Ultimately it is the responsibility of all participants in the Vienna BioCenter PhD Program to foster and promote the development of the PhD candidates.
There are three main levels, in which the parties involved have important roles and responsibilities.
- Student: The student is responsible to check his/her progress, to take the initiative, and to look for support in order to reach the learning outcomes
- Supervisor: The supervisor has to evaluate the student’s progress and provide the necessary mentoring and support for the student to reach the above learning outcomes and the agreed scientific goals
- Thesis Advisory Committee: The TAC is responsible for monitoring the student’s progress and giving external advice and support to the student and supervisor.
With the goal being to become an independent scientist, success in a doctoral program inherently depends mainly on the student. The PhD student has to be the driving force behind the scientific project and ultimately the degree. Yet, being a PhD student is much more than just attaining a degree. PhD students need to be motivated and engaged to develop projects they feel passionate about, and that uncover new knowledge. This should lead to at least one original publication, which is an important part of the scientific process that will also support the student’s progress into their next position.
To be successful within the program a student needs to:
- Become expert in his/her respective field by reading and critically analyzing relevant literature
- Take initiative and develop ownership of the project(s)
- Be rigorous in all experiments, adhere to good scientific practices, and keep comprehensive records in English (this is a legal obligation)
- Look/ask for help when facing a problem (scientific, technical or with supervisors/colleagues) and respect constructive criticism. Learn to give and receive feedback
- Ensure regular and effective meetings with the supervisor (Data and Mentoring meetings)
- Actively participate in the school training events (Priming your PhD, Monday seminars and Journal Clubs) and regularly attend seminars (on topics and other disciplines)
- Behave in an appropriate way that contributes positively to the institutes’ culture
The supervisor has the responsibility to mentor and guide the student. This starts with identifying a suitable project for the student. The project should address an important open problem or question. The supervisor is further responsible for providing adequate guidance and resources for the implementation of the research project. Importantly, this often includes the adjustment and/or redefinition of the original project/goals. Finally, the supervisor is responsible for mentoring the student in his/her professional development towards the learning outcomes listed above and to provide feedback and advice for the next career steps. In particular, it is essential for the supervisor to:
- Meet regularly with the student to ensure effective communication. Two different types of regular meetings are envisaged:
- Data Meeting: Review and discuss the experimental planning, results, and their interpretation (the frequency should vary from weekly to monthly, depending on the independence of the student);
- Mentoring Meeting: Explicit (re-) assessment of the project goals and progress (big(ger) picture review of past and planning of future), the working relation and mutual expectations. At the beginning of the PhD this is particularly important to build or ensure a productive student-supervisor relationship. Thus, initially these meetings should happen more frequently (as a rule of thumb twice in the first 6 months) and later once or twice in each of the remaining years. Especially towards the end of the PhD, the student’s professional (career) development should also be discussed in these meetings
- Help the student to identify an ambitious yet approachable research question and develop a thesis proposal with timeline and milestones
- Provide a supportive and positive environment for scientific discussion of ideas, experiments, projects, etc. (well functioning team/lab; regular lab meetings)
- Ensure that the student has/develops the necessary background and methodological and technical skills for the research
- Guide/teach the student how to communicate science. Give constructive and timely feedback on scientific language, presentations and (paper) writing skills
- Ensure the student knows what good scientific practices and proper professional conduct are
- Confirm that the student keeps appropriate records in English (this is a legal obligation)
- Support the student during the writing of the PhD thesis, which includes reading drafts and providing comments in a timely manner
- Help students build professional networks (foster participation in conferences, meeting invited speakers, etc.)
The members of the thesis advisory committee (TAC) are responsible for monitoring the progress and development of the PhD Student and to provide advice and support to both student and supervisor. Given the goals described here, and the responsibilities of the student and supervisor, the committee members should assess the student-supervisor relationship and, if necessary, mediate misunderstandings or conflicts. The committee members also need to inquire about the research project and the professional development of the candidate.
The TAC should include two faculty members, one internal and one external, plus the student’s supervisor. The TAC meets yearly with the PhD student to review the progress and to give advice. By default there will be three meetings (each meeting with different focus/aims, see below).
It is the responsibility of the TAC to propose an approximate date for the next meeting, and the student is responsible for organising the meeting in a timely manner.
In the event of unsatisfactory progress by the student, additional meetings will be scheduled as appropriate, with explicit milestones that need to be achieved by the next meeting. If there are two consecutive meetings where the student does not demonstrate satisfactory progress, the committee may recommend that the student leaves the PhD Program, and advise on a different program and/or career path.