A survey of more than 7,500 PhD students from 12 European countries has highlighted the variety of doctoral experiences found across the continent.
There is significant variation in whether or not students receive a salary or scholarship while working on their PhD, with almost all respondents from Norway receiving funding compared with just over half of those in Austria.
The Eurodoc survey, published on 30 September, also reveals striking data related to gender issues and family life. Men were more likely than women to believe their gender would be a disadvantage in their academic career, while students in several supposedly ‘family-friendly’ countries reported strong pressure to delay having children, or to avoid taking parental leave if they do.
We’ve outlined some of the key findings below — have a read and let us know what you think.
The 12 countries featured in the survey were Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, and the majority of respondents were aged between 26 and 35.
The proportion of PhD students receiving a salary or scholarship varied significantly: 54% received funding in Austria, compared with 76% in Germany and 82% in France. Norway scored highest, with 98% of female students and 96% of male students receiving an income. When asked whether the level of funding met living costs, over 40% of students in the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden said it did to a very high extent, compared with fewer than 10% in Croatia, Portugal and Spain.
PhD students in Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands are more likely to be single or not living with their partner: one-third or more compared with around one-fifth in the other countries. In most countries, fewer than one-quarter of students have children — the exceptions were Norway, where 40% have children, Sweden (31%) and Finland (30%).
Awareness of the right to parental leave varied hugely across the countries surveyed — just 1% of female PhD students in Croatia said they didn’t know whether they had the right to maternity leave (99% said they did have the right), compared with 32% in Austria and 31% in Germany.
Surprisingly, some of the countries with reputations for being particularly ‘family-friendly’ did not score well on family-related issues. More than 50% of respondents in Sweden, Norway and Finland said they are strongly discouraged from taking parental leave, compared with 18% in Spain, 30% in Germany and 34% in France. The pressure to delay having children in the first place also seems to be particularly high in the Nordic countries polled: over 70% of men and 50% of women in Sweden, Norway and Finland said they felt a great deal of pressure to postpone having children, compared with 28% of men and 16% of women in Spain and 44% of men and 32% of women in Germany.
Impact of gender on career prospects
According to the survey, male students were more likely than female students to feel that their gender will hold them back in academia. The proportion of men who said they were very disadvantaged in their academic career because of their gender ranged from 77% to 91% across the countries surveyed, compared with 36% to 61% of women.
Work experience and employment status
The highest number of PhD students who said they had no contract was in Austria (25%), compared with 17% in Germany, 12% in France and just 1% in Norway.
Students also reported differing levels of work experience between their previous degree and the beginning of their doctoral research. Around 68% of PhD students in France have none, compared with just 25% in Norway.
In Germany, 33% of respondents said they had published at least one peer-reviewed article in an international journal so far, compared with 64% in Croatia. In the latter country, 15% of respondents said they had published five or more articles, compared with 4% in France and 2% in Germany.
Although over 40% of respondents in all countries bar Slovenia said they spend more than 21 hours a week on research related to their thesis or dissertation, around one-quarter said they don’t spend any time actually writing it. Students in France reported the highest administrative burden, with almost half saying they spend more than 21 hours a week on admin, compared with 33% in Norway and 23% in Slovenia.
Students in Finland were most likely to have been involved in writing grant proposals, with 75% reporting they had contributed compared with 32% in the Netherlands and 35% in France.
In the majority of countries surveyed, less than half of respondents had studied abroad before starting their doctorate. Researchers in Spain and France were most likely to continue their career abroad after finishing their doctorate, and the most common reason given for wanting to work abroad was improved career prospects.
Have your say
What do you think about these findings? How do they compare to your experience? Let us know your thoughts below.