Three young researchers: ‘the pressure is getting too high’

Paul van den Broek 19-04-2017, 14:12

Illustratie: Marc Kolle

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The union and the university's employee participation want measures against the workload that people face. Rector Han van Krieken wants to investigate the problems first, and also wants attention for a workload that is too low. Three young researchers about the pressure they feel: 'People think it is simply part of the deal.'

Mariska Kerstholt: ‘Physical and mental problems.’
‘Unfortunately, many people, like supervisors and PhDs themselves, think that a heavy workload is simply part of the deal. But the pressure is getting too high now. Our survey, conducted every four years, shows that a large group of people experience physical and mental complaints because of the stress. One of the problems is the limited number of positions for PhDs, resulting in an increasing pressure to distinguish oneself. On top of that, PhDs need to perform constantly and publish as much as possible and this leads to severe problems. We are struggling with our role in this. We are cooperating with the university’s social workers and organise meetings in order to inform people. But this is symptom control, a culture switch is needed. Supervisors have to become more aware of the problems and the university should think about its policy on this topic. This does affect the quality of the work people provide, and it is not just a problem for the PhD students.’
Mariska Kerstholt is PhD student in Medical studies and the chairman of PhD network PON

Koen van Zon: ‘make workload a topic of discussion.’
‘Scientists are driven by passion. We all want to do good research and teach properly, but a modern scientist is expected to bring more. You should valorise, apply for scholarships and do other activities for which you do not get paid. You need to distinguish yourself, especially at the faculty of arts, where research positions are limited. In recent years, science has become increasingly competitive. Therefore, my colleagues and I work a lot more than is contractually expected from us, because we care about our job. But we have to be careful not to drive each other crazy with high expectations and sacrificing nights off or weekends should not become the standard. This is why it is important that workload and the pressure to perform are not taboo subjects. Make this a topic of discussion. This also goes for the university’s executive board, because with his statement that too little pressure is also an underestimated phenomenon, the rector seems to do the opposite.’
Koen van Zon is PhD student in History

Sander Lestrade: ‘uncertainty about career.’
‘In my opinion, the biggest problem is the uncertainty about the continuation of a career: within the academy, there are too few possibilities for PhDs. One reason is that there are too many PhDs, at the expense of associate professor and postdoc positions. We learn from the rector that in further research, he will try to find what the causes of workload are. Such research is welcome, especially when it includes the factor of possibilities to move within the university. Solving it all, is of course something different.’
Sander Lestrade is postdoc and member of the Works Council

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