Doctoral careers

While the other ECOOM partners address the product of innovation – publication, patents, artistic production – ECOOM Ghent University focuses on the individuals and teams that make innovation happen. To put it otherwise: the focus is on ‘Human Resources in Research’. This includes the production of PhDs, possible barriers and keys to success, the mobility of researchers and the careers of PhD holders, both within and outside university.

Making use of a wide range of data sources, ECOOM Ghent University develops up-to-date indicators that enable to monitor academic human resources in Flanders. We provide advice to the Flemish Government and universities and we develop scientific knowledge that may support individuals in their career decisions. On a weekly basis, the blog CAREERSINRESEARCH ( offers career relevant information to three specific groups: PhD students (‘Getting your PhD’), PhD holders in academia (‘Rhythms of academic life’) and PhD holders working outside the university (‘PhDs in the real world’).

Info & contact: (policy advice) (research) (data management)

A wide range of monitoring systems

ECOOM Ghent University uses a wide range of data sources in order to monitor doctorate careers. Most data are primary sources, such as administrative data (such as the Human Resources of Research in Flanders dataset, see infra) or data gathered through surveying PhD students or PhD holders (e.g. the Survey of Junior Researchers 2013 covering all junior researchers without a PhD, or the Survey of Senior Researchers 2010 covering PhDs working at a Flemish university). For some monitoring purposes, we make use of available international datasets, such as the European Labour Force Survey (EC) or the Career of Doctorate Holders Survey (OECD).

The Human Resources in Research Flanders-dataset holds a key position in the ECOOM Ghent University monitoring system. This unique dataset covers all researchers employed at the Flemish universities. The data in the HRRF are coded and range from personal (e.g. age, gender) to educational information (e.g. discipline, field of study), and from data on the PhD project (e.g. data of starting and ending, discipline) to information on the academic career, both predoctoral and postdoctoral (e.g. funding source/type of scholarship, discipline). The dataset is updated on a yearly basis. Not only does it enable us to grasp the situation at one point in time (e.g. the number of successful PhD defenses in 2014), but also to monitor trends (e.g. is the number of foreign PhDs student in Flanders increasing?) and longitudinal patterns (e.g. time-to-degree).

Focus on the careers of three specific groups

PhD students (‘Getting a PhD’)

The last couple of years have been marked by a strong increase in the population of junior researchers in Flanders. Writing a PhD is perceived as a unique opportunity by many of them, but the road to success often turns out to be very bumpy. A substantial number of PhD students drop out, while for many others the PhD project takes much longer than intended. ECOOM Ghent University therefore addresses the question of how to optimize PhD tracks in order to support students in their preparation for a successful PhD defense but also a successful career afterwards. Some of the career aspects triggering special attention are the quality and quantity of scientific output, health and well-being, the development of transferable skills, the relation between promoter and PhD student, team work, time-to-degree and international mobility.

Postdocs at the university (‘Rhythms of academic life’)

The number of postdoc positions at Flemish universities has also grown over the past years. However, as tenure positions have not increased accordingly, long-term academic careers are now the exception, not the norm. The competition for scarce positions and promotions is driven by mechanisms which are not only subject to policy decisions, but also to international trends. ECOOM Ghent University keeps track of the chances to establish an academic career, monitoring not only the keys to success but also the potential barriers and drawbacks. International mobility and internationalization, publication pressures, time management, entrepreneurship and mentorship of PhD students are but a few of the career topics which are addressed.

PhD holders outside the university (‘PhDs in the real world’)

The limited chances of a long-term academic career has made a growing group of PhD holders turn to the world of business or the government. Most of them work as an employee, but some as a self-employed entrepreneur. The transition from university to ‘the world out there’ is however not always that smooth and needs some fine tuning: stories like ‘I wouldn’t know where to start looking’, ‘overqualification’ or ‘lack of transferable skills’ are omnipresent. ECOOM Ghent University wants to map the added value of a PhD and maximise its returns – both in and outside academia – by grasping the opportunities and problems which doctors encounter during transitions between university, business world and government. Are the barriers to career success mostly structural? Do PhD holders have the right attitudes and competencies for job performance outside universities? How can PhD holders optimize the returns of their PhD and turn these into a strategic advantage for the employer? What are PhD holders expectations of a career ’out there’? And how do employers perceive the added value of a PhD?

HRRF Opt-out

All the researchers working in one of the 5 Flemish universities since 1990 are included in the database Human Resources in Research Flanders (HRRF, see above). The following data are collected:

- Personal data: gender, age, nationality
- Appointment data: university, period, position, research field, faculty
- Information on the PhD: date of doctoral defence, date of subscription, research field
- Master’s degree if obtained at the same university of the subsequent career: study field and year of degree
- Absences of at least 3 months

These data are coded. Hence ECOOM UGent, which is responsible for the further data analysis, cannot identify the individuals in the database. The coding of the data is carried out by a Trusted Third Party who has been authorised by the Sector Committee of the National Register. The data flow as such was authorised by the Sector Committee of the National Register (data from de KULeuven and the VUB) and by the Vlaamse Toezichtcommissie (data from the UGent, the UA and the UHasselt). The authorisations can be consulted through the following hyperlinks:

Sector Committee of the National Register,
Vlaamse Toezichtcommissie

If you do not want your information to be included in the database, you have the right to opt-out. For this purpose, please contact ECOOM UGent.