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PhD students at Aarhus University enjoy high levels of satisfaction and motivation, but they also feel they are under a lot of pressure. These are some of the findings from a recently published survey of AU's PhD students.

Aarhus University has completed an in-depth survey of the quality of the university's PhD degree programmes, and the aim is to use the resulting information to help develop PhD degree programmes both locally and across the four graduate schools.

The survey focuses on topics such as satisfaction, courses available, the research environment, supervision of student projects and well-being. This is the second time the survey has taken place, the first survey being completed in 2013. The results show there is a generally high level of satisfaction with PhD degree programmes, students enjoy good relationships with their supervisors and there is an increase in students' perception of integration in the research environment. However, the results also indicate that many students feel they are under a great deal of pressure.

The survey was conducted by the four heads of the graduate schools. Vice-dean Lise Wogensen Bach cites the survey as an important tool in ongoing efforts to guarantee quality and well-being on AU's PhD degree programmes.

"This survey has given us some very valuable responses that we can use going forward when developing PhD degree programmes. Some things are going really well while others have to be improved, and it is important for us to consider why many PhD students feel they are under pressure," says Vice-dean Lise Wogensen Bach.

AU's 1800 or so PhD students are important elements in the university's overall research activity, as well as providing a focal point for ongoing development of talented researchers and hence the research workforce of the future.

Responses were received to 75 per cent of the surveys issued, and the results have initially been discussed by the heads of the graduate schools. The faculties and PhD committees are currently discussing how the results can be used to optimise local courses. The heads of the graduate schools will make final decisions in the spring on which initiatives will be launched.

See the main conclusions below, or view the entire main report. See also the faculty tables on the Centre for Teaching and Learning website.

If you have any further questions, please contact the relevant graduate school head:


Main conclusions

Strong motivation and high level of satisfaction

The survey shows a generally high level of satisfaction with PhD degree programmes. 92 per cent are satisfied with what they have learned as part of their PhD degree programmes.

The survey also shows that PhD students are a group of highly motivated staff who have chosen their PhD degree programmes due to a strong interest in research. 93 per cent state that they applied to their specific degree programmes because they are passionate about research and very interested in their research topics. 61 per cent state that they chose their particular degree programme due to the subsequent opportunities this would give them on the job market.

Satisfactory range of courses, but room for improvement

76 per cent of respondents state that the selection of PhD courses offered gives them the opportunity to strengthen their general research skills – more or less the same figure as in 2013. Depending on subject area, an average of 53 per cent of respondents state that the selection of PhD courses offered gives them the opportunity to strengthen their skills within their own research projects.

Research abroad generally felt to be worth the effort

Around 80 per cent of respondents believe that their research abroad has strengthened their research projects to a great extent or to some extent, and that this has been worth the effort in view of the academic benefit.

Departmental work instructive but time-consuming

PhD students employed at AU are subject to a rule in accordance with the collective agreement, stating that they have to spend 840 hours doing what is known as "departmental work" – that is to say, teaching or providing student guidance – over the course of their PhD degree programmes. Although there is general satisfaction with the work content – 82 per cent find it instructive – around 50 per cent of respondents state that the workload impacts on their PhD degree programmes.

Heavy workload and stress

Many PhD students state that they experience severe stress symptoms (17 per cent), and one in three stated that they feel exhausted or find that their work takes up so much of their time and energy that it affects their private lives.  The agreement-related hours for departmental work, PhD courses and change of environment are stated as the reasons for their lack of well-being.

Some people feel integrated in research environment

In general, respondents feel they are integrated in the research community (77 per cent) and that they are respected as fellow researchers. Aarhus BSS in particular has seen an increase in integration in the research environment since the initial survey in 2013. For instance, there is an increase here, from 58 per cent to 72 per cent, in the number of people who feel they are part of the research community.

There is also a slight increase in satisfaction as regards feedback in the research environments. Many PhD students state that they find it fun to work together on a research assignment (74 per cent), and that research is regularly presented and discussed on site (72 per cent). These figures for 2013 were 71 and 70 per cent respectively. However, 14 and 16 per cent respectively state that they feel lonely at work or that they are isolated with their PhD projects.

High level of satisfaction with supervision

The vast majority of respondents feel they have good relationships with their supervisors (95 per cent) and that they receive the guidance they need (83 per cent). At the same time, the survey provides an indication that guidance can help to remedy a lack of well-being.