ETH Zurich's weekly web journal - auf deutsch
ETH Life - wissen was laeuft ETH Life - wissen was laeuft

ETH Life - wissen was laeuft ETH Life - wissen was laeuft

ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
Section: Campus Life
deutsche Version english Version
Print-Version Drucken

Published: 12.07.2007, 06:00
Modified: 12.07.2007, 01:17
Read who's talking - Ah, it's a research plan!

Anke Neumann and Nadine Schüssler

Dear readers. Anke and Nadine have invited me to introduce myself to you today. They have the feeling that not everyone at the ETH knows me well enough including those who should know me. And this in spite of the fact that most will already have heard or read something about me. My name is Research Plan, Kuno Research Plan, and I am the best friend of the post-graduate students and their supervising tutors.

My life actually begins about six months after a post-graduate student arrives at the ETH. I am created and designed individually from the outset by a particular post-graduate student jointly with his/her supervising tutor. In ideal circumstances, I am a really attractive person. I have clear aims, and I know how I want to achieve them. I am logical, and I have brains. I am also convincing, supported equally by my creator and his/her supervising tutor, I look good and I stand as firm as a rock for both. In order to do this, I need clear questions, a detailed description of the procedure and the methodology, a realistic timetable and precisely defined objectives. However, the most important requirement is for my creator and his/her supervising tutor to be involved jointly in my genesis and then to stand firmly behind me. Best of all from my point of view is for me to be presented proudly by my post-graduate student to an entire committee of experts, and for them to give me their approval and help me to become even better.

Unfortunately, my origins frequently do not follow such an ideal course. First, my creation is often delayed until much later than should be the case. My post-graduate student and his/her supervising tutor are often very busy. And if the supervising tutor fails to tell my post-graduate student how important and essential I am for the two of them, nothing will happen for a long time. If they make an effort at a later date, I can still become the great person that I described above. If they do not, and if the supervising tutor regards me merely as a pointless duty, I will often be only a pale reflection of my true self. I am then really unattractive, and I have no substance and no meaning for the post-graduate students. I am simply left to gather dust in a drawer for the rest of my life. Anke and Nadine have established that the prevailing "culture" in my Department has a decisive role to play in my fate. If I am taken seriously, and if someone is prepared to rap the knuckles of my post-graduate student and above all his/her supervising tutor, I will generally be ready on time and I will be a true friend. If, on the other hand, I am ignored, I will unfortunately have lost, and I will often take my post-graduate student with me.

For as already mentioned, I am the best friend of a post-graduate student and his/her supervising tutor. With me, the targets to be met by the post-graduate student are set out in writing and, above all, the road that will take him/her there is mapped out. My most important components are the milestones. These specify what stage the post-graduate student should have reached, and by what date. My post-graduate student and his/her supervising tutor should meet and discuss on every occasion that such a milestone has been achieved, either chronologically or from the point of view of its content. The post-graduate student can then give an account of his/her experiences: What went well? What went badly? What went faster than expected? What took longer? What has the post-graduate student possibly gained from working on his/her dissertation? Should it continue along these lines? And the supervising tutor should give feedback. With what aspects is he/she particularly satisfied? Where does he/she identify the need for catching up or improvements? What happens now? I provide the best basis for such discussions.

About the authors

Anke Neumann and Nadine Schüssler share the Presidency of the Association of Scientific Staff at ETH Zürich (AVETH). Neumann, who is studying for a doctorate in environmental sciences, and Schüssler, who will achieve the same objective at the Institute of Traffic Planning and Transport Systems, wish to use their position as columnists to give expression to matters of concern to the scientific staff from an entirely personal point of view.

For example, lively debate surrounds the subject of families at the ETH: What are the implications of having or starting a family for a member of the scientific staff here? Basically, according to Neumann, one would imagine that academics without fixed working hours are sufficiently flexible for a partnership with children to find a place in their life. The situation is frequently different in practice, however. Schüssler points to the inadequacy of the level of advice and support available at the ETH, which in other respects offers outstanding infrastructures. These two post-graduate students are not contemplating starting a family for the time being, and in some ways they are pleased to have the opportunity even to engage in sport. Such activities are just as important as social integration for the AVETH Presidents. They also recognize the desirability of being able to express oneself clearly in the German language. Enabling colleagues from other counties to do this is another core concern of the two and the AVETH Association.


Scientific staff, AVETH Co-Presidents, and for the past six months "ETH Life" columnists: Anke Neumann und Nadine Schüssler. large

Under ideal circumstances, I will also continue to develop. For post-graduate students in the area of fundamental research in particular, it is never entirely clear initially how to proceed and how the target will be met. A great deal is not foreseeable. Many supervising tutors use this as an excuse for not even involving me in the first place. In this respect, I am also like any real person: I grow older and, as I do so, I continue to develop. I will also grow slowly as my post-graduate student's dissertation progresses. In order to do this, however, I need to be examined and adapted constantly. Lots of people - including many post-graduate students - find this burdensome. Yet on what basis would you wish to conduct your next review if the relevant objectives have never been set?

Generally speaking, however, I only bring my full force to bear when a problem arises between my post-graduate student and his/her supervising tutor. If the two dispute an issue, I am then capable of serving as the common basis for a down-to-earth discussion, assuming that I was created in the first place as a good friend with substance and then kept constantly up-to-date. They can take me as the foundation on which to resume calm talks with one another and to consider how they might proceed from there. The matter can be prevented from escalating in this way. I can also provide an invited mediator – incidentally, Anke and Nadine have informed me that an entire commission of arbitrators will be established in the future – with details of what the two adversaries originally agreed and what remains to be done in order to complete the dissertation. I am sorry to report that Anke and Nadine have also told me that I have rarely been included in cases in which it comes to escalation. To be honest, I am not really surprised. Disputes arise more rapidly if common objectives have not even been defined in the first place. Second, my absence testifies to a corresponding attitude on the part of the supervising tutor of my post-graduate student. Could it be that the tutor regards the student merely as a source of cheap labour, rather than as an up-and-coming academic to be cultivated and encouraged?

As we were discussing my views on the situation, Anke and Nadine also told me some really great news. They say that the so-called ETH Graduate School is currently under discussion. One of its aims is to improve the supervision and the teaching of post-graduate students. It is proposed to introduce so-called doctoral programmes into every Department. Anke and Nadine have also told me how they visualize such a programme: if I am to believe them, I will have a quite important role to play. In every Department, there will be someone to rap the knuckles of the post-graduate student and his/her supervising tutor if I have not been drawn up in good time or in an appropriate manner. Every post-graduate student will be required to present me - hopefully with a sense of pride - before an entire group of supervising tutors. My regular revision and the feedback from the supervising tutor will always be taken seriously. Furthermore, the range of courses will be extended to include items which really interest the post-graduate students and help them on their way. The post-graduate students will then naturally be able to make their selection entirely to reflect their interests. Unfortunately, according to Anke and Nadine, not everyone at the ETH share their aspirations at this time. It is precisely for this reason that they are involved in many discussions and attempts to convince their counterparts of their ideas. We three at least are in agreement: it would make the doctorate at the ETH much better.

You can write a feedback to this article or read the existing comments.

!!! Dieses Dokument stammt aus dem ETH Web-Archiv und wird nicht mehr gepflegt !!!
!!! This document is stored in the ETH Web archive and is no longer maintained !!!