External Ph.D. candidates

Like most academics, I occasionally get mail from people looking for an opportunity to get a PhD from a Dutch university – from two kinds of people, actually. The first type is the foreigner with an academic background, who wants to add a Ph.D. from a good university to his or her titles. The second type are Dutch people who’ve already got fulltime jobs as professionals in the real world but still hope to write a Ph.D. thesis in their spare time.

While I cannot offer the first type of supplicant hope on a place in a Ph.D. programme (because such programmes still do not exist in the Netherlands; the Dutch academic system is definitely not Anglo-Saxon), I can offer both types help to become ‘external Ph.D. candidates’ or, in Dutch, ‘buitenpromovendi’. This is an unpaid, unofficial, purely voluntary occupation – you write a thesis in your own time, and from time to time you get irregular and confusing feedback from an unpaid, unofficial, purely voluntary supervisor. (Of course, you can bring your own money. You’re more than welcome to...)

To qualify for a Ph.D., you need a Ph.D. thesis. To write a Ph.D. thesis, you need a good topic, talent, time, money, and a supervisor. Let’s assume that you’ve got talent (you ought to be the best judge of that yourself), a scientifically novel and interesting topic (here’s where I’m probably the better judge), time (the standard time needed for a Dutch Ph.D. is 3 full years – roughly 135 weeks of 40 hours each) and money (e.g. in case you live abroad and want to visit or stay for a longer period). What you still want then is supervision.

In the (surprisingly hierarchical and on this point irrationally conservative) Dutch academic system you ultimately need a professor as supervisor – that is, not an associate or assistant professor (US ranks) or a (senior) lecturer or reader (UK ranks) but the real thing, a full professor, gown and all. I’m game, but I’ve also learned to be extremely cautious and not invest too much time or effort in Ph.D. projects. I don’t think that more than 25% of all those who start (in earnest) on an ‘external’ Ph.D. thesis survive the first 18 months, and those who do don’t usually finish in less than 6 years (unless they find extra funds).

If you are interested in obtaining a Ph.D. under my supervision, then please read the web page where my Faculty’s policy on external Ph.D. candidates is outlined, and in particular the new "Regulations for External PhD Candidates". Since I more or less inspired these regulations, I intend to follow them religiously. And if, after reading the regulations, you’re still interested in a Ph.D. – contact me: m.wissenburg @ fm.ru.nl