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Setting goals

In this text we introduce the importance of setting the right goals.
Dart board and arrows
© Afif Rhamdhasuma via Unsplash

Setting goals is an activity that PhD candidates might not be familiar with. In their previous course of study, goals were likely set by the requirements of the coursework. In order to successfully complete a PhD, candidates will not only need to be able to break down the tasks into smaller activities and deliverables, they will also need to keep up the motivation and focus throughout the trajectory. Goals can be a good way to achieve this.

A very important aspect of your role as coach of the PhD candidates is to help them define goals throughout the PhD trajectory so that they are motivated, focused on the right priorities, and aware of how much they are progressing in their academic and professional development.

Setting and tracking the right goals will also help you, and the co-supervisors, evaluate progress and identify when a change of direction or strategy is needed. By helping the PhD candidate set and stay in the course toward the right objectives you will also support their autonomy and competence, which, as we have seen, are important psychological needs.

As we mentioned in the first week of this course, when starting off on the path of the PhD trajectory, the candidate and their supervisors have two primary objectives:

  1. The completion of the requirements for the defense of a thesis;
  2. The development of the skills and competencies that are required for the student to become an independent researcher in their field.

These important objectives need to be achieved in a relatively short time of 3-5 years (depending on the type of PhD).

How can supervisors and PhDs break down all that needs to be done so that these two primary objectives are achieved? How can they set smaller targets so that progress is tracked and the student maintains the focus and motivation required?

In the first week of this course, we mentioned the importance of having a clear plan from the beginning, and we introduced the Training and Supervision Plan, where these broader goals can be broken down into smaller ones and tracked throughout the trajectory. But how to best go about it in practice? How do you ensure that a goal is not just something set and forgotten, or, worse, something to procrastinate against? We will give you some tips and tools in the following sections. But before we do so, over to you:

How do you set goals with your PhD students? Please add in the comments and share with the other learners.

© University of Groningen
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