News - January 30, 2015

University should select phd candidates better

Albert Sikkema

The university should do a better job of selecting its PhD candidates. In addition, PhD candidates should be better supervised, and the evaluation system at the end of the PhD trajectory is not transparent and can be done away with.

This was the advice given to Wageningen University by an international visiting committee on 16 January.

The four-member committee headed by the Swiss Jacques Lanarès evaluated the university’s PhD programme. The members, from Switzerland, Ireland, Germa-ny and Denmark, agreed that the programme was good. But they were also asked to suggest improvements.

The committee said that, for example, the university has no uniform recruitment strategy or admission criteria for PhD candidates. These students are often evaluated at the levels of the research school and the chair groups. They have their own standards. The committee advised regulating this centrally. Johan van Arendonk, dean of sciences, understood that suggestion. ‘It’s increasingly difficult to find good PhD candidates abroad and hard to make a choice based on a list of marks. I could imagine, for example, conducting admissioninterviews with foreign candidates in their own countries.’

The visiting committee also found that the quality of PhD supervision was not consistent. PhD candidates are sometimes given a supervisor whose work doesn’t fully match their own research, which is undesirable. Van Arendonk acknowledged the criticism. ‘The growth in the number of students and PhD candidates has led to numerous problems, and consequently the supervision in some of the groups can suffer. It’s fine that the committee noticed this in their conversations here.’

The committee also wants uniform regulations at the university with regard to co-authorship. But Van Arendonk claimed that the regulations already exist. ‘Co-authors have to make a substantial contribution, but this is viewed differently per research area. I think we need to have a good discussion about this on the work floor.’

Finally, the committee wants Wageningen to abandon its rule on only 3 percent of the PhD work being eligible to qualify as ‘cum laude’. Don’t be a slave to percentages,’ the committee chair Lanarès stated, ‘but decide per research area which studies are excellent. At a good university like Wagneningen, more PhD candidates can certainly qualify for a cum laude designation.’ The external committee will have completed its report in six weeks