General and mental guidance

PhD life is fun and exciting, inspiring, sometimes hard, and - unavoidably - will cause stress. At times you may encounter problems that you can’t entirely solve on your own. There is nothing wrong with that! Do you need help, support or advice? There are people who can help you, but you can also follow group trainings. This overview shows you how to find your way to PhD guidance at WUR.

PhD advisors

PhD candidates who face problems during their PhD programme can contact the PhD advisor(s) of their own graduate school. We give confidential advice and coaching on how to tackle the problem or challenge, and when needed we direct the PhD candidate to other advice, support or counseling bodies within or outside the university.

Meet Susan Urbanus, one of WUR's PhD advisors

Each graduate school in Wageningen has one or more PhD advisors who PhD candidates can turn to with questions and concerns. “PhD advisors are the primary point of contact for PhD candidates and handle a variety of questions and issues,” says Susan Urbanus, a PhD advisor and PhD coordinator at the Experimental Plant Sciences graduate school (EPS). “It’s a very multifaceted role,” she continues. “For some problems, clear information, good advice or a meaningful conversation is enough to set someone down the right path. I often act as a kind of guide, referring people to the confidential counsellor for scientific integrity, the Occupational Social Work team or the in-house medical officer, depending on the issue. Occasionally, conflicts arise between supervisors and PhD candidates. When this happens, I can serve as a mediator, with the explicit consent of the PhD candidate. PhD candidates are always welcome to contact the PhD advisors at their graduate school. The EPS also organises walk-in sessions, during which candidates can drop by to discuss any questions they may have.”

List of current PhD advisors

Find the help you need

Find help with developing skills, PhD progress, personal issues or social safety & integrity with this interactive PDF.

PhD candidate guidance, find your way.PNG

WUR ombudsperson

Doctoral candidates can contact the WUR ombudsperson for independent, impartial and confidential advice, interventions and investigations in the workplace or the academic environment. Examples include collaboration issues, workplace conflicts, and undesirable behaviour that is persistent and ongoing. Learn more about us on our intranet page.

Meet ombudsperson Jacqueline Schoone

“As an ombudsperson, my job is to remain independent and neutral,” says Jacqueline Schoone, the designated ombudsperson at WUR. “Based on reports and signals from students and staff, I can advise, refer, mediate and initiate independent research into recurrent problems and misconduct at the university and at Wageningen Research. In doing so, I have access to all available information. As an ombudsperson, I don't handle legal matters, (individual) reports that have already been addressed, or issues that have been explicitly assigned to other authorities or committees. I do, however, take action if a pattern emerges.”

Contact Point for Social Safety

PhD candidates who are confronted with undesirable behaviour can contact us to ask a question, file a report or a complaint, or seek advice on a situation they are not sure how to handle. All questions and complaints are treated confidentially and you, the person who files the issue, is free to decide what happens to the information provided.

E-mail us at or call us on +31 317 48 17 74

Meet Joyce van der Velde, Social Safety project leader

“The Contact Point is an additional resource at WUR where people can discuss undesirable behaviour in an accessible way, file a report or get in touch if they don’t know who else to turn to,” explains Joyce van de Velde, Social Safety Project Leader. “We can then refer them to the right person. Supervisors and lecturers can also seek advice if they have concerns about an employee or a student. People can obviously still enlist the direct assistance of one of the confidential counsellors, the Occupational Social Work team or, in the case of students, one of the confidential student counsellors or student psychologists. In practice, we often hear that people don’t know exactly who they should turn to, which is why the Contact Point refers them to the proper authority or individual. The Contact Point also allows us to gain greater insight into everything that is going on so we can make fundamental improvements to social safety.”

Confidential counsellor for scientific integrity or undesirable behaviour

For issues involving scientific integrity or undesirable behaviour, PhD candidates can also directly contact the confidential counsellors for undesirable behaviour or the confidential counsellors for scientific integrity More information about our work and our contact details can be found on the Service Portal. See this page for more information about scientific integrity.

Meet Jasper van Ruijven, confidential counsellor for undesirable behaviour

Jasper van Ruijven is one of the more than ten confidential counsellors for undesirable behaviour at WUR. He works as a researcher/lecturer at the chair group for Forest Ecology and Forest Management (ESG) – where he also supervises PhD candidates – and acts as confidential counsellor (on average a few hours a week). Jasper is under the impression that the current societal attention for undesirable behaviour makes it easier for employees, including PhD candidates, to report to the confidential counsellor. Jasper: “As a result of what happened on TV programmes like ‘The Voice’ and ‘De Wereld Draait Door’, people are becoming aware that it’s not normal to shout at employees or display other intimidating behaviour.”

