SENSE Midterm Review 2004

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1 SENSE Midterm Review 2004 Wageningen University Leiden University Utrecht University University of Amsterdam (UvA) Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam (VU) WIMEK - Wageningen Institute for Environment and Climate Research CML - Institute of Environmental Sciences Copernicus Institute - for Sustainable Development and Innovation IBED - Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics IES - Institute of Ecological Science IAW - Institute of Earth Sciences IVM - Institute for Environmental Studies Groningen University Nijmegen University IVEM - Center for Energy and Environmental Studies CWS - Department of Environmental Studies CWE - Department of Environmental Biology Maastricht University ICIS - International Centre for Integrative Studies The SENSE Research School for Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment is a joint venture of the environmental research institutes of eight Dutch universities and has been formally accredited by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). For information about SENSE, please visit our website at:

2 2 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL This report is also available from the SENSE website at: Contact address: SENSE Research School Dr. A. van Dommelen Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) Vrije Universiteit De Boelelaan HV Amsterdam The Netherlands Phone: / Fax: Url: MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

3 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL 3 Table of Contents 1 Introduction: SENSE Midterm Review Scientific mission Quality and growth of partnership Relevance of the SENSE network Educational Programme 2.1 Evaluation by PhD students and staff members What has been changed in the training programme? Monitoring of PhD progress Information provision to PhD students SWOT analysis of educational programme Research Programme 3.1 Achievements of SENSE in research Core 1: Micropollutants Core 2: Environmental change and ecosystem dynamics Core 3: Global change climate, land use and biogeochemical cycles Core 4: Industrial transformation towards sustainable use of energy and materials Management Structure 4.1 Management of SENSE Financial basis Communication in the network Prospects for Strength Weaknesses Opportunities Threats Analysis Outlook Annexes to Midterm Review 2004: Annex 1: Composition of Midterm Review Committee 2004 Annex 2: Terms of reference Midterm Review 2004 Annex 3: Results of PhD and Staff inquiry 2004 Annex 4: Overview of courses and numbers of participants Annex 5: Dissertations of SENSE partners in Annex 6: Key publications of SENSE partners in Annex 7: Publications overview of SENSE partners in Annex 8: Overview of disciplinary evaluations by VSNU Annex 9: Report for renewal of KNAW accreditation (Part 1) Annex 10: Report for renewal of KNAW accreditation (Part 2) Annex 11: External Review Report 2001 Annex 12: Report 2002 (in Dutch) of the Research School Accreditation Committee (ECOS) Annex 13: List of major acronyms MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

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5 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL 5 1 Introduction: SENSE Midterm Review 2004 In 1991, the Dutch Government decided to stimulate the development of Graduate Schools or Research Schools. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is responsible for the accreditation procedure. The primary goals of the establishment of Research Schools were: To bring together university research in a coherent research field. To select centres of excellence, organized in top quality research institutes. To improve the education and training of young PhD researchers. In the early 1990s, the development of research schools was stimulated by funds from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and various universities. However, in contrast to the early expectations, research schools did not receive structural funding from the Ministry, and most research schools developed into inter-university networks specialized in support of PhD education, rather than independent institutes. The performance of research schools is subject to an evaluation system set up and implemented by the KNAW. Research schools are accredited for a period of 5 (before 2003) or 6 years (since 2003). The SENSE Research School for Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment was established in 1994 and accredited by the KNAW in 1997 for the first time for a 5-year period At the end of 2001, SENSE submitted its request for renewal of accreditation to the Research School Accreditation Committee (ECOS) of the KNAW (see Report for renewal of accreditation Part I & II in Annexes 9 and 10). In 2002, the SENSE Research School received its five-year renewal of accreditation from the KNAW on the basis of a positive assessment. The results of the present Midterm Review 2004 and the subsequent peer review evaluation towards the end of this accreditation period are part of the follow-up accreditation request which will be submitted to the KNAW. Since the renewal of accreditation in 2002, the network has grown and developed further and it is clear that the partners in SENSE will want to continue its development after the present accreditation period of This implies that SENSE would like to sollicit external feedback from relevant experts to assess whether we are still on a right track towards the goal of continued development. For that reason we hereby present a midterm report with a selfevaluation of how far we have come in our ambitions until now. Different aspects are hereby considered for review. The Midterm Review Committee 2004 (see Annex 1) has been invited to evaluate the SENSE Research School by the terms of reference as listed in Annex 2. At the same time, this midterm review report serves a wider purpose also. Both science and society are continuously changing. The SENSE network aspires to build bridges between the two and must therefore be prepared to adapt to and preferrably even anticipate such changes. This report also serves to mark our position in this transition process. We hope that this self-evaluation report and the results which are presented in it will serve to demonstrate that we have taken into account the valuable feedback that we received in earlier reviews, such as the SENSE External Review in 2001 (see Annex 11) and the evaluation in 2002 by the Research School Accreditation Committee (ECOS) of the KNAW (see Annex 12 in Dutch). This does not take away the fact that this report for the SENSE Midterm Review 2004, should be seen as work in progress and not as a final result in any way. Earlier MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

