Supervising a doctoral researcher an important responsibility. Here we give a few hints to ensure that the dissertation work leads to high quality research resuclts in an adequate time frame, and that the doctoral candidate will be made fit for independent research and will be competitive when applying for jobs inside or outside academia.
If you are a senior researcher at one of the IMPRS partner institutes and you want to offer to supervise a PhD thesis, you should first ask the IMPRS board to be included in the IMPRS list of supervisors (for this, contact the IMPRS cooordinator). Please make sure you have the necessary funding available for a research contract, since IMPRS can provide funding for only a small fraction of our doctoral candidates. The research contract should be initially for three years.
Each year in early summer, we ask our supervisors to suggest attractive topics for PhD research. These topics can be detailed and specific, or generic. These topics will be published on the IMPRS website.
In late summer of each year we publish our call for applications to the IMPRS. The deadline for applications is November 15th each year. In our call , we encourage possible applicants to contact possible supervisors in case they have questions about the project. For you as a supervisor, this is an excellent opportunity to already get to know some of the candidates that may be of interest to you, but be aware that the actual selection among the IMPRS candidates is done by our selection committee.
After the deadline (Nov. 15th) has passed and after we have received the applications and recommendation letters (two or three), the IMPRS team makes a plausibility check whether the applicants fulfill the formal criteria to be admitted for PhD work (basicaly, having a Master or Diploma, and a written thesis). The selection committee (consisting of one member for each research group at the MPIfR, and one member for each participating university institute) then evaluates the applications based on the motivation letters, the academic records and the recommendation letters received and makes a short list of candidates eligible for the IMPRS.
In early January, the selection committee interviews the shortlisted candidates (in most cases via Skype). To these interviews, we invite also those supervisors whose PhD projects the candidates had marked in their applications. The candidates give a short presentation of their previous research and answer questions by the selection committee and possible supervisors.
Based on the application documents and the interview, the selection committee recommends to the board a final list of excellent (category A) or acceptable (category B) candidates for IMPRS research. Those candidates that have not convinced the selection committee or whose research interests do not fit any of the PhD topics offered are rated as not acceptable for the IMPRS (category C).
The application data of A and B rated candidates will be made available electronically to the respective potential supervisors, who are encouraged to contact the most promising candidates via Skype, or invite them for further face to face discussions. For such face to face discussions, IMPRS can make available travel money (in particular if the candidate is from Europe). If IMPRS travel funds are being used, it is required to give other supervisors also the opportunity to interview these candidates. Note that the hiring process is competitive among IMPRS supervisors, i.e. a candidate could receive offers from different groups, among which he or she can decide.
If you decide to offer a research contract to a candidate, please inform the IMPRS coordinator who will send a letter of acceptance to the IMPRS to the applicant and announce that he or she will receive a formal offer from you. At the same time, you should send an offer for a research contract/ stipend, to the candidate. Please inform the IMPRS coordinator also in case you are not interested or able to supervise an applicant, or if the applicant has rejected or accepted your offer. Also inform the human resources office of your institution and the IMPRS office about the foreseen starting date. Candidates who are in need of a visa will receive a letter of invitation to be presented at the consulate about six weeks in advance of their starting date.
Note about the funding: IMPRS expects that their researchers receive funding for initially at least three years. We prefer that the funding is via a research contract (at the level of at least 50% TVÖD 13). Stipends are possible under certain circumstances, e.g. if the candidate is hired by one of our university partners or if the funding comes from external sources, e.g. national funding agencies. Please make clear in you offer to the candidate whether travel/ relocation costs will be covered. IMPRS can provide funding for 2 years if the 3rd year is covered by the host group. This funding is limited to very few contracts each year, and to candidates that have been rated A by the selection committee and who have not been previously working on a phD in one of the partner institutes (Quereinsteiger). If you are in need of IMPRS funding, please discuss that with your director at the MPIfR, with Prof. Bertoldi (AIfA) or Prof. Eckart (1. Phys. Inst.) .
The Thesis Advisory Committee
The Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) advises the PhD candidate and his/her supervisor on academic and other matters and is expected to meet once every semester. The TAC can also recommend any necessary extension for a research contract.
Setting up the TAC: Adviser and student have the joined responsibility on both (a) setting up the TAC and (b) the regular meetings between the researcher and the TAC members. The executive responsibility though is to be shared as follows: (a) executive responsibility of TAC formation goes to adviser, (b) executive responsibility of TAC meeting scheduling to the PhD researcher.
The TAC consists of the PhD supervisor and the 1st and/or 2nd referee of your thesis. In addition there should be at least one scientist external to your research group. Note that of you as a supervisor are not a faculty member at one of our partner universities, it may be necessary to find a professor or privatdozent to serve as the official supervisor at that university.
The PhD Proposal
Within the first 6 month of the thesis contract, the PhD researcher and his or her supervisor write a PhD proposal, which summarizes the scientific objectives of the thesis, and discusses the needed resources and risks. It includes a time schedule. The PhD proposal shall ensure that the thesis can be successfully finished within the foreseen time frame of three years. In its first TAC meeting, before the probation period of 6 months ends, the TAC decides on the viability of the project and recommends a continuation of the thesis work. In subsequent TAC meetings, updated versions of the PhD proposal may serve as a basis for deciding on the best strategy for a successful thesis.
What to do before and after the thesis defense
Of course you as the supervisor should carefully read the thesis to be presented and suggest improvements. Discuss strategies to publish the results with the doctoral candidate and decide whether you can provide funding for a limited period during which the results are being published (wrap-up contract). Together with the candidate you suggest the composition of the examination board.
The time after the thesis defense is used to publish the results of the thesis and to apply for postdoctoral positions or non-academic jobs.
In case of conflicts
Conflicts between the supervisor and the PhD candidate can arise due to interpersonal tensions, cultural misconceptions or different ideas on scientific matters. You and the PhD candidate should see such conflicts as a challenge rather than annoyance. Fortunately, there are strategies to successfully overcome conflicts:
- Put the conflicts on the table in a professional way and be in frequent contact with your PhD candidate.
- The Thesis Advisory Committee can give some fresh insight in the way you collaborate and on science matters. If necessary, you need not stick to the 6-months period to organize a TAC meeting.
- The participating institutions have conflict mediators who are trained to solve conflicts. IMPRS PhD candidates and their supervisors can ask the MPIfR mediator Ute Teuber for help.
Obtaining travel funding
IMPRS can provide financial funding to your PhD candidate in order to travel to schools and workshops, to conferences or to visit scientific collaborators. This funding is not meant to finance the “core business” of you common research proejct (observing rus for the project, consortium meetings etc.). We will ask for your sincere input as a supervisor whether the envisaged travel is useful for the academic and professional development of the PhD candidate. For intercontinental or extended travel, we expect that part of the travel costs are covered by other sources (e.g. your group, or the BCGS). Students should present an IMPRS travel request together with an MPIfR travel claim well in advance (6 weeks) the planned travel.
Events for supervisors and PhD researchers
IMPRS offers a series of seminars on professional skills, excursions, retreats and lectures to its members. We also encourage participation in the events offered at the BCGS or the partner universities or by other providers and may also contribute to fund the participation. We may also fund participation of supervisors in events to improve their supervising skills.