, an arrangement can be made to transfer the 10 leave days in a budget to participate in career support programs. This budget has maximum of 950 euro’s in the first year, up to 1250 euro’s in the fourth year. You can also collect information regarding the possibilities by asking your local HR department.

Conclusion
It is important to realize that your career is your choice. PNN’s evident view is that the employer’s role in the PhD candidates’ career perspectives has to be an active one, but this doesn’t mean that the PhD can’t play an active him- or herself as well. Inform yourself well about the possibilities of a career after finishing your PhD, for example by asking your promoter, supervisor(s) and collegues. Also don’t forget to use the facilities that are offered by your employer. 8 out of 10 PhD candidates end up working outside of academia.

Going abroad

In addition to doing a PhD in the Netherlands, PhD research can also be – partially or fully – carried out abroad. In addition, a PhD candidate can choose to do an internship or fellowship abroad during their PhD trajectory in the Netherlands. International experience is invaluable and increases future career opportunities in academia and beyond.

Building an international network, gaining new knowledge and experience with methods and techniques that are not applied in the Netherlands, as well as working and publishing together with international colleagues are some of the perks of going abroad. Moreover, international experience is crucial for developing social and (inter)cultural skills.

To start with, a PhD candidate should get in touch with their university’s International Office, or contact the institution abroad directly. There might be official internship or fellowship programmes, but oftentimes it will be possible to organize a tailor-made stay in consultation with the institution abroad. To do this, it may be best to contact the specific department or research group directly.

There are a few ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ aspects that have to be taken into account when planning a stay at an institution abroad during your PhD trajectory.

First, the PhD candidate has to be aware of the language and cultural differences, with regards to both the country and the host institution. For example, the host institution may have rules and structures around education and research that are different from what exists at universities in the Netherlands. In addition, it is important to think in advance of the less pleasant aspects of living and working abroad, such as loneliness and safety issues. For example, it would be good to determine in advance how access to social services, such as psychological care, is organized.

Second, the PhD candidate needs to collect information around visas, the Dutch embassy abroad, accommodation, (health)insurance, and funding opportunities well in advance. With regards to the latter, PhD candidates can apply for scholarships but sometimes it is also possible to do paid work for a limited number of hours on a study visa. In addition, it is crucial to start early with collecting information around the procedures for ethical assessment and approval to carry out scientific research abroad. Also take into account any possible political sensitivities around certain research topics or around doing (scientific) research itself.

Important websites

Here is the link to PNN’s website with more information about research grants and funding opportunities.

Nuffic is the organisation for internationalizing education in the Netherlands. Nuffic provides information around studying and working abroad. Their website Beursopener provides an overview of scholarships and small research grants.

Euraxess is part of the European Commission, offering a wealth of information about working abroad as a researcher. Their website provides an overview of Euraxess’ country offices that in turn in-depth information on the (academic) research landscape in that particular country.

Promoted. What now?

When you have (almost) finished your PhD, it is important to ask yourself: “Do I want to continue in academia or do I want to work outside of the academic world?” To avoid unpleasant surprises it is wise to answer this question during your PhD project, to enhance your chances in (one of) the two worlds.

Career Prospects
Research has shown that 80% of the PhD candidates aspire a career in science after their promotion. However, for only 20% of all doctoral students an appointment at the university is a possibility, another 10% is in research-related positions outside the university. The remaining 70% will end in positions in business, or for the government.

The competition for an appointment at the university after the promotion is huge! Only a few PhD candidates directly get offered an appointment at the university. The most logical step is to apply for a post-doc position. This is a temporary position for 2-4 years, focused on a specific research topic. Besides applying for a post-doc feature it is possible to write a grant application, and thus create your own appointment. For beginning doctorates the most common grants are the Rubicon, to gain experience to another (foreign) institution, and the VENI, where you do a proposal for post-doctoral research. Also for grants, the competition is fierce. For more information check out the jobs and funding pages or visit the NWO Talent Day.

In addition to a career in science, a career outside science an option after the promotion. For example, you can think of policy positions in government and management and consulting positions in business. If you already know you want to continue in business during your promotion, it helps you to orientate during your PhD project, and where possible expand your network. Many companies in the Netherlands do not immediately see the added value of a doctoral degree, above a master’s degree. However, remember that PhD candidates generally have excellent analytical and organizational skills and have learned to present their research. You did successfully complete a complex project!

That most PhD students end up well, is illustrated by the fact that of the 60,000 doctorates in the Netherlands in the period 2007/2010, more than 80 percent have a job at a scientific level. There is also a higher employment rate among PhD’s, they’re more often working full-time than non-PhDs. For more information: CBS.

Read more about career opportunities and take a look at the job sites.

My contract expires, but my thesis is not finished yet!
At the time that your appointment expires, you’ll naturally want that your thesis is finished. Sometimes, however, this is not the case. Are you entitled to benefits? And can you continue working on your thesis? If your contract expires or if you get fired, you would be eligible for unemployment benefits or BW (above statutory unemployment benefit). However, in order for a payment to qualify, you are not allowed to continue to work on your dissertation while you are unemployed. You must be available for other work, registered with the employment service (CWI) and actively apply for jobs. If you continue working on your thesis, it is assumed that you do work and a reward is expected, regardless of whether the work is paid or not. You do not qualify under the criteria in order to receive a benefit. If after your discharge, you spent a portion of your time on unpaid work, you may qualify for partial unemployment benefits. You should be unemployed for at least five hours. You’ll need to register every month whether you have done paid or unpaid work performed and for how many hours. Writing your thesis is hereby included. If you do not specify working on your thesis, this is treated as fraud. The finishing of your dissertation during your period in the WW is not as obvious as many supervisors and counselors would have you think. For more information: UWV.