6 6 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL ambitions have not fully been realized as yet, and new ambitions have been gathered along the road of development. 1.1 Scientific mission One element of our research school which has remained unchanged is the scientific mission of SENSE as it was formulated for the period : The scientific mission of the SENSE Research School is to promote an integrated understanding of environmental change in terms of the mechanisms that cause it and the consequences that result from it. To fulfil this mission, the combined programmes of research and education within SENSE are aimed at the development and further improvement of scientific concepts and methods that are required for an effective disciplinary and multidisciplinary understanding of environmental change. Research and education in SENSE are dedicated to developing high quality scientific results which may be applied to practically and critically inform environmental policy perspectives (thereby promoting effective environmental management). Both the causes and the ecological and societal effects of environmental change are relevant for the development of sustainable environmental management, nature conservation, and an ecological transformation of production and consumption. Recent years have seen a further increased awareness in the scientific community as well as in society of the need for interaction and cooperation between socio-economic and natural sciences of the environment, both nationally and internationally. This challenge for science and society is addressed by the mission of SENSE. SENSE strives to be a high quality school for researchers, where disciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches are being developed and taught for the support of scientifically based and effective environmental policies. SENSE has three fundamental goals in which it wishes to excel: Education and training of PhD students in disciplinary and multidisciplinary environmental issues; Scientific research of environmental changes, both with regard to the disciplinary understanding of the issues and with regard to multidisciplinary understanding in the context of society; Support of society, environmental actors, and policy makers with independent and scientifically based expert advice. To meet these objectives, the SENSE Research School is dedicated to organizing and facilitating processes of environmental learning, both in terms of relevant scientific research and in terms of relevant training and advanced education. The programme includes a range of disciplines, with contributions from the natural sciences (such as chemistry, biology, earth sciences, environmental technology) and socio-economic sciences (such as economics, sociology, political science). It involves monodisciplinary projects as well as integrated research in multidisciplinary teams, with the participating university institutes in SENSE complementing each other. Environmental degradation is threatening and challenging societies. Anthropogenic production and consumption are leading to changes in the environment (e.g. changes in concentrations of potentially toxic substances, changes in biogeochemical cycles, changes in MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

7 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL 7 biodiversity, climate change), which may disturb life-supporting systems. As a result, society is faced with many undesirable and possibly irreversible consequences of its socio-economic and technological development. An important challenge is to address the issue of environmental degradation in a way that is both effective and efficient. This requires knowledge and understanding from the natural and the socio-economic sciences. The added value of the SENSE Research School is to increase knowledge and understanding of the various disciplines that are involved in studying environmental issues and to actively bring together scientists of these disciplines to seek comprehensive answers to such challenges. Cooperation with disciplinary research schools is an essential part of the SENSE strategy to broaden the possibilities of disciplinary depth of the educational programme and to train doctoral students (PhD equivalent) by the highest standards. Part of the SENSE mission is to improve communication and exchange amongst disciplines and between arenas of science and arenas of policy. For this purpose the interactive website is further developed to support the mission of SENSE at a national and international level and for facilitating the communication within the community of senior and junior scientists of the research school. 1.2 Quality and growth of partnership After the renewed accreditation in 2002, the SENSE Research School has seen further growth in its partnership. Whereas environmental research institutes from Groningen University and Nijmegen University had already joined the ranks of SENSE before 2002 to take part in the request for renewal of KNAW accreditation, in the subsequent period the SENSE ranks have been further strengthened by the International Centre for Integrative Studies (ICIS) of Maastricht University (first headed by Prof. Rotmans and now by Prof. Martens), and by two new research groups (headed by Prof. Glasbergen and Prof. De Ruiter, respectively) which have their basis in the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development and Innovation of Utrecht University. This extension of the network was warmly welcomed in a special meeting, where the new participants were given the opportunity to present themselves to the larger community of junior and senior researchers ( SENSE meeting SENSE in December 2003). The quality of the network is maintained by specified requirements, both in terms of individual and group quality control Individual quality control and productivity analysis The SENSE quality control at this level is an individual-based signalling system for all permanent staff members. The most important quality indicators are: the number of PhD graduations as (co)supervisor; the number of publications in international refereed scientific journals; the number of scientific books or refereed chapters in scientific books published by a scientific publisher; editorships of international refereed books and proceedings; membership of the editorial board of international scientific journals; membership of national and international scientific organisations; scientific awards. MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

