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PhD Day 2018! 5 things PhD students have in common.

Date:11 October 2018
Author:Astrid Kruitwagen
PhD Day: Imagine, Invent and Inspire!
PhD Day: Imagine, Invent and Inspire!

On 21 September, the largest events for PhD students in The Netherlands took place: the PhD Day Groningen! More than 700 PhD students registered to attend. What brings all these different PhD students together? As a member this years’ PhD Day board, I would like to share some facts and observations from the PhD Day on what do PhD students have in common?


1: PhD students are looking for balance and (new) ways to communicate their research.

Balancing mental health and research communication.
Balancing mental health and research communication.

Mental balance and research communication are - based on the popularity of the workshops - two popular topics for PhDs. Complicated science asks for good communication skills to increase your visibility and to be understood. It might therefore be no surprise that a lot of people were interested in workshops like “how to effectively visualize your data”, “how to pitch your research” and “communicate it to the media”.

  • “Tell a story; find meaningful insights in your data, otherwise it’s just some graph” - Roberto Moratore
  • "Don't be afraid to talk about your research in social media, and when you do, start with your most important result" - Selma de Vries and Jorien Bakker
  • “Simplicity, get rid of junk; naked data is sexy” - Roberto Moratore

Another popular subject was mental health. Workshops that addressed questions like “how can you combine your science with your private life”,“how can you use office yoga to increase your concentration” and the lecture about the “link between work environment and mental health” were very attractive. (You might even wonder whether there is a link between research communication and mental health? Does the feeling of not always being understood result (in part) in mental health issues?)

2: PhD students are eager to explore and work on their career options.

Every PhD student is aware that their research project will come to an end. This puts a lot of people early on in their academic career already on a quest: do they want to stay in academia, and if yes, how? The large room for the grant writing workshop was packed and there were many questions after the lecture about international networking. The Career Fair was also an attractive place where people had the opportunity to get in touch with companies and organizations. Because, not everyone wants to stay in academia, as seen in the number of people who attended the entrepreneurship workshop. (Interested to find out more about your career options after your PhD? Follow the Career Perspectives Series.)

  • “Creative innovation will thrive only in an environment that allow the goal-free mind to flourish, where we can sometimes let go of our goals and plans” - Prof. Roshan Cools”

3: PhD students are curious and like to help out.

Curious and always asking questions!
Curious and always asking questions!

To be a scientist you need to be curious about everything around you. This is what we (luckily) saw during the PhD Day: hundreds of people went to the “Grote Zaal” during the keynote lectures to get inspired by the world of physics and astronomy (Prof. Vincent Icke), cognitive neuroscience (Prof. Roshan Cools) and language and technology (Prof. Piek Vossen). Curiosity also extended to other fellow students; we were happily surprised that a lot of PhD students indicated that they wanted to volunteer, not only to get experience in organizing an event, but also to meet new people. (Are you interested to participate in next year's PhD Day organisation? Contact us!

  • “There is no computer program so far that is capable of generating hypotheses, and that is what we need us for, you. Because that is the cause of our understanding of the universe”- Prof. Vincent Icke

4: PhD students are reflective people.

A habit of scientists is their always-reflecting nature, whether it is about their work, themselves, or the world around them. This is of course an important first step if you want to learn and change something. The highly reflective nature was reflected during the PhD Day by the large interest in the self-analysis workshop. In fact, the demand was much higher than we expected, so we even organized a second workshop. Many people were also very interested to reflect on the (academic) work environment and discussed topics such as gender bias, open access, and cultural diversity, which are important topics to help improve our (research) environment.

  • “Science starts with playing and ends with methodology” - Prof. Piek Vossen

5: PhD students are also “normal” human beings: creative, social and like to party!

Take the time to enjoy yourself!
Take the time to enjoy yourself!

Researchers are not always the “stereotypical” nerdy, socially awkward people. Researchers are “normal” humans as well. Many people sent beautiful creative research photos for the first photography contest organized during the PhD Day. Also many PhDs – more than we had hoped for - stayed after the last keynote speaker, to enjoy the (vegetarian!) food, dance performances, and Improv comedy, and dance with their last energy left during the after party.

Young researchers have a lot of similar interests and share the same doubts and dreams. An event like this is also a nice opportunity for people to step outside their daily working group, laboratory and from behind their computer desks and seek out connections. It is a day to develop yourself, network, and get inspired by people working in other fields.

Tags: PhDLife, PhDDay

About the author

Astrid Kruitwagen
Astrid Kruitwagen