Is there a difference in the kind of problems employees and PhD candidates report to a confidential counsellor? “Not really, no,” says Jasper. “The confidential counsellors’ annual report shows which problems are most common, for all employees. This often involves a strained relationship with a manager (supervisor/PhD supervisor). Verbal and psychological harassment is frequently reported, as is bullying. However, a PhD candidate may be under more pressure than a regular staff member because a PhD has to be completed within a certain time frame, PhD contracts are temporary, and career prospects are very important for young PhD candidates at the start of their careers.”

Cultural differences around behaviour can also sometimes lead to tensions and frustrations. Jasper: “The Dutch have a rather direct communication style, and this can sometimes come across as intimidating. Also, in some cultures, it is absolutely not customary to address a professor – this is considered as rude – and so misunderstandings can arise that then develop into awkward situations. In introduction interviews with new staff (incl. PhD candidates), I therefore advise people to address minor irritations, or vague feelings of discomfort as soon as possible. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to raise the issue with the person in question: sometimes it’s enough to talk to a fellow PhD candidate. This can help you to gain a new perspective or more clarity on how things work in your team. But it may also be a good idea to talk about it with a confidential counsellor.”

When asked what a confidential counsellor can do, Jasper answers: “First and foremost, we offer a listening ear; it is important for people to be able to tell their stories and express their emotions. Then, together with the PhD candidate, we look at what exactly is going on and how we can improve the actual situation. For example by talking to the manager/supervisor after all. The employee/PhD candidate is always in charge, and everything we discuss is confidential.”

Meet Nicole Koenderink confidential counsellor for scientific integrity

“I often compare it to peeling an onion: you have to peel off various layers – think of culture, hierarchy and cultural aspects – before you get to the core of a problem.” These are the words of Huub Savelkoul, one of the two confidential counsellors for scientific integrity at WUR. The second confidential counsellor for scientific integrity is Nicole Koenderink. “All our interviews with employees and PhD candidates are of course strictly confidential,” says Huub. “We think along, we reflect, and we refer people further if their question or issue turns out to lie beyond the field of integrity. Sometimes one or two interviews are enough, but I have also at times had 20 conversations or long walks in the woods with people. In case of serious integrity issues, such as suspicions of data falsification or data manipulation, we look into the matter, give advice and, if necessary, refer people to the WUR's Scientific Integrity Committee (CWI), where they can file a complaint. Fortunately, most reports can be resolved ‘amicably’.”

One topic the confidential counsellors for scientific integrity get a lot of questions about is ‘authorship’, says Huub. For example: Can you include the funding provider of your research in your PhD thesis acknowledgements without giving the impression that they also influenced the design of your research? How should you go about it? What also sometimes happens is that a supervisor decides to put two PhD candidates on one publication, for example a PhD candidate who is almost done and already has four papers in their dissertation, but one paper is not yet published. The supervisor might think that they are doing another PhD candidate a favour by letting them work on that fourth paper as well. Huub: “That is not allowed, but sometimes – whether with good intentions or because people are in a hurry – these things do happen. With the permission of the PhD candidate concerned, I then contact the relevant supervisor and the issue is usually quickly resolved.” Huub notes that PhD candidates also sometimes get into problems working with Tenure Trackers. Huub: “Tenure Trackers are under enormous pressure: it's all ‘up or out’ for a full professor position, and every three years, there is an evaluation. They have to do research, teach, supervise PhD candidates, and raise research funds. In practice, we see that this work pressure sometimes also affects the supervision of PhD candidates. For example, a PhD candidate knows that a certain experiment has to be repeated three times to get reliable results, but they are pressurised to come up with results after just one or two iterations. Clearly, this leads to problems.” Huub agrees that it is essential to create a safe atmosphere and maintain open communication within chair groups and teams with an important responsibility for the professor holding the chair: “Being able to openly discuss issues and dilemmas in your team or with your supervisors is incredibly important. Poor communication and not listening carefully to the concerns of PhD candidates are at the root of many misunderstandings, and are a breeding ground for mistakes that touch on integrity issues.” More attention is also needed for grant PhDs, Huub argues. “Grant PhDs tend to not only have a less advantageous legal status, but also the extra sword of Damocles hanging over their heads of having to repay their grant if they fail to meet their PhD objective. Combined with a different cultural background, this makes this group of PhD candidates reluctant to raise their hands or ask questions. Graduate schools could also specifically ask for more explanation and attention for this group during information sessions for new PhD candidates.”