8 8 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL The SENSE Research School applies productivity indicators to determine whether the staff members meet the individual scientific quality criteria for the period As a result of the individual-based productivity analysis, the SENSE Board decided to offer an associate staff membership to a limited number of researchers, who did not meet the SENSE standard. When these researchers will meet the SENSE quality criteria within a period of three years, they will become a full SENSE member again. Depending on work load the minimum output requirements (taken over a period of three years) are for supervisors: 2.5 peer reviewed scientific publications including graduations per year, for research leaders: 2.0 peer reviewed scientific publications per year, and for researchers: 1.5 peer reviewed scientific publications per year Quality of SENSE research groups Until 2003, the quality of Dutch research groups was established every five years by a committee from the VSNU (Vereniging Samenwerkende Nederlandse Universiteiten), in which their research was assessed according to the criteria quality, productivity, relevance and viability. SENSE research groups had the option to be examined in one of the monodisciplinary visitations (e.g. chemistry, earth sciences and biology) or within the multidisciplinary visitation round for Environmental Sciences (see results in Annex 8). SENSE research groups are expected to receive at least a good (in a range from poor to excellent ) level in all four criteria of quality, productivity, relevance and viability. In exceptional cases, a qualification of satisfactory was accepted, e.g., when the qualification is caused by discontinuity of staff. When a research group does not meet the above mentioned criterion, the group is offered an associate membership with SENSE. Such a research group will be admitted again as a full member of the Research School if the score in the next visitation is at least good. In the course of 2002 NWO, KNAW and VSNU set up a new Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) for public research organisations. This protocol gives freedom to the university boards to define the nature and size of the research units to be evaluated. SENSE has invited its partners to choose for the entire SENSE Research School as the research unit to be evaluated in accordance with the SEP criteria, in order to prevent a doubling of assessment procedures for the SENSE research groups. This self-evaluation and Midterm Review accords with the SEP protocol. 1.3 Relevance of the SENSE network In our pursuit of making the SENSE Research School a worthwhile and relevant network, one major objective is to promote high quality scientific research (see also Chapter 3: Research Programme). Although a general environmental awareness is now widely spread through the contexts of science and society, there is still an urgent need for adequate understanding towards dealing with environmental challenges. This need has arguably become more complex where the early successes of environmental progress must now be followed up on by dealing with the more wicked and seemingly invisible environmental concerns also. This general challenge to the socio-economic and natural sciences of the environment implies that researchers and policy-makers must learn to recognize and bridge a number of persistent communication divides, such as between science and policy, between the diversity of scientific disciplines, and between diverging interpretations of the proper quality of sound MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

9 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL 9 science. Our globalizing world is still divided in many ways and any attempt to reach an integrated understanding of our environmental concerns will have to find ways of bridging such communication divides. The multidisciplinary network for environmental research of the SENSE Research School may be seen as worthwhile and relevant for these purposes, both for science and for society. The more so, since issues which require multidisciplinary understanding to be dealt with, usually put an extra burden on the demand for scientific quality. It is all too easy to consider multidisciplinarity as one way to water down the excellence of the separate disciplines. The attempt to uphold disciplinary and multidisciplinary quality at the same time, requires continuous updating of environmental concerns with developments in science and in society. MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

