Prolongation for doctoral students during the pandemic

- in In English, Reportage

The outbreak of coronavirus has created aggravating circumstances for a number of doctoral students. It turns out that the faculties fail to ensure common guidelines and clear communication. Lundagård has talked with three doctoral students at the Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology (HT).

The article has been translated from Swedish into English by Khatia Chikhladze. Here is a link to the original article in Swedish. 

Application for extension of a doctoral studentship is evaluated and the decision is made by the faculty responsible for the employment of the respective doctoral student. The evaluation occurs on an individual basis. Many doctoral students have applied for extension and it turns out that there is a lack of common guidelines and clear communication regarding the grounds for decision-making and criteria.Cancelled study visits and fieldwork, limited access to the archive as well as difficulties carrying out interviews and experiments has complicated the data collection process for a large number of doctoral students. Already in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, it became clear that many doctoral students would need to apply for extension in order to finish their dissertations in time.   

The procedure can even vary within one and the same faculty.   

Sandra Cronhamn is a doctoral student in linguistics and she was forced to terminate her fieldwork in Brazil when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. She was supposed to spend three months there, but had to go back home after a little over a month. This means that she has lost a big part of the planned data collection. That is why she has had to rethink her writing of the dissertation.

She requested an extension of her doctoral studentship by two months, which she has been granted. ”Terminated fieldwork is a high priority”, she says.

The HT-faculties announced how one could apply for extension already last spring, which is appreciated by both Lund’s Doctoral Student Union (LDK) and the Doctoral Student Ombudsman (domben).  “All faculties that have published information about this have done the right thing”, says Malin Rantzer, the Doctoral Student Ombudsman.

Lund’s Doctoral Student Union and the Doctoral Student Ombudsman give the HT-faculties as a good example as they were the fastest in implementing faculty-common guidelines about extension due to the coronavirus. Thus HT is the body that, according to them, has handled the situation best. However, this does not mean that all their doctoral students are satisfied with the decisions made about their doctoral studentships.

Irena Lami comes from Italy and she is also a doctoral student in linguistics at the HT-faculties. She has three kids, one of whom has not even started kindergarten yet. This caused her stress in the process of adjusting to working from home. As she states, the fact that she needed to carry on her studies online and was unable to make the planned trips complicated the situation. She asked for a six-month extension but she was only granted one month.

“I needed to work from home with young kids, which the faculty does not deem relevant. It felt discriminating”, she says.   

According to Irene Lami, the bases for decision-making seem random, vaguely communicated and perhaps discriminating. She does not feel welcome in the decision-making process either: she says that she did not have access to information about the criteria that needed to be fulfilled before she applied for extension.

The decision statement sent to her on 18 December says: “The information provided in the application fulfills the requirements imposed on the grounds for extension only partially due to the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus. The lost time is thus deemed shorter than what was specified in the application.”

“There are many others who have suffered worse consequences, for example, those who were stuck in countries on lockdown. This is more of a question about communication from the side of the faculty”, says Irene Lami.

Since this is the second year of her doctoral studentship there is still a chance to make up for the lost time.

Jennifer Nyström, with whom Lundagård has been in touch via email, writes that she applied for a 14-week extension at the HT-faculties as she got stuck in a country on lockdown, with no opportunity for working. She is in the final year of her doctoral studentship and she was only granted a two-week extension. This has meant enormous time press to finish the dissertation before the defence.

Already on 28 May, the Doctoral Committee within SFS, SFS-DK alerted that “in their replies, many doctoral students have mentioned that they need an extension for a fair chance to fulfill the requirements of the doctoral education”. Doctoral students have long been identified as a group with high stress levels and poor mental health. In regards to this, it becomes clear in the same report based on a survey that mental health issues have worsened due to the current situation.

SFS-DK and the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers (SULF) advocate a national guideline according to which everyone who was registered as a doctoral student by March 2020 should get at least two months of extension.

Simon Schmidt, co-chair of Lund’s Doctoral Student Union, LDK, states that LDK has not formed a clear view of the proposal regarding the two-month extension of studentship for all doctoral students.

“There are doctoral students who probably do not need to have their studentship extended, and if everyone is granted two extra weeks, those that actually need a longer extension might not be able to get it”, he says.     

LDK and the Doctoral Student Ombudsman are working on the issue of extension on different levels: nationally, locally and internally. LDK has made a survey and sent it to all doctoral students at Lund university to get an overview of the situation. The survey is being processed in the moment of writing.

They have even met with the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor Erik Renström to implement a standardised procedure for extension due to coronavirus with the help of the Doctoral Programmes Board (FUN) and to make the viewpoints of Lund University doctoral students known nationwide with the help of SFS-DK.    

Footnote: There is a Facebook page that claims to belong to LDK. The correct name is, however, Lund’s Doctoral Student Union.

Are you a doctoral student? Have you applied for extension? Do not hesitate to contact Lundagård if you would like to share your experience with us. Anonymity is always guaranteed. 

About the author

Vendela var tidningsredaktör och annonsansvarig på Lundagård 2019-2021. Hon var även reporter och kulturskribent på Lundagård sedan våren 2017.