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The training and supervision plan (TSP)

In this text we describe the importance of writing a training and supervision plan (TSP).
© University of Groningen

Before taking off on a journey to a desired destination, it is good to have a clear plan. The end goals of the PhD trajectory are clear, and the timeline is often set by the institution. Yet the intermediate steps are all to be defined, and are different for each PhD trajectory. Defining those steps or intermediate goals is a very important process. In this article we explain the concept of a training and supervision plan and outline its content, based on our experience at the University of Groningen.

The two overall goals of the PhD trajectory are clear:

  1. The scientific training of the PhD student in an individual research project, which results in a dissertation within the time established by the institution.
  2. The professional training of the PhD student in transferable skills, field-specific academic skills and career orientation through courses, workshops, scientific meetings and networking activities, which will put the student in the condition to successfully continue their career in the direction envisaged at the beginning or throughout the trajectory.

The supervisors have the important role of facilitating the attainment of both goals. But how can they make sure that this is done in a progressive manner?

With the help of a documented plan these overall goals can be broken into smaller tasks, expected outcomes, training, supervision, and evaluation, which will help ensure effectiveness of the trajectory supervision. Such a plan is also very useful in case of co-supervision, as it helps facilitate discussion and agreement among the supervisory team on topics of importance for the PhD trajectory.

Training and Supervision Plan (TSP)

At the University of Groningen, as at many other Dutch and European universities, we have established the use of a Training and Supervision Plan (TSP). This is a document that provides both supervisors and PhD students the opportunity to define at the start what needs to be done, and in which time frame, during the PhD study. In addition, it functions as a living document the content of which is amended throughout the PhD study, based on input from supervisors and the student. Working with the TSP requires evaluation of what has been achieved, reflection on the process, and looking forward to identifying (new) gaps in knowledge and skills, both by the student and the PhD supervisor(s). In some graduate schools, the TSP is discussed at progress meetings and/or during annual reviews.

Similar to a journey, it needs to be clear for supervisors and PhD what needs to be put in the backpack at the start, and while hiking, what skills need to be trained to get to the next peak, what add-ons need to be put in the backpack, while monitoring the destination and trail map.

Skills and training

What are the skills that the PhD candidate will need to gather along the path? First and foremost research skills – knowledge on collecting data, analysing them and interpreting them. As a supervisor you’ll have to coach the student in developing this important skill. Coaching here is the right mode, as you will want the student to discover things on their own, even if explaining it to them would be faster. Another important skill to be encouraged is project management. If your institution does not offer such training, you will have to coach the PhD candidate.

Training on academic writing skills is crucial, as this is the mode in which the scientific knowledge is shared in the community. In the reference section below you can find some further resources to help you transfer this crucial skill, and in Week 2 of this course you will find further material on how to give feedback on your PhD’s written work. As an important aspect of becoming an independent scientist is to present at conferences and symposia, it is key to their success that they not only improve on their presentation skills, but that they learn how to get the most out of conferences.

Keep in mind that PhD trajectories do not always end up following the exact initial plan. This is why revisiting the plan periodically and adjusting the steps is very important.

What to include in a Training and Supervision Plan?

Here are the general areas that should be present in a TSP:

  • General information regarding the student and supervisors, the PhD trajectory, type of scholarship and so on;
  • Brief description of the project the student will work on;
  • Description of expected goals or targets (both research and education related) for the first year, as well as a rough draft of expected goals for the following years;
  • Description of the research facilities the PhD candidate will have access to;
  • Description of the financial resources the PhD candidate will have access to for participating in conferences, research related travel and education (courses, summer schools etc.);
  • An inventory of courses the student wants to enrol in, and the courses that are mandatory in the Graduate School;
  • A timetable containing the research related activities the student engages in/ will engage in;
  • Description of organisational tasks assigned to the student;
  • If applicable, teaching tasks assigned to the student;
  • Description of the hours dedicated to the student by the members of the supervisory team.

Examples of Training and Supervision Plans

Below you can find three examples of a Training and Supervision Plan that are used by supervisors and PhD students of some of the the Graduate Schools at the University of Groningen:

Find out what type of plan is required or recommended by your graduate school. If none is available, give it a try and create one on your own. Ask the student to fill it out first and send it to you before a dedicated meeting. If you are co-supervising, involve both supervisors in the process. Best is to meet with the co-supervisor before meeting the student, so that you can smooth down any disagreement or unclear point and bounce ideas off each other.


The Collective Labour Agreement of the Dutch universities (article 6.9.) requires the definition of a Training and Supervision Plan.

References and additional resources

  • Bruin, Jeanine de, et al. Project Management for Phds. Eleven International, 2010.
  • Bos, J., Harting, E., & Hesselink, M. (2014). Project driven creation. Succeed with your team!
  • Bruin, Jeanine de, B Hertz, and Elise Reynolds. Project Management for Phds. The Hague: Eleven international, 2010.
© University of Groningen
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