…or: common myths we learned the hard way (list incomplete). This list is slightly subjective and uses a sarcastic tone to bring some levity into rather frustrating situations. If you are “stuck” for these or any similar reasons, or if you are confused by these points, reach out to us!
This was a bad idea
Reminding your supervisor to renew an expiring contract less than 3 months before expiry
Contract extensions often need to be approved by several people, and can take several months to wend their way through the university’s administrative system. Remind your supervisor early and often if you need something from them that requires administration.
Not enrolling into the PhD studies program until you want to graduate
You need to be enrolled in the program for at least 3 years (6 semesters) before you can graduate. If you put off enrolling for years, you might need to stay enrolled after you are done to meet this requirement.
Supervise ALL the students, ALL the time
On paper, PhD students can’t supervise BSc or MSc thesis. In practice, mostly in labs, PhD students often end up “mentoring” or “helping with” undergraduate theses and projects. This won’t get paid, doesn’t count towards your degree and is not considered official supervision, so be careful how much you take on.
The more classes I take, the better my PhD
At the University of Vienna, PhD degrees are intended to be research-focused and comprise mostly of just that. While there is a basic ECTS requirement, and some specialised courses can be very helpful and valuable, we don’t recommend approaching the PhD like an MSc degree and registering for a full course load. If you take too many classes, you will not have enough time for research and you risk missing the summa cum laude if your grade average goes too low.
I’m a student, I don’t need to bother registering my holidays/absences
This depends a bit on your situation, but if you also are employed at the university, you need to register your holidays in the employee intranet in order for your health insurance to still apply. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your group/department secretary for help.
Upaid or half-funded PhD positions
We (the student reps) realise that is some fields, this is unfortunately still the norm. While we understand why people decide to take these positions, we’re concerned that at present, the natural science PhD degree at the University of Vienna tends to be structured as a full-time program, making it extremely difficult for people to work an additional job. It’s also very difficult to obtain additional funding, grant applications are fickle and unemployment money also comes to an end. Everyone has to make their own decisions, but in our experience having less than 3 years of funding can lead to very stressful and bad situations for which there is no solution.
Common Myths (UniVie-specific)
You need n papers to graduate
This a persistent urban legend. Many supervisors would like n book chapters | proceedings | publications, but this is not formally part of the degree. You may be asked to put a specific number of papers in your doctoral thesis agreement. However, this can be appended every year. We (the students reps) know people who have graduated in disciplines such as Physics with 0 publications.
The faculty open presentation doesn’t matter, just put it off indefinitely!
Since the faculty open presentation is “new” in Vienna years (less than a decade), there was a changeover period where students in the old curriculum had more time to do the presentation. But it does have to be done in your first year of enrolment (barring special circumstances), and there’s no advantage to put it off. We also recommend signing the doctoral thesis agreement prompts after the presentation, to make sure you and your supervisor are on the same page in terms of the work to be done.
Mental Health is your problem, don’t bother the University or Doctoral Schools with it
There is plenty of evidence pointing to above-average rates of depression and anxiety symptoms in graduate students. While the University response still shows room for improvement, there is a counselling center of the University and, if you are an employee or VDS member, the university has funds for “personal development” that people have found ways to channel into therapy. We’re working on making this more transparent and accessible, but the funding is there and it shouldn’t be the students’ private burden.
Enrolling at Doctoral Schools is a waste of time
Enrolling in a doctoral school can involve additional paperwork, but most of them have a lot of funding that the basic program does not have. This means that joining can give you access to travel grants to attend conferences, graduation scholarships when your contract ends, paid teaching, some events (free food!) and social clubs. The exact services vary depending on the VDS in question (we’re working on that), but you can request additional support beyond what they formally offer as well.
Getting an advance on conference fees is impossible
Nope, it just involves more details on a form. Ask your department secretary for help if you have to pay a lot for conference fees and travel, and need an advance on your reimbursement.
At the end of your PhD, you can write your thesis full-time
Since writing up the thesis isn’t technically considered work for the university in the sense of most 30hr employment contracts, you might be obligated to work 30hrs and write for 10hrs+ at the end of your PhD. Some supervisors don’t care about this rule, others do- try to find out what category yours fall into before you approach the end of your funding. It can also be difficult switching from lab work (“one last little task”) to writing- we recommend starting to write early and often in smaller time increments instead of leaving everything to the end.
Writing your thesis while having a full-time job is a great idea
Please don’t do this to yourself, this a great way to end up “finishing” “ABD” (all but dissertation, i.e. not graduating). Full-time work is exhausting and it’s very difficult to try and write your thesis “on the side”. We know that this isn’t always a choice in the practical sense, but the odds of actually finishing while working full-time are not in the students’ favour.
Soft skills like writing should magically come to you
Both your department (hopefully) and the center for doctoral studies (definitively) offer a variety of “soft-skills” courses that are free, usually short (usually 1 day/afternoon) and targeted specifically towards PhD students. We especially love their writing workshops. Special shout-out to their writing workshops and mentoring!
Common Myths (general)
My [proposal/paper/presentation] needs to be absolutely perfect
Perfectionism is a common trap, to the extent that it often features in PhD Wellbeing Workshops.
Work Life Balance, like sleep, is only for the weak!
Burning-out is real and the PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. No-one will tell you to take care of your mental health, to say no to overwhelming amounts of commitments and to push back against unrealistic deadlines and expectations. Take care of yourself!
Conferences are not a lot of work, 5-6 conferences in a year are doable.
Conferences are very rewarding, but take preparation and debriefing time afterwards.