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Preparing for the final year

In this text we discuss how you can make the final stretch in the PhD process as successful as possible.
Finish line
© Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

During the last year of the PhD trajectory, your main focus as a supervisor should be helping the student in clearing the path for the final stretch, as well as to encourage them to look beyond the defence and at the future career perspectives.

Most importantly, this is not the time to add further ingredients and research questions, but to gather all the forces, summon all the results, and provide support in making a sensible plan to reach the final destination by the foreseen date. During this year, it is also important that the PhD candidate starts thinking about life after the defence and prepares for it from a practical point of view.

Additionally, during these months the PhD candidate will need to take care of all the formalities required by your institution. At the University of Groningen we have prepared a video describing all that it takes for the PhD student to organise a PhD defence. It might be helpful for you to watch it, as it provides a good overview of all that it takes in the last few months before the defence in Groningen. Make sure you get yourself informed about the formalities required by your institution.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

How to organise a PhD defence at University of Groningen.

Clearing the path

About a year before the planned defence, it is good practice to encourage the PhD candidate to make an outline of the thesis chapters, or of the monograph, with indications of what has been achieved so far and of what is still missing. This should be discussed together with the supervisor(s) and accordingly a plan is made for the last 12 months as you see in the video. This is also the moment to make a plan B if any of the envisioned results of the PhD project are not attainable in the remaining time or if there have been or there will be delays which cannot be remediated.

Guarding the timeline

Once this plan has been established and discussed, ideally, the PhD student will keep track of it. This might not be easy, especially if the student gets stuck or loses track of the priorities. This is where your role as supervisor is key. Your task is to keep the pulse of the situation and adapt your style to what is needed.

You might need to take a more directive stance when deadlines need to be met, and be empathic and encouraging when the PhD student loses faith in their own capability to finish in time or is just overwhelmed by a task. You can start the conversation about being able to make the deadline, or not, and help the student reflect, and come up with a plan that may deviate from the initial one, discuss that together and then redefine the time schedule, and tasks. It is your role to ensure that the thesis is qualitatively up to the level required by your institution and that you can approve its defence. But it is their thesis not yours, and you have to accept that also a thesis which just meets the standards is fine, even if yours, or their own ambitions might go further.

Next to the dissertation, also the visibility of the results requires attention: conference visit(s), ideally in conjunction with postdoctoral position or other job interview(s) by the student, may have to be planned in an already busy schedule. A publication strategy defining how the results not yet published will find their way into journals has to be agreed upon. These elements have to be included in the planning as well, although some may also take place after the defence and moving out of the area.

You may also need to discuss what to do with the ideas that you developed together for future research but which were not exciting or feasible during the PhD project – will they be developed solely by the candidate or your own team, or in collaboration? Finally, you might want to advise the PhD candidate to find support in writing their CV, applying and interviewing for jobs. You might also help them yourself. This type of help might be available at your institution, and you might also want to offer your expertise in this area as well.

If the career path is outside academia, you should bring them in contact with alumni who also made that choice, make sure that they are informed about how to write a CV and how to do the job interview.

These activities also need their place in the time planning and become a main activity of the PhD candidate once the thesis has been submitted.

© University of Groningen
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