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11 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL 11 2 Educational Programme The objective of the SENSE educational programme is to train PhD students to become qualified scientific researchers with a developed capacity to: carry out research in a systematic and productive way; work effectively and present the results of research to an international forum; contribute to an improved understanding of the causes, effects and solutions of environmental issues; position their own research in a multidisciplinary context. To meet these objectives, the PhD programme consists of: scientific research within one of the disciplines or interdisciplines covered by SENSE, resulting in a dissertation; an individual training programme with a limited number of multidisciplinary components. 2.1 Evaluation by PhD students and staff members One important indicator of the present viability of the SENSE Research School is in the evaluation of its educational programme. To assess the appreciation of both PhD students and staff members, SENSE has conducted a survey among its participants. An overview of the questionnaire and the received responses may be found in Annex 3. All elements of the inquiry were valued at (or above) the level of satisfactory (= score of 3 on a 5-point scale) all but one. The only question to which the response outcome was (a little) below satisfactory was: How do you value the course offer as available in the on-line SENSE Course Guide, regarding the relevance of the subjects covered for your PhD study? The responses to this particular question were below satisfactory for the PhD inquiry as well as for the Staff inquiry: PhD opinions: 2.6 and Staff opinions: 2.9. In a self-critical review of how we are doing, we must face the fact that this particular question is maybe the most defining one for a successful research school which is dedicated to the training and education of PhD students. We may also ask ourselves the critical question whether the SENSE Research School wants to be satisfied with response levels at or just above satisfactory such as resulted from the overall assessment of SENSE (PhD opinions: 3.1 and Staff opinions: 3.2). The answer to this self-critical question must be: No, this does not accord with our level of ambition to make the SENSE Research School an excellent network for multidisciplinary education and training. Therefore, this feedback as part of the Midterm review 2004 of SENSE must be taken seriously as a challenge to do better in the coming years with the general objective to raise the levels of appreciation from PhD students as well as from staff participants in SENSE. Thus, the PhD and Staff inquiry leaves us with two basic challenges: 1. What can be done to raise the appreciation for the relevance of the courses offered? and 2. What can be done to raise the general level of appreciation for SENSE as a multidisciplinary network? MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

12 12 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL What can be done to raise the appreciation for the relevance of the courses offered? First of all, it should be noted that the results of the inquiry reflect the course programme as given over the last two to three years. In the meantime, we have already made substantial progress towards more flexibility of the education requirements and towards a more encompassing offer of courses (see also Section 2.2 below for details). This implies that we may further contribute to the appreciation by improving the communication about the flexible options of the Individual Training and Supervision Programme (ITSP) and of the expansion of available courses. Since a number of these measures have been effectuated in the last year, it may well be that the effects of these recent developments are not completely visible in the inquiry results yet. It may be clarifying to think of our educational mission as aimed at developing a T-shape of PhD students in SENSE. This notion of a T-shape is meant to indicate that we want our PhD candidates to develop in the depth of their own disciplinary research (the vertical pillar of the T-shape) as well as in the breadth of their multidisciplinary scope and access to communication with other disciplinary experts (the horizontal bridge of the T-shape). This format of striving towards this so-called T-shape may also express the necessity of first striving for disciplinary quality, because these pillars are a prerequisite without which the quality of the multidisciplinary bridges cannot be supported. This understanding of the SENSE mission may also help to clarify a temporal discrepancy which may affect the appreciation for the relevance of SENSE courses. In the shorter term of any PhD research, it is quite natural that the main focus will be on making progress in one s own disciplinary background. In the longer term, it will gradually become more clear that the disciplinary research may have implications or limits which touch upon other disciplines, thereby raising the relevance of a more multidisciplinary approach. It should be noted that such a desirable T-shape also incorporates an inherent tension which is likely to reappear for each separate PhD research. This implies that SENSE must continue to strive for disciplinary excellence as well as for multidisciplinary integration and that the inherent tension of the T-shape will continuously require further fine-tuning of the process, both for the PhD students and for their supervisors. The primary importance of the vertical pillars of the T-shape as the founding environmental disciplines can be further clarified by promoting the development of disciplinary Task forces. These will serve to make it clear that the mission of SENSE requires both strong disciplinary pillars and strong multidisciplinary bridges and will further promote the development of disciplinary courses as desired by the SENSE PhDs (in so far as these courses are not already available outside SENSE, e.g. in other research schools). The challenge of strengthening the disciplinary depth as well as the multidisciplinary scope of our education programme, may also be taken up by organising Master classes in which authorities in their field are asked to demonstrate how they deal with the challenges of disciplinarity as well as of multidisciplinarity. This format will also contribute to the commitment of PhD students as well of their supervisors to actively take part in the SENSE network. The possibility to co-organize PhD courses together with other research schools is actively stimulated. Besides this, a special budget has been dedicated to the development of new international and high level courses. MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

