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Gaining momentum: Work-life balance in courses for PhD students

Science faculty courses are indirectly helping PHD students to combat stress

The University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Science’s intro course and course in project management are both helping PhD students cope with stress and time management issues, according to organisers.

Stress is a persistent problem for PhD students. A recent survey among PhD students carried out by the University Post had 74 per cent of all respondents at the University of Copenhagen report moderate to high levels of stress. The results are in line with other studies, and other universities. The last four years, the PhD school has offered multiple courses per year due to the high interest.

Two courses, a project management course for PhD students, and an introduction course for New PhD students at Science help to mitigate stress, according to Sofie Kobayashi, assistant professor in Science Education. The Introduction course has a specific session about stress, while the project management course is more advanced on the topic.

”The intro course has been set up in such a manner that doctoral students can acquire the tools to manage their project and PhD studies so to mitigate stress and support timely completion. Science offers this course for new doctoral students to equip them to deal with their professional and personal problems so that the outcomes of a doctoral study are not affected in any way, and to support them in taking charge and making their doctoral studies a positive experience” she says.

Intensive boot camp

The Intro course is in addition to a previous module in responsible research conduct, and includes a focus on personal development, time management, strategic decision making, and presentation and networking skills.

The course is a five day, intensive ‘boot camp’ type of course. The work is supported by sessions and exercises that help them take a second order view of themselves as young researchers.

”The course is a safe haven for doctoral students to discuss their worries and issues, and to build a network of peers that they can lean on during their studies. The course venue, Rådvad Vandrerhjem in Lyngby, is a perfect setting for providing a safe space away from supervisors, managers and daily routines, and it is an opportunity to experience that they are not alone in being alone, or feeling insecure, or worrying about time management,” Sofie says.

Preparing PhDs for roller coaster ride

The course is structured around four themes: Personal and professional competence mapping and development; General skills like project management, presentations techniques and scientific writing; Responsible Conduct of Research (the mandatory course which can also be taken as stand-alone instead); and Building relations and networks, including collaboration with supervisors.

”We provide up-to-date information and frame our lectures in a story-telling format so that it is convenient for the PhD students to act and react. Our team has also established discussion forums where individuals identify their personal problems and try to solve them through group activities or by reading motivational texts that are in the context of their project,” says Sofie.

”To assist students we have asked them to make a personal development plan and a research ethical essay so that we can give them a valuable feedback on how much are they prepared for a roller coaster ride in this three year duration. We have also asked them to apply the unique techniques taught in the lecture and assess by themselves as to how much they improve over a certain time period,” says Sofie about the course’s structure.

Use the golden hour

Professor Brian William Wilson Grout is an agricultural science professor and a speaker during one of the course sessions.

”Work life balance is so important and plays a pivotal role in shaping up one’s personality and in increasing work efficiency,” he says. He offers his own advice.

”Sleep is a very important part in one’s life as the mind and the body need relaxation. It’s important in the morning to devote one hour of time towards reviewing things that have been learnt in the past to activate the brain and connect the mind towards the day to day activities. This is called the Golden Hour and this time must not be compromised under any circumstances for the day to be fruitful and effective,” Brian advises.

Here is the introduction course.

Here is the project management course.

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