Ombudspersons for doctoral students
Guidance and coaching, sometimes you expect something different
Your dissertation supervisor (promotor) plays a central part as the person coaching your doctoral research efforts. In addition, sometimes an assistant dissertation supervisor (medepromotor) is officially assigned. Your doctoral guidance committee (doctoraatsbegeleidingscommissie) is home to a network of experts available to offer support for your doctoral research project. In some research groups, it is customary for a postdoctoral researcher to assume some of the everyday guidance duties.
There is no such thing as the perfect dissertation supervisor. The selfsame dissertation supervisor may be thought of very highly by one doctoral student whereas things do not seem to work out at all with the next doctoral student. The way in which your dissertation supervisor acts to fill to his* role as a supervisor to a large degree depends on his personality and leadership style and also changes as your research progresses. What is more, the relationship between a dissertation supervisor and a doctoral student is a particularly distinct one, in which the doctoral student’s personality and the expectations held out by the latter also play a part.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why it is important that you and your dissertation supervisor sit down and voice your mutual expectations regarding the doctoral research project and the guidance to be provided from the very outset of your research efforts. To avoid any misunderstandings, it is advisable to lay down a set of concrete arrangements with respect to the guidance and follow-up of your research project.
Although each dissertation supervisor is different and each doctoral student has different expectations from his dissertation supervisor, you may expect your dissertation supervisor to allow you sufficient time to spend on your doctorate and for him to gradually introduce you to the world of research. During the initial phase of your research project, your dissertation supervisor will give you advice on how to compile your work schedule, on adopting the appropriate methodology and on how to organise your research. As your research project progresses to a more advanced stage, he will encourage you to publish your research results, for instance by submitting an article with a leading journal in your chosen field of expertise or by taking part in an (international) conference. For the most part, your dissertation supervisor is also the person who will be reading and commenting on the draft version of your dissertation.
If you feel your dissertation supervisor is failing to properly assume any of the duties outlined above or if you have different expectations of your dissertation supervisor, please take the time to discuss this with him. He is also your first port of call for any other questions and issues you may have with respect to your relationship with your department or research group or faculty (if your department is placing an unduly great teaching burden on your shoulders for instance, leaving you insufficient time for your research activities). This may not always be the easiest of things to do, but please bear in mind that you and your dissertation supervisor for the most part do share the same final goal: to make sure you write a quality dissertation which will enable you to obtain your doctoral diploma.
Faculty ombudspersons for doctoral students
If, for some reason, you are unable to take the initiative yourself to have a word with your dissertation supervisor (because you are finding yourself caught up in a conflict situation for example), please do not hesitate to speak to a faculty ombudsperson for doctoral students.
These faculty ombudspersons are easily approachable contacts inside your own faculty, who can act as figures of authority in case of conflict or when you are having difficulties which you feel unable to discuss with your dissertation supervisor, to name but a few examples. For instance, they will mediate in the event of concrete problems arising as a result of the fact that some of the regulations and formal rules in place (such as the Education and Examination Code) fail to be duly observed. In every discretion and acting in a nonpartisan manner, they will help you find a solution when you are given less time than you should under your statute to work on your doctoral research project for example. However, it is worth pointing out that the faculty ombudspersons also assume a mediatory role on behalf of doctoral students beyond the context of strictly regulation-related matters, for example when you have a complaint regarding the way in which you are being coached and guided in your research efforts or regarding the facilities available to you to conduct your research.
Other ombudspersons within Ghent University
If their attempts at mediation should fail or if the solution of the problems you are raising come outside of their scope of authority, in all cases the faculty ombudspersons will refer you in a duly correct manner to other mediatory bodies first and foremost. Depending on the situation, they may refer you to other ombudspersons within Ghent University (in particular the University ombudsperson, the Human Resources office or the University’s internal Ombudsman Bureau). In some cases, the situation may require for you to be referred to bodies outside of Ghent University; for instance, when you are having problems or complaints as a Ph.D. fellow of the Research Foundation-Flanders, you will be referred to the Research Foundation-Flanders.
You can also approach the University ombudsperson, the Human Resources office and the University’s internal Ombudsman Bureau directly, e.g. when the faculty ombudsperson is your dissertation supervisor and your complaint was brought about (in part) by his conduct.
The Doctoral School
In some cases, problems in the guidance relationship between doctoral students and dissertation supervisors come to light as a result of the progress report doctoral students are expected to submit with their Doctoral School each year. If your progress report is given the amber or red light from your dissertation supervisor/doctoral guidance committee or if you yourself let it be known you are dissatisfied with the quality of the guidance and coaching of your research, the director of your Doctoral School may get in touch with you on the matter. He too will endeavour to find a solution that is in the interest of both parties concerned. In some cases, the director will refer you to the faculty ombudsperson, the University ombudsperson or another body.
If you are dissatisfied with the way in which the Doctoral School handles your progress report, your first port of call will be the director of your Doctoral School or the faculty ombudspersons.
* All references to persons and ranks relate to persons of either gender.