In-house medical officer 

For physical and mental well-being, you can contact an in-house medical officer. We will also contact you if you, for example, have been ill for a longer period. For more information about us or to make an appointment for the preventive consultation hours, see: Who is the in-house medical officer for my organisational unit? or call +31 88 0088916 

Meet Ineke van Buuren, in-house medical officer at WUR

“A PhD track brings a lot of pressure. PhD candidates tend to be young people who set high standards for themselves. In the meantime, there are the necessary evaluations, such as the 'Go-No Go' assessment, and the pressure can be enormous. In that phase of life, there is sometimes also a pregnancy or a young family, or people are feeling homesick if they come from far away, and it can be hard to strike the right balance between work and private life. Fortunately, research schools are increasingly also devoting more attention to this,” says in-house medical officer Ineke van Buuren, who has for many years worked at WUR through Zorg van de Zaak. Ineke explains that the in-house medical officer automatically invites you to come in if you've been ill for a longer period. You can also contact the in-house medical officer if you experience physical impediments in your work. Together with the supervisor – always in consultation with and with the consent of the employee – the in-house medical officer explores what adjustments are needed. What else can the in-house medical officer do for you?

Ineke: “When there is too much stress, or a burnout, we can look together at where this imbalance comes from: is it something the person does, or are the working conditions to blame? A few good talks with tips on how to get back on track, working less for a while, or in some cases a referral to a psychologist are some of the options.” Ineke highlights two other important things. The first one is the preventive consultation hours with the in-house medical officer where you can make an appointment – without referral – directly and confidentially with one of the in-house medical officers. Many people are still unaware of this option, says Ineke. The second thing is that pregnant staff members (including PhD candidates) should also always drop by the preventive consultation hours. Ineke: “In experiments and in labs, people sometimes come into contact with certain substances and radiation, and these are not risks you want to take if you're pregnant.”

HR Advisor / Business Partner 

Meet Marion Coeleman, HR Business Partner at PSG

“Yes, PhD candidates also frequently knock on the door of a sciences group's HR (Human Resources) department with various questions,” says Marion Coeleman, who herself works as an HR Business Partner at PSG. “As HR, we primarily have an advisory role, for example with respect to labour-related questions about renewing a reduction in working hours, leave, sickness absence, and other such things. In these interviews, it sometimes becomes apparent that a PhD candidate is also struggling with other things, such as work pressure, personal circumstances, psychological tension, or difficulties in the collaboration with their supervisor or manager. As HR Business Partners, we have a different role than the WUR social work staff, but in an interview, we can still offer a listening ear and give tips, or refer people to other professionals such as a confidential counsellor, in-house medical officer, company social worker, or PhD advisor. We also point out to PhD candidates that for their job satisfaction and development, they need to keep talking to their supervisors, and we can discuss whether they might benefit from support in the form of a course or coaching programme. If it is hard for them to talk about it to their supervisor, we can help where necessary.” Something else Marion would like to point out is that it is good for PhD candidates to start thinking about their future career at an early stage – in their third or fourth year. Marion: “Some science groups, like PSG, have their own L&D advisor for that, but HR Business Partners can also help by thinking along or referring PhD candidates to other people who can help with this.”

Occupational social work

PhD candidates who experience problems in their relationship with supervisors or colleagues, or have personal complaints (e.g. burnout or mental fitness issues) can also directly contact Occupational Social Work (BMW). More information about our work and on how to get in touch with us can be found in the Service Portal

Meet Lydia Roseboom, occupational social worker at WUR

PhD candidates who experience personal or work-related issues that affect the nature of their work or how they feel about their work can contact the Occupational Social Work team at WUR. This applies to all PhD candidates. Lyda Roseboom is an occupational social worker whose team sees many PhD candidates who struggle with various problems, ranging from performance anxiety, stress and work pressure to burnout and/or personal issues. “A PhD track is more than just a job,” says Lyda. “It’s a learning and development process with a strict timeframe. Some candidates set high expectations for themselves and think they should know everything, which makes it hard for them to contact their supervisors for questions or concerns.” The cultural background of international PhD candidates may also play a role. “ Saying ‘no’ to someone in a position of power and getting used to the Dutch directness may be difficult for some people.” How can the OSW help these candidates? “The first conversation is about assessing the problem,” says Lyda. “Sometimes one conversation is enough and other times a few follow-up conversations are needed to help the client regain control of the situation. In the case of illness and/or mental health issues, we also refer the client to a professional -- with their explicit consent, of course. For reintegration processes, we work with the in-house medical officer and/or HR colleagues.” These conversations are always strictly confidential.


WUR provides a broad programme for all PhD candidates of Wageningen University Vital@work. This helps you to work on your health and stay fit and vital. For more information, visit the intranet page: Team - Intranet WUR.