Campus - 17.09.2019 - 00:00 

HSG wants to further improve the supervision of doctoral students

72.1 percent of doctoral students are glad or very glad that they decided to pursue a doctorate at the University of St.Gallen. 62 percent are also satisfied with their supervision. This was the result of a survey conducted by the Student Union and non-tenured faculty . However, the survey also revealed deficits: the requirements for a Ph.D. were unclear to many, the supervision quality, work conditions and the level of the fees were criticized. 38.4 percent of those surveyed stated they were aware of the power their supervisor wielded over them. The HSG has already taken various measures to improve the situation. More are planned for the autumn, or are to be implemented as part of discussions with various stakeholder groups.

17 September 2019. In December 2018, the Student Union and non-tenured faculty conducted a survey among the doctoral students of the University of St.Gallen on their situation with regard to supervision and working conditions. Of those enrolled at the time, 379 doctoral students of 613 filled out the survey. This was equivalent to a return ratio of 61.8%, indicating a high level of interest and need among the doctoral students to provide feedback on their Ph.D.

The survey was presented to the Senate on 16 September 2019 by members of the non-tenured faculty and Prof Dr Kuno Schedler, Vice President Research & Faculty. Today, the non-tenured faculty, Student Union and Vice-President's Board Research & Faculty jointly presented the study to the media and public. Kuno Schedler expressed his thanks in this connection on behalf of the university leadership for the great and valuable work, which provided an important foundation for future improvements in the supervision of doctoral students.

The most important results

• 72.1% of the doctoral students were happy or very happy with their decision to complete a doctorate at the HSG. 62% were satisfied or very satisfied with their supervision. By contrast, 21.4% of the doctoral students stated that they were not satisfied or not satisfied at all with their supervision.

• While 76% reported they got regular feedback from their supervisor at least every six months, 11.8% reported that their supervisor would give them feedback less than once a year or never. The survey revealed that the frequency of feedback declined as the numbers of doctoral students per supervisor increased.

• Almost two-thirds of the doctoral students surveyed were also employed at the HSG in addition to their Ph.D. and of these 95% worked for their Ph.D. supervisors. Unclear working conditions (44.4%), lack of employee discussions (28.4%), excessive work burden (30.6%), lack of opportunities to have overtime compensated (47.9%) and remuneration that was felt to be unfair (22%) were raised as particular problems. 23.1% of those surveyed stated they were not satisfied or not at all satisfied with their working conditions.

• 38.4% of the doctoral students claimed they were confronted with a disparity in power vis-a-vis their supervisor. 19% reported breaches of academic integrity, such as unjustified co-authorships, 13.8% had to work regularly at weekends and 12.5% were subjected to implicit or explicit threats of not being able to complete their Ph.D. successfully. In the event of problems with the supervisor, 26.2% did not know where to find help and 9% did not dare to look for help.

• 26.3% never submitted their research. 33% never made presentations at international conferences and 40.0% did not have access to any internal channels for presenting their research.

• 59% of the doctoral students evaluated the quality of their academic programmes as good or very good. 35.8% of the doctoral students were supported by their supervisors in their career and 16.9% were actively encouraged to attend personal further training courses of the Young Investigator programmes, which the HSG offer especially for this group.

Recommendations by the Student Union and non-tenured faculty

From the point of view of the non-tenured faculty and Student Union, it was gratifying that a large proportion of those surveyed were satisfied with the situation at HSG for the most part. However, at the same time, it was essential to take the points criticised seriously, and to adopt measures for improvement. Special consideration had to be given in this regard to the supervisory and working relationship. Consequently, the Student Union and non-tenured faculty are making a series of recommendations. Among other things, these include improving course quality, reducing and making more transparent semester fees and additional fees incurred, as well as not increasing the semester fees. Requirements, expectations, rights and obligations for a Ph.D. should be communicated transparently. The work requirements and distribution of work in the dissertation projects and at the university should be communicated more clearly - ideally, in the form of a Ph.D agreement, determined and checked in binding form by the university leadership.