13 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL What can be done to raise the general level of appreciation for SENSE as a multidisciplinary network? One element that needs to be considered about the appreciation of the SENSE network lies in the fact that parts of the education programme are mandatory. This will sometimes contribute to some resistance among the PhD students and a feeling that they are not taken sufficiently serious as junior researchers with their own responsibility. Dealing with this aspect could also include a further revision of the programme content of the compulsory A1 course Environmental Research in Context, which is particularly appreciated for its network function. This course could further evolve to a shorter preliminary introduction of all new PhD students in SENSE, which may then be supplemented by taking part in Master classes and/or Core meetings in later years of the PhD research. It has been decided that each of the four Core programmes in SENSE (see also Chapter 3: Research Programme) will organize an annual meeting, which will replace the general autumn workshops such as those which took place in December of 2001, 2002 and Such an opportunity to take part in the separate Core programmes more actively will also contribute to dealing with the tension of the T-shape and may inspire SENSE participants to take their own initiatives as part of the network. One inspiring example of such initiatives may be found in the fact that the yearly SENSE PhD Colloquium is now largely organized by enthusiastic PhD students themselves. The first example of this approach took place in May 2003 and was organized by three SENSE PhD students of WIMEK (Wageningen University). This occasion was highly appreciated by the participants and may serve as an example of the potential multidisciplinary excellence of the SENSE network. In 2004, the same challenge was taken up by three SENSE PhD students of IVEM (Groningen University) and the resulting PhD Colloquium 2004 took place in April 2004 at Groningen University. These meetings are not only intellectually challenging and thought-provoking, but at the same time they contribute to the strength of the network among junior and senior researchers. Besides this, the pleasure that comes with organizing and attending such meetings will generate further enthusiasm to actively take part in the SENSE network. Another example of an initiative which may contribute to an enhanced appreciation of the SENSE network is the initiative to develop a book on Keywords in the Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment which will be published by IWA Publishing (London, UK). This format has already received good responses and feedback from the SENSE participants and is ready to be taken further towards completion in Apart from the self-critical remarks which are triggered by the inquiry results, we may also report some important successes here. In our continued attempts to raise the level of appreciation for SENSE, we have developed some important means of interaction and communication since the re-accreditation of SENSE by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in In the SENSE self-evaluation of 1998, the PhD students were quite critical about the way that SENSE communicated to them. Now, the highest response levels in the PhD and Staff inquiry are found in the appreciation for the newsletter SENSE e-news (PhD opinions: 3.7 and Staff opinions 3.7) and the SENSE website (PhD opinions: 3.7 and Staff opinions 3.8). MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

14 14 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL As for the success of the newly developed website, we are quite pleased to be able to say that we now already have more than 350 registered users who have acquired their own login facilities for access to our website. Although we have not reached our full level of ambition here either, we believe this may already be seen as an important success and a promise to realizing further progress in this respect. New website facilities such as the Events Calendar (see have found a growing use and appreciation and now the possibility to create a specialized mailing list by way of the SENSE website has also been taken up with an initiative to form a hydrogen-network, which may be reached via: Another example of how the new communication facilities can be applied may be found in the recent development by two SENSE PhD students of a special mailinglist involving researchers with an interest in Participatory Integrated Assessment (PIA). From this interpretation of the PhD and staff inquiry results, we may conclude that the form of the network is getting better and better and that the content needs continued and further development to live up to our ambitions of excellence. 2.2 What has been changed in the training programme? In 2003, the SENSE General Board decided to accept the proposal as developed by the SENSE Education Committee to adjust the requirements for the SENSE PhD Individual Training and Supervision Programme (ITSP). The main aims of the modification were: To make the SENSE ITSP more uniform to the PhD requirements of other Graduate Schools (minimal requirements of 21 credits in total, instead of 25 one credit point is approximately equivalent to a work load of one week of 40 hours. So, 21 credits are equivalent to half a year PhD education and training or 30 ECTS points). To offer the PhD students more flexibility in drawing up a tailor-made ITSP, which gives optimal support both to their individual PhD research and to their personal development as a PhD researcher. To give more emphasis to the development of the PhD student as a scientific researcher, as well as to the personal development of his/her general skills and to his/her career opportunities. The main modifications of the ITSP include (see Table 1 for a detailed description of the current ITSP): Incorporation of the requirement to present the PhD research in the on-line SENSE research guide in the mandatory SENSE course Environmental Research in Context (A1), so as to improve the information about the SENSE PhD students and to stimulate the contacts between SENSE PhD students; Extending the alternative options for the Research Context Activity (A2). The individual content of the A2 course has to be concluded between the PhD student and the A2 coordinator, resulting in an activity that suits best with the motivation of the PhD candidate and his/her PhD research; MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

