Open letter to Ph.D. students in Science Report (English version)

By Anders Bjarklev, chairman Danske Universiteters rektorkollegium

Dear Ph.D. students. We know this is a challenging time for all of you.

There are more than 8000 Ph.D. students at the Danish universities. For the time being most of you are unable to access your workplace and your research facilities. Unfortunately, for many of you this means postponing or recalibrating your research plans. This is certainly the case for those of you who depend on access to labs, data collection or field research, which the outbreak of Covid-19 has greatly complicated. You are in a particular challenging situation, that we need to resolve together.

We are working hard to ensure that as many as possible can return to the labs in the coming weeks. And you should know, that Ph.D. students is a top priority when it comes to reopening the universities. However, as universities are not first in line for a general reopening and a return to business as usual. We all have to be patient and make the most of this time.

Flexibility from both university management and Ph.D. students is key to getting through this in the best possible manner. We know and trust that you are being flexible. We know that you are already spending your time on research activities that do not require access to labs or other inaccessible research facilities. In the meantime, we are doing what we can to adapt the framework of your education to the current situation, increasing the flexibility in the mandatory activities of your Ph.D. programme and by moving Ph.D. courses online.

We also need alternative solutions for those of you who were planning a research stay abroad. The current travel restrictions as well as the lockdown in several countries hamper this possibility.  For the time being we need alternatives. One possible solution could be a research stay at another Danish university or in a private company. And for those of you who had to return home ahead of time, it may be possible to complete a research stay virtually – something we are also willing to look into.

Finally, many of you are naturally enquiring whether it is possible to extend your employment due to the delay caused by the lockdown. We fully understand your concerns and wishes. However, we cannot promise you, that this will be a possibility for the majority of affected Ph.D. students. The economic consequences of massively extending contracts would be insurmountable to institutes and faculties. It unfortunately boils down to economy.

Many Ph.D. projects are part of externally funded projects. Projects and costs, which are well beyond the economic scope of the universities to bear and extend on their own. Several research foundations have already expressed a willingness to exert flexibility when it comes to amendments to ongoing projects. This is very appreciated. We encourage all private and public research foundations to look into the possibility of extending funding of temporary employees on projects, where delays due to Covid-19 cannot be made up for by a rescheduling and reshaping the project plans.

Finally, we advise all Ph.D. students to stay in contact with advisors in order to ensure progress during the lockdown. Hopefully you can find a way to move forward under the current circumstances together. Even though this situation is a great unknown for all of us, your advisors are well prepared to give useful suggestions on how to adjust your activities or your project to the current situation.

We are doing what we can to ensure that all our researchers can return to normal. We know this situation is especially frustrating and stressful for Ph.D. students. This is the time where you should be taking your first steps into your future academic career. That is why it is a top priority for us to get you back to your research. We need to find a way forward, so you may fulfill your potential as researchers.