Furthermore, the Student Union and non-tenured faculty called for the number of Ph.D students per supervisor to be limited to a maximum of ten persons. The supervisors should have a binding requirement to discuss work progress once a semester with every Ph.D student. Research colloquia and writing groups should be established in which Ph.D students could present their work to each other and get feedback. Financing options for doctoral students should be provided for participation in academic conferences and it should be ensured that the supervisors encouraged their Ph.D students to present their research at international conferences. Moreover, the Ph.D students should be able to use a set defined proportion of their paid working time to work on their dissertation project. The university ought to define the scope, for example one day a week in the case of 70% employment and ensure that employee discussions were conducted regularly and overtime could be compensated.

In addition, the Student Union and non-tenured faculty recommend dissolving the double role as superior and supervisor and the associated imbalance in power by having supervision and assessment separated out and conducted by a thesis committee. Moreover, the university leadership should enforce academically ethical behaviour in the case of authorship to ensure that only persons who had made a significant academic contribution to a publication can also act as co-authors and provide further training courses for Ph.D supervisors.

Ph.D brochure, workshop, job descriptions

The President's Board welcomed the survey, which met its efforts to continuously further develop the quality of the Ph.D in coordination with national and international standards. A Ph.D constitutes an academic examination over several years. This is associated with a great deal of pressure to perform together with an above-average expenditure of time. Consequently, it is important for HSG to clarify mutual expectations and guarantee together with the students and non-tenured faculty research conditions that permit a successful doctoral thesis. The results of the survey confirmed the necessity for ongoing work on the topic. At the same time, the survey provided a representative picture of the situation of the Ph.D students from their perspective. Nevertheless, most of the points raised did not involve an HSG-specific problem, but rather aspects evident at various Swiss universities. The recommendations of the Student Union and non-tenured faculty to a large extent also corresponded with international standards.

After the implementation of numerous improvements in recent years - such as the reform of the Award Regulations for Doctor's Degrees, the case conference or discussions of the President's Board with individual supervisors - a new Ph.D brochure will be published at the beginning of the Autumn Semester 2019, which will form the basis for the clarifying the rights and obligations of the Ph.D students and their supervisors along with their supervision agreement. At the end of October 2019, a Workshop Excellence in Ph.D Supervision will be carried out for all supervisors of Ph.D students at the University of St.Gallen. And for 2019/2020, job descriptions are planned for all academic positions at the HSG, including Ph.D students. Specific expectations in the categories research and leadership will be adopted in positions with planned Ph.D supervision. These job profiles will also play an important role in the appointments procedure.

Decisions in university committees

The university leadership plans comprehensive consultations on the survey and recommendations of the Student Union and non-tenured faculty in the Autumn Semester 2019 in all university committees and discussion and deduction of potential ongoing measures. The first results are to be expected in spring 2020.

Previous measures

• 2015: Guidelines for the integrity of academic work (Academic Integrity) regulating co-authorship in Art. 6 (2): "All persons who have contributed in a significant way by their own academic work to the planning, execution or evaluation of the academic publication have a claim to authorship."

• 2016: Brochure on raising awareness of employees to ensure personal integrity in the degree course and at the workplace (Information brochure on discrimination, mobbing, sexual harassment, abuse of power).

• 2016: Young Investigator Programme (YIP): Various offers for Ph.D students on career, academic publications, writing workshops, peer monitoring, management of research teams.

• 2017: Reform of the Award Regulations for Doctor's Degrees (PromO 17): Disentangling of doctoral thesis supervision, evaluation and superior function, e.g. independent assessment by a thesis committee, weakening of the Ph.D students' dependence on the supervisor (Ph.D students can now request another thesis committee if there is a conflict with the supervisor), listing of rights and obligations.

• Since 2017: Anonymised case collection of problem cases with Ph.D students by the Vice-President's Board Research & Faculty, Ph.D Office and advice bodies.

• Since 2017: Establishment of a case conference on the situation of Ph.D students at the HSG: Discussion and assessment of the need for action at regular case conferences every semester (with formal and informal contact bodies) by the Vice-President's Board Research & Faculty.

• Since 2018: Regular discussions of the President's Board with institutes and criticised supervisors, determination of measures, subsequent supervision.

• Since 2018, full professor dilemma training: Senate written examination 2018 and onboarding programme for new professors with a section on Ph.D supervision.

• August 2019: Contact body for abuses (whistleblowing): external independent body to which doctoral students can also report abuses anonymously.

The complete Ph.D student survey is available on the right as download.

The Ph.D brochure is available as e-paper or as a PDF via and can be ordered in printed form via

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