MSc and PhD training programmes

The graduate programme integrates M.Sc. and Ph.D. training programmes aimed at delivering a new generation of young researchers best qualified to address future societal needs (energy, environment, resource management) and its forthcoming scientific challenges.


Integration of M.Sc. and Ph.D. training programmes

M.Sc. students can incorporate courses from the NSG and SENSE program in their Master training programme in the form of Capita Selecta as approved by the examination board. This allows M.Sc. students to focus the final stages of their M.Sc. program towards their future personally developed Ph.D. research project. M.Sc. thesis projects are designed to be a direct precursor of Ph.D. research, by offering research topics directly matching actual research and allowing full access to research facilities and resources. About 20 % (Earth Sciences) to 38 % (Ecology) of our PhD students did follow their MSc training within the VU Graduate School.

M.Sc. students are stimulated to develop own research questions within existing M.Sc. Thesis projects that match their individual scientific interests. Ph.D. and M.Sc. often work together on research projects, especially in field-orientated research. This creates a community of learners among young scientists actively involved in current research. In addition, our Bachelor students are actively involved in ongoing research through Bachelor thesis projects that are embedded in real science.

M.Sc. thesis and research projects (a total of 54 ECTS) are hence embedded in an international research setting, involving international teams, and without exception carried out at international (natural) laboratories. In addition internships with industry open up a wide variety of applied research projects that match the student’s scientific interest.

The supervision of M.Sc. projects is formalised by individual contracts in which a detailed time schedule of training, coaching, deadlines and deliverables is written down. This procedure not only guarantees optimal training of the student, but also optimises the continuous striving for excellence within the M.Sc. programme.

Options for publications
The research often resulting in peer reviewed publications in international scientific journals.

M.Sc. students are additionally provided with working space within the respective research groups optimizing integration into the research program and enabling them to get a good picture of work as a researcher in a team.

Notably our Bachelor program was recently ranked as the best VU Bachelor program and number 6 of all Dutch Bachelors programmes at all universities.

Ph.D. programme

Research Training in the Ph.D. phase has a significant component of both formal and informal training (approximately 25% of the total time).

Formal training
Formal training includes topical intensive short courses by leading international experts in the fields that included: modelling, basin fill, plate tectonics, geochemistry, reservoir prediction, sequence stratigraphy, planetary sciences and advanced geochronology. NSG and SENSE organize regular training in transferable skills that includes: presentation skills, project management for Ph.D.’s, scientific writing and proposal writing. Topical discussion groups are facilitated through NSG and SENSE.

Informal training
Informal training includes hands-on training during international data acquisition campaigns in the field, in state-of the- art laboratories (including ours). Supervision and tutoring by (co-)promotors is an important aspect of Ph.D. training. It is our strategy to confront Ph.D. students with the international research community at an early stage, sometimes already at the M.Sc. stage, through contribution to international conferences, workshops, publications in peer reviewed journals, etc., but also where possible by extended placement in foreign laboratories (industry and science). The Ph.D. courses are organised by NSG and SENSE, formal embedding is realized through the Graduate School.

Supervision and skills
Supervision of Ph.D. students is formalised in a detailed training and guidance plan for every Ph.D. student. Each Ph.D. student draws up a contract with his / her supervisor in which the training need (topical courses, soft skills, additional training) is identified, specific arrangements are made with respect to the Ph.D. students role in M.Sc. and BSc education, and details with respect to guidance and supervision are agreed. A planning of the Ph.D. project is an integral part of the agreement.

Confidential advisor Earth Sciences
Problems encountered during your PhD, which you do not like to discuss to your supervisor, can be discussed with someone from the confidential advisory board consisting of the director of the VU Graduate School, the dean of the faculty and the office manager of NSG.

Progress by the Ph.D. student is monitored and the research plan regularly updated. Specific attention is paid to the duration of Ph.D. projects. All Ph.D. students are appointed initially for 1 year, after evaluation and based on good performance this may be extended to 4 years (go/no go decision).

Terms and standards of PhD-graduation
Within VU University Graduate School of Earth, Environment and Ecology measures are taken to define end terms and standards of PhD-graduation. The standard is 4 international peer reviewed articles, of which 3 as first author. End terms of the Ph.D. training are defined by capacity to conduct independent research which includes analytical skills, writing/presentation skills, technical skills, as well as a broader orientation on the discipline.

Legal status of a Ph.D. student
Most doctorate candidates are employed by the university as trainee research assistants ('Assistent in Opleiding', AIO) or as a trainee researcher ('Onderzoeker in Opleiding', OIO). The candidate may also be employed elsewhere or carry out research in his or her own time. However, in order to work in the Netherlands, non-EU candidates must have a residence permit specifically for this purpose. The doctorate candidate ('promovendus') is not a student, nor is he or she registered as such at the university.