‘Personal development must be more than a stroke of luck’

Miranda Lutz

Thanks to a series of kitchen table conversations, the Psychology, Statistics and Pedagogy departments at Erasmus University Rotterdam have had some informal representatives acting on behalf of the interests of PhD candidates for a few years now. Miranda Lutz is one of the driving forces behind this unofficial body. She tells us about the potential for Recognition & Rewards in the careers of PhD candidates.

During the first years of her doctoral programme, Miranda Lutz discovered that the experiences of her fellow PhD candidates varied widely. “It surfaced in a pleasant, informal way”, she explains. “I shared a floor with around 50 to 60 PhD candidates, and all manner of issues emerged around the lunch table, like what was going well, what specific needs we had, what areas required improvement… That natural cross-pollination was really good.”

A broader perspective

Lutz now works in the Clinical Psychology section. She recently completed her thesis on the role of cognitive control in psychopathology, after which she immediately moved to a role as assistant professor. With representatives from six sections, she is committed to promoting the interests of PhD candidates and broadening the structure of the PhD track, alongside the range offered by the Graduate School.

As far as Lutz is concerned, the opportunity for someone to further develop their other academic skills depends too much on their supervision team or their own initiative. “The focus is naturally on research. However, there are other skills that also prepare you for a career, academic or otherwise. For instance, we noticed during the COVID-19 pandemic how important science communication is. And if you’re going to work outside academia after obtaining a doctorate, it can be very useful to have made an impact on society or to have acquired management skills.”

Differing prospects

Opportunities for professional development vary from one institution, graduate school, supervisor or faculty to another. For instance, one might offer the opportunity of gaining a University Teaching Qualification during the programme, while another will lack the resources to do so. “This means you’ll start out at a disadvantage when you apply for your next job”, says Lutz.

According to her, this “definitely” applies to the psychology department. And as an aside, she adds that the emphasis in her faculty is actually always on teaching because of the high student candidates. “We’re often unable to appoint academics with, for example, a societal impact profile, because there are so many candidates. So we end up focusing our attention there, which is a shame.”

Range of possibilities

Lutz believes that PhD candidates should be presented with a range of possibilities at the beginning of their programmes. “Being able to choose based on your own talent and not the research group’s agenda is very valuable,” she says. “The route you take should be an individual decision, based on insights presented to you. Incidentally, were I to make my plans again, armed with the knowledge I now have, I would have made even better use of my time. Back then, I thought I had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Looking back, I realise I had more time then than I do now!”

Although she would also like to see the start-up phase of a PhD candidate designed with more structure, Lutz is very appreciative of her own PhD programme and sees numerous positive examples around her. “I always felt supported when I took the initiative to pursue professional ancillary activities, and I appreciate it when thesis supervisors cede their spot in a documentary to a PhD candidate and when PhD candidates are given the opportunity to create a podcast or organise events”, she says. “By no means is everyone aware that those opportunities exist and how helpful they can be.”

Miranda Lutz is assistant professor of clinical psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She completed her thesis on the role of cognitive control in psychopathology.