Dean Margot van Mulken regrets recruiting external PhD students

07 Feb 2020

‘Short-sighted and stupid’ is what Dean Margot van Mulken called the publication of three vacancies for PhD grant students, which were quickly taken offline. The lesson learned: the university should think long and hard about its approach to external PhD candidates.

On Wednesday 22 January, three vacancies were published on the Radboud University website. On behalf of Gerda Henkel Stiftung, a German foundation, the Faculty of Arts was looking for candidates interested in studying democracy in post-war Europe. The vacancy offered a salary of 1,600 euros a month for three years. The job would require quite a bit of international travel, the costs of which would be also reimbursed.

The day after the vacancies were published, the Faculty of Arts notified Dean Van Mulken of the Twitter storm these vacancies had set off. Why was Radboud University seemingly unwilling to pay a decent wage for these three vacancies? Was this some kind of PhD student experiment?

Less than twenty-four hours after the vacancies were posted, the Executive Board ordered them to be taken down.

What went wrong?

‘The vacancies gave the wrong impression; they suggested that we were offering the PhD candidates an employment contract, which we weren’t. We wanted to help the foundation by taking over the recruitment process, which we never should have done. It was short-sighted and stupid. To prevent further confusion, the Executive Board stepped in and took the vacancies offline.’

Dean Margot van Mulken. Foto: Joeri Borst

Who greenlighted the vacancies?

‘I did. Not all vacancy texts are run by me first, but these were, given that the foundation asked us to take over the recruitment process.’

What do you think of the criticism these vacancies have received, particularly from other faculty colleagues?

‘I understand the watchful attitude of the PhD candidates. They’re just looking out for their colleagues and for future generations. Plus, their job is hard; they have a lot of responsibility and they’re under a lot of pressure.’

‘Some candidates are directing their anger at colleagues they barely know when they should be directing it at me, not Harm Kaal [who is involved in the project on behalf of the Faculty of Arts, Ed.]. I’m the one who’s responsible and I should have stopped the recruitment process.’

‘This affair made us question whether we were being hypocritical’

‘The point is, everyone has to acknowledge that there are differences between PhD candidates. This faculty alone has 126 external PhD candidates. I have no idea if they receive external grants, if they get money from their parents, or if they pay their own way.’

Should things change?

‘This affair made us question whether we were being hypocritical. While we don’t award grants ourselves – we offer PhD candidates employment contracts instead – we have no problem with foreign researchers accepting them.’

‘I think we have a responsibility as a university. Until now, I would only approve a request if the external PhD candidate found a supervisor at my faculty. I could turn a blind eye and not give a second thought to how they funded or carried out their research. That has to change.’

Will the vacancies be filled?

‘I hope so, and I’ll do my best to fill them. I have to give credit to Harm Kaal for initiating this project, which I see as winning the grant lottery. I’m not sure what measures are needed in order to get PhD candidates involved in the project; that’s something we’ll have to discuss with the Executive Board.’

‘I hope whatever solution we find can be applied to more than these three PhD candidates. It’s time Dutch universities start thinking about all external PhD candidates. We need to develop a new policy that extends beyond our faculty.’


  1. Frens Bakker wrote on 13 februari 2020 at 15:43

    Waarom is er geen Nederlandstalige versie van dit artikel beschikbaar? De rest van het Weekbericht is toch ook in de landstaal? Bij Radboud in’to Languages werken professionele vertalers die dat zo kunnen omzetten.

    Met vriendelijke groet

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