The experiences of PhD students at the division of Solid State Physics: Effects of nationality and educational background

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1 The experiences of PhD students at the division of Solid State Physics: Effects of nationality and educational background

2 Background 43 completed PhDs at Solid State Physics from (inclusive) 32 Swedish 11 international 34 men, 10 women 28 men, 6 women 7 men, 4 women 22 current PhD students in October 2012 (initiation of study) 13 Swedish 9 international (and external) 11 internal (LU background) 2 external 12 men, 1 woman (external) 4 men, 5 women 16 men, 6 women Today (January 2015): 41 PhD students 11 Swedish 30 international 9 men, 2 women 16 men, 14 women 25 men, 16 women Significant shift towards a more international (and environment gender balanced?) environment What are the consequences of this shift, and what do we need to consider?

3 For comparison: Physics Department Fall 2012 (based on surveys of the divisions): 100 PhD students EXCLUDING Solid State Physics (68 male, 32 female) 61 Swedish (46 male, 15 female) 75:25 39 international (22 male, 17 female) 56:44 Today (Jan 2015, according to KUBEN) 140 PhD students INDLUDING Solid State Physics (84 male, 56 female) 99 PhD students excluding Solid State Physics (59 male, 40 female)

4 Study methodology 1. Survey sent to the 22 PhD students registered in Oct 2012 (20 questions total): Date of birth, gender, nationality, where they were born and raised Educational background, employment history, starting date of PhD, language ability Previous contact with PhD supervisor prior to applying for position, double counting of courses from Masters education Overall satisfaction with research projects, teaching, coursework, supervision and workload students invited to one hour individual interviews (2 declined), selected to represent a range of nationality, educational background, age, gender, time in PhD (years completed) Side note: only 7 of the 22 students are still PhD students (the rest have finished) Very high turnover of PhD students in the 2.5 years since the study was conducted

5 Study methodology 3. Interviews 3.1 overall satisfaction, positive and negative aspects of: undergraduate teaching PhD coursework research projects supervision collaboration with other students/researchers conference attendence career development/advice administrative and technical tasks social environment at FTF 3.2 where they personally believe(d) there are systematic differences in the experiences of PhD students, expectations on them and how they are treated in general with respect to nationality with respect to educational background (Lund/external) with respect to gender with respect to age

6 PhD coursework By far the area with the lowest overall satisfaction! To the question Are you overall satisfied with the courses you have taken so far in the your PhD studies? only 6 of 22 students replied yes Specific comments: I m overall satisfied, but would like more PhD courses The courses are too low level, the few courses for PhD students were good however Slightly low level, too much masters level and too little about current topics in research This part of the PhD studies is my least favorite. It would help if the courses were PhD courses and not 100 student courses with ordinary lectures, exercises, labs and 5 h exam. So, there is a problem with lack of suitable courses I think it sucks that I ve almost only taken course from the undergraduate level, and I ve ended up doing so since I don t think that we really have any PhD student courses to choose from General problem at Physics department? Common that PhD and Master students take the same courses?

7 PhD coursework requirements There is significant confusion on what courses, if any, are required for a PhD, and what courses might be suitable to select Specific comments (most from interviews): the requirements are not clear and seem to change in time it is not clear what I should take, what is required flexibility is good but if there are criteria then it would be good to know some people say two [specific] courses are mandatory for everyone, but it seems to depend on the supervisor there seem to be requirements for some students but not for others there seem to be unofficial requirements maybe these should be made official Goal at Solid State Physics: draft document on suitable courses for PhD students (possibly which are mandatory within the division), including links to courses at other departments/university, online courses etc. BUT: draft guidelines underway for ~8 years, resurrected ~2 years ago to also include list of suggestions still nothing finished that the PhD students have access to!

8 Research projects Overall, students were very satisfied with their research projects (nearly all students indicated this in the survey) Biggest concern, brought up by ALL interviewed students: pressure to publish Strong perception overall that the goal of the PhD study is to produce a thesis containing as many papers as possible rather than to obtain an education in how to conduct research (Publication was not mentioned in any of the fixed interview or survey questions) Average number of papers included in PhD theses from : 8 Other surveys indicate this average applies across the Physics Dept.

9 I liked to do [other task], but it took time away from research that could lead to publication we always need papers it s important to have a first author paper it s important for everyone to get an easy paper so as not to be too stressed people that publish many papers set the level quite high new students are stressed after only one year when they have no paper yet older students tell the new students that it is normal not to have papers for the first two years, but no one listens it is a very competitive environment it is unfair that there are different expectations between supervisors...for example some people write papers for their students of course I could have published more if my supervisor wrote the papers there is always too much to do, very much pressure to publish people who did Masters here have an advantage that they can publish quicker I have to work a lot to have enough publications for my thesis it is difficult in a department where people publish a lot it s tough if you have no results after two years [teaching] can be stressful sometimes when you feel you should be doing other things, to produce a thesis it doesn t count for much at the end I haven t heard an exact number from my supervisor of how many papers I need [to publish] it is frustrating

