New chairman: We shouldn’t be an association of complainers
PhD student at the Department of Economics and Business Economics, Søren Kærgaard Slipsager, is the new chair of the AU PhD Association AUPA. He will not have the post for long, but he still hopes to help make the association more visible and ensure it has influence at national level.
AUPA is the PhD association at AU and consists of PhD students from all four faculties. Each faculty has three seats on AUPA’s board.
AUPA’s objective is to safeguard the PhD students' interests at AU and the association is involved in areas including the work environment, teaching obligations etc.
Søren Kærgaard Slipsager is putting the finishing touches to his dissertation on risk assessments in pension prognoses. The dissertation must be submitted at the start of next year, but he thinks that it could – if someone really cracked the whip – be completed in a month's time.
"What typically happens is that people are really, really busy towards the end of a PhD, but I’m pretty much on top of it. Partly because from the start I’ve pursued the suggestions my supervisor threw out, and partly because I’ve been lucky. Many PhD students find that some of the projects they spend time on end up being dead ends. But luckily, I've not experienced that," he says.
Chair for a brief period
Having some extra time in his schedule suits him down to the ground.
"Because it means I can spend quite a lot of time working for AUPA, which is fine as I won’t be chair for a longer period."
Søren was elected at AUPA’s general meeting at the end of March, after making clear that he could only act as chair until the turn of the year, which is the deadline for submitting his dissertation. But he was elected anyway.
Baptism of fire
Søren describes his start as the new chair as something of a baptism of fire.
"I started right in the middle of the work on the national PhD analysis. Fourteen days after starting I had journalists ringing me up and asking about the analysis and other stuff. But fortunately, the former chair Helene Halkjær made sure we had a smooth handover so I was well-prepared," he says.
We need to strike while the iron is hot
The new chair intends to continue prioritising some focus areas from the previous chairmanship, including the work that comes in the wake of the PhD analysis.
"It's a question of striking while the iron is hot. The heads of the graduate schools have invited us to meetings on the PhD analysis. They want AU to have a joint position that they can deliver to Universities Denmark, who can then pass it on to the ministry," he explains.
He goes on to say that AUPA’s particular focus here has been the teaching requirement, and as part of this, the composition of courses at AU:
"From AUPA’s side, we point out that this isn’t about us wanting to take fewer ECTS credits, but about ensuring that the courses we're taking are relevant. Some PhD students are forced to take less relevant courses because their department doesn’t offer many courses," he says.
And at the moment, the chair has found the ministry to be really receptive to proposals about how the PhD degree programmes can be improved.
"The ministry has told AUPA that if we have input, they’re going to listen. So the time is ripe right now," he says.
Will be more visible
In addition to trying to influence PhD degree programmes at a national level, AUPA also has plans for what the association wants to do at a more local level. For example, AUPA wants to be more visible.
"Among other things, we will be holding some joint action events this year that will bring the PhD students together across the faculties. Because even though we’re very different, some things are general such as the contact with your supervisor, writing processes and procrastination. We also have a more informal goal to be more visible on Facebook."
The association would also like to highlight some of the initiatives that AUPA has already set in motion.
"The psychological workplace assessment pointed to stress and loneliness among PhD students, and here AUPA has prepared a tool box with tools that are relevant for both the individual PhD student and the departments. But it’s not been promoted very well, so we want to do more to get it out there," says Søren.
The new chair also says that AUPA will be involved in the "Quality in the PhD Programmes” survey which will be carried out at AU during the autumn. The results are expected at the end of the year.
We must be proactive
Søren has followed the work being done by AUPA over the last year and was, prior to that, a member of the board on behalf of his local PhD association at Aarhus BSS, PHABUSS. Describing how he wants the association to be wit him as chair, he says:
“AUPA shouldn’t be an association of complainers. We mustn’t only point out issues and problems everywhere. We have to be proactive and point to solutions. We must also be actively involved in the Danish PhD network, which is a fairly new initiative.”
Translated by Peter Lambourne