15 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL 15 Table 1: Structure of Individual Training and Supervision Plan (ITSP) Structure of ITSP (Individual Training and Supervision Plan) To qualify for the SENSE Certificate, 21 credit points are required. The table below shows a summary of the categories in which credits are possible and/or required. I Elaboration of the PhD proposal 1 credit required II Multidisciplinary Context a SENSE Course A1: 'Environmental Research in Context' 2 required b SENSE Project A2: 'Research Context Project' 2-4 required III PhD Courses: Specialized and Integrating Courses, in which special subjects of environmental research are studied and/or in which (multi) disciplinary subjects are refreshed or explored 4-more 4 credits required a PhD Courses within SENSE at least one SENSE course b c PhD Courses at other Research Schools Specialized MSc courses (you need to have permission from the SENSE ITSP co-ordinator first) IV Personal Development a General development courses, in which general skills for effectiveness and future career can be trained Personal development Course(s), Preferably from the SENSE Course Guide category G. Academic language courses, (e.g. Advanced English, Academic Writing) Research Management course(s) Didactic course(s) b Personal development work This may include: Organizing a scientific workshop, such as a SENSE PhD Colloquium Participating in the board of a PhD council, the SENSE Education Committee, the Web editorial team or the General Board of one of the SENSE partner institutes for at least one year. Credits are granted on the basis of a written report of activities. (2 credits for every half day organised by a PhD student) c Individually customized course elements Site-specific training in for example the use of specific equipment 0-4 A placement or long visit at a (foreign) research institute 0-4 An extended detailed literature study supervised by a SENSE research leader 0-4 MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

16 16 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL Writing a follow-up research proposal in the last year of the PhD period, reviewed by at least two scientific experts 0-4 V Presenting your research a Presentations at international scientific event required b Participation in at least 2 SENSE PhD colloquia or Summer Symposia and Presentation of your research at one of these SENSE PhD Colloquia 1 1 required c Publications (1st author) Total of Minimum Required Credits: 21 Increasing the course offer in the field of general skills, by organising some highly appreciated general PhD courses (e.g. on skills for scientific writing ), where possible in co-operation with other Graduate Schools. Besides these formal modifications, the SENSE Education Committee (with support of the SENSE Education Desk) has actively stimulated the development and organisation of more specialist PhD courses, resulting in a considerable enlargement of the number of SENSE PhD courses (see overview of new SENSE PhD courses, included in Annex 4). 2.3 Monitoring of PhD progress PhD students are repetitively confronted with the simple (and sometimes disturbing) question: are you going to finish in time? This is not without reason, since the average PhD project takes more time than was expected and sometimes longer than the contract period of the PhD student. Therefore, monitoring of the progress is an important ingredient of effectively supporting PhD students in their research and training trajectory. This entails a regular questionnaire which the PhD students fill in (after consultation with their supervisor) and then submit to the Education Desk of the research school. Such a monitoring effort can be seen as a natural counterpart of the Individual Training and Supervision Plan (ITSP) and the monitoring system will require PhD students to report regularly (rather than only at the beginning and end of the PhD period), thereby stimulating reflection and providing insight in the achievements (or lack of them) Background The issue of developing a more effective monitoring system for PhD candidates was taken up in There were various reasons underlying this concern: In general, the average PhD research takes more time than was initially planned and PhD candidates in the SENSE Research School are no exception to this tendency. It became financially more difficult for PhD students to continue working on the finishing of their PhD research, after the ending of their contract period. The fact that the ITSP facilities were made available on-line created new and more effective possibilities for monitoring. MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