10 Undergraduate teaching Many students commented on language issues (Swedish students teach more overall, more basic courses, international students teach more advanced courses) but overall not a big concern, most students satisfied! Biggest concern: inadequate preparation It is hard if you don t come from here and haven t taken the courses yourself it is assumed that we know what to teach it is a big advantage if you have taken the courses before teaching is difficult if you haven t taken the course usually it is just expected that you know what to do it can be hard to get input from the course responsible sometimes it feels like they just want everyone to pass, but there is little information on what is a pass it is difficult to know what the [undergraduate] students need to know the preparation is mixed for some courses I could use more information on what is expected and the background the students have it varies a lot for some courses I got good information from the course responsible and from some nothing

11 Administrative and technical tasks Only asked in the interviews: whether students had performed additional technical tasks (e.g. service and maintenance of equipment) or administrative tasks (e.g. organizing group meetings, PhD hiring committees, updating web pages...) Only topic in the study with a significant difference between male and female students uncorrelated with nationality/educational background! 2/6 male students stated they had done technical tasks, 0/6 reported administrative tasks when presented with examples, 3 indicated that had done such things, but: I have not done so much it can be time consuming and annoying I don t feel I m wasting time on this stuff I don t wish for more such things 4/4 female students volunteered extensive lists of technical and administrative tasks, which they presented as positive (e.g. learning experiences) but also time consuming I feel I m expected to do more admin stuff because I m a woman normally women organize things and are on committees it feels like a duty One male student also noted that women are more likely to be asked to do administrative tasks. All students stated they are asked to do these tasks and do not usually volunteer Some additional tasks mentioned: ordering lab supplies, giving lab tours, decorating for events (?), pouring drinks (???)

12 Workload Despite extensive previous studies and surveys indicating that PhD students feel they have too much to do, students in general did not seem particularly overwhelmed by their workload 22 students were asked in the survey in general, do you find you have too much to do in your PhD studies, too little, or an appropriate amount? 13 students found their workload appropriate or usually appropriate, while the remainder stated they had too much to do External students were considerably more likely to feel they have too much to do Students earlier in their PhD (first two years) were far more likely to feel they have too much to do Do external students really have more to do? Comments mentioned the slightly increased course load, more time to learn the undergraduate courses they needed to teach, and more time to learn equipment/routines when they had not done a Masters here. Some students mentioned that adapting to Swedish society, customs, language takes time Comment: much of this is just reality. Perhaps the important thing is to be understanding and aware, and aim to help with the transition as far as possible

13 Perception of inequality The most worrying trend found in the study was an overall perception of hierarchy or favoritism among the PhD students. 7/10 interviewed students mentioned this, and a few comments also appeared in the survey: everyone has the idea that the [Engineering Nanoscience] students are better our research group is separate from the rest there is an us versus them mentality we are seen as outsiders nobody knows what the women do women are not considered as competent this is related to the power structure who your supervisor is means everything students with a more famous supervisor get more respect white Swedish males are seen as top of the pack they seem to be the best, smartest, most confident they get more respect there is a clear hierarchy between research groups [Engineering Nanoscience] students are seen as the model student, everyone is compared to them where people come from affects how they are treated the choice of projects depends on your supervisor having a well known supervisor means better offers white males get the best choice of projects

14 Social environment PhD students were asked What is your overall impression of the social environment at Solid State Physics? Strong difference between Swedish students and international (especially female) Swedish: I think it s quite nice there are people to talk to we go for beers sometimes it is quite relaxed International: I don t like it so much it was hard to get to know people when I first came so many come from here so they already have a social life people don t really talk in the lunch room, it is hard to get to know people it is hard for non Swedish speaking students to fit in in the beginning it was very lonely, it is not a very open environment new people are not welcomed since everyone has been here awhile, there is no culture for new people Here at lot has changed since 2012!

15 General comments (2013) Current hybrid situation (half of students recruited internally, half by open positing) is an interesting test case for how customs and practices affect our PhD students Where is the perception of favoritism/hierarchy coming from? How to combat this? Distribution of additional administrative/technical tasks: managerial oversight required to ensure all students benefit and none are overburdened Excessive focus on publishing: how can we help our students to better understand what it means to do PhD study? Undergraduate teaching: is the division based on language abilities necessary? How will we solve this as the number of Swedish speaking students decreases? Why/how do we recruit female students externally but not internally?

16 2015: What has changed? Swedish students are now a minority are they still viewed as favoured students? International students are not and do not consider themselves outsiders, and have much stronger social ties Lack of Swedish speaking PhD students had led to some adjustment of language requirements for teaching But Swedish students still teach more (and complain about it more) What has not changed: Swedish PhD students are still 90% male, international students evenly mixed Competitive environment with strong focus on publishing among PhD students Administrative tasks: anecdotally, still a problem

17 Pre counting (double counting) Double counting courses taken during the Masters studies was standard as of Oct There was significant concern about whether this option was applied fairly (during interviews): the number counted differs between students some students can take in more I think it s weird and unfair that pre counted courses don t affect the length of the education some students get more time to do research how many courses I could take in was not clear, the rules seem to change the expectations of what courses must be taken are different for people from Lund some supervisors are more generous in taking in earlier courses some people can take in 30 credits, some none it s a bit unfair that some people have to study more, especially people who come from other universities it s a big benefit if you studied a Masters here and have already taken the courses students from here have already taken the courses and get more time for research this probably influences who is hired For reference: internal students counted an average of 24 hp previous coursework (0 36) while external students counted an average of 14 hp (0 27). Data collected from the survey.

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