17 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL 17 The report of the SENSE Research School to the KNAW with the request for renewal of accreditation , stated that the present tendency of improved graduation success of SENSE PhD students will be further monitored and stimulated in the next accreditation period of the SENSE educational programme (see Annex 9, p. 18) Purpose of monitoring The first step that was taken was a thorough consideration of the purposes, including the possible advantages and drawbacks, of a required monitoring feedback. This process benefited from the experiences shared in Wageningen by the WIMEK PhD Council, the secretary of WIMEK and the SENSE Director of Education. The purposes of such a monitoring system were defined as follows: To prevent unnecessary extension of the PhD research period; To check the progress in research and education regularly and discuss it with the supervisor(s) of the PhD candidate; To point out any delay in the PhD research and educational programme timely and to remind the PhD student and his/her supervisors to adjust the workplan and time schedule in a realistic way; To offer an easily accessible way to draw attention to possible problems in the frequency or quality of the supervision process Experiences with monitoring The monitoring system as it is used at the Mansholt Graduate School (MGS) in Wageningen was considered as a guiding example for the monitoring adapted to the SENSE PhD students. This monitoring system can be summarized as follows: Obligatory reporting, at least twice a year (9 times in a period of 4 years); Feedback to the coordinating person(s) of the research school; Specified deadlines, e.g. concerning the ITSP, time schedule, and plan for completion. The general feeling among WIMEK participants was that such a monitoring system is quite demanding and runs the risk of becoming another bureaucratic burden. It is understood that a form which is filled out routinely rather than with real concern for the actual situation of the PhD candidate, will not be effective. At the same time, it may be expected that a voluntary monitoring system would not sufficiently be used. Consequently, the following concerns need to be taken into account to arrive at an effective, and widely supported, monitoring system: To what extent should monitoring be compulsory or voluntary? How much pressure can and should be exerted on PhD students and supervisor(s) to fulfil the monitoring demands? How to organize the check whether or not the on-line monitoring forms are submitted and, more complicated, whether or not they can be considered realistic? What specified monitoring questions will provide the best insight into the progress made (e.g., how to deal with unforeseen circumstances)? Monitoring facilities at the SENSE website The development of the advanced website facilities, and the on-line availability of the ITSPs have opened up new ways to introduce the monitoring system for SENSE in an effective way. MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

18 18 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL It is now generally agreed upon that a future SENSE monitoring system should be web-based. This challenge is now taken up together with the web administrator and is expected to be finalized and functional in the course of Information provision to PhD students It is important that the SENSE PhD students and their supervisors are well informed about the SENSE Research School, such as about the ITSP and monitoring requirements, the course programme offered, and scientific events Information for starting PhD students The PhD students need to be informed about SENSE, the ITSP requirements, the PhD courses and the possibilities of the network at the start of their PhD research. WIMEK took the initiative to write an information summary for their PhD students, which will be used as a basis for a special section for PhD students at the SENSE website. Also, the participating institutes within SENSE will be stimulated to use this basis of information as a starting point for their own specifications. The present concentration of tasks at the SENSE Education Desk, which was started early 2004, drew attention to a lack of effective communication between the research groups and the SENSE administration about the starting date of PhD candidates. To take away this obstacle, the SENSE Education Desk has set up a list of contacts to all partner institutes, so as to be informed timely about starting dates, graduation dates and other milestones or events Information during the PhD period General information on SENSE, such as on events, meetings, partner institutes and mission is communicated through the website and in the SENSE e-news: ITSP requirements: available on the website; ITSP administration: communication about the ITSP has been streamlined recently through the website and the Education Desk; PhD Courses: Course Guide on the website, e-news; Marie Curie Training Sites: information available on the website; Events information: Events Calendar and e-news; News, Jobs: News section website The website and the mailing list The report for renewal of accreditation mentioned the ambitions to develop the website to play an important role in the provision of information (see Annex 9, pp. 4, 14 and 16). Significant progress has been made in this objective and the website has become the main vehicle of information provision for the SENSE Research School. In this section we will elaborate on the further development and current status of the website. MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

19 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL Status and improvement SENSE has an advanced website, with a custom-made Content Management System, backed by a database on the server. This enables the hosting of many interactive features, such as the on-line Research Guide and the on-line Course Guide. The development of the on-line Research Guide has enabled PhD students to present and update their own research description and results. All registered PhD students may acquire their own login code and have the facility to change and add new information on their personal domain as part of the SENSE website. PhD students can now also submit their ITSP to the on-line database. The SENSE Education Desk thus receives a clear overview of each PhD student s personal ITSP. This improves the possibilities for monitoring and evaluation. The on-line ITSP database will replace the less effective and more burdensome paper files. The development of the on-line Course Guide is considered to be a great improvement to the earlier paper version. PhD students can now easily retrieve the most updated information as well as use the on-line registration facilities. Course coordinators have editing access to the course descriptions and are thereby facilitated to update information. In 2003 the SENSE e-news was born. This electronic newsletter is being sent to all SENSE members on a regular basis, drawing attention to updated information on the website, and communicating internal and external news. The visitor count of the website clearly indicates significant peaks after sending out an issue of the SENSE e-news. Previous to this regular newsletter, SENSE only sent out occasional and less advanced mailings. Objectives of further improvement are the ease to find information on the website, related with an optimally accessible layout, and information specifically aimed at PhD students and their concerns Web editorial team As we would like the website to be the central vehicle of information, it is important that the PhD students themselves have a voice in the development and information on the website. Therefore, an editorial board for the SENSE website was started in The work of this board is aimed at further improving the information provision to PhD students by way of the website. The SENSE webmaster and one of the PhD members of the SENSE Education Committee have taken the initiative to start this editorial board. Two PhD students from WIMEK were found enthusiastic to further strengthen the team, and this new board had its first meeting in January The first task of this board is to evaluate the current website and further improve its accessibility and user-friendliness. Besides this, the members proposed a number of ideas to make the website more vivid and attractive, such as including a column with reflections by senior and junior researchers Prospect The website will be further developed as an optimally functional tool for information provision to all categories of SENSE participants. The current activities contribute significantly to the growth and professionalising of the SENSE website. MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

20 20 SENSE RESEARCH SCHOOL SWOT analysis of educational programme Strength The SENSE education programme addresses both the supply of courses that are offered to its PhD students as well as the monitoring and supervision of its PhD students. The education plan contains a compulsory part, aimed at raising awareness of the societal context and relevance of the performed PhD research. A large number of high quality courses in broad scientific fields are offered, ranging from introductory courses to methodological and fundamental and applied disciplinary courses. PhD students have access to courses offered by all SENSE partners, of which many are leading groups in their field of research. PhD students can also follow courses of other research schools, e.g. Production Ecology and Resource Conservation (PE&RC), Functional Ecology (FE), Mansholt Graduate School (MGS), Network of General and Quantitative Economics (NAKE), Biotechnology Studies Delft Leiden (BSDL). The SENSE education policy is developed in the SENSE Education Committee, which meets 3 times per year and comprises representatives of staff and PhD students of all participating universities (see Chapter 4: Management Structure). The SENSE education policy is implemented by the SENSE Education Desk Weaknesses The PhD research performed within the research school SENSE has a wide scope. It is therefore difficult to develop tailor-made disciplinary courses for each of these research topics. Therefore, cooperation between other research schools is actively stimulated. The current courses offered seem to cover the social and policy science fields quite well, but in some areas of natural sciences only limited courses are available, e.g. in the area of hydrology and technology. There is no considerable budget for staff to develop PhD courses. This hampers the development of new courses at PhD level and induces many staff members to upgrade existing MSc courses to the level of PhD courses. The SENSE education programme does not explicitly address post-doctoral researchers Opportunities A new initiative is to develop PhD courses together with other research schools. In 2003, a series of 3 PhD courses has been developed as a joint initiative of the research schools PE&RC, FE and SENSE. Each research school organises once in 3 years a PhD course, which is co-funded by the other research schools and is thus also accessible to the PhD students of the other research schools. In this way, international and high level PhD courses are developed in a very efficient way. There are several funding opportunities at international level to develop PhD courses, e.g. the Marie Curie series of events and the NWO-DFG internationalisation scheme. Application of the SENSE Research School in these schemes will allow the development of high-level international courses for its PhD students. Currently a number of research funds is available for knowledge infrastructure, both at national (e.g. B-Basic funds, NWO programmes) as well as international level (EU, ESF MIDTERM REVIEW 2004

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