Quality in PhD Processes, 2013 and 2017

Purpose/research question

The project is a combination of quality development and research. The aim was to provide specific, local knowledge about PhD programmes at AU, thereby providing an informed basis for quality development initiatives at the university's four PhD schools. Moreover, the aim was to produce research results of a nature not previously seen in international educational research, which could contribute to the existing knowledge of PhD supervision in particular.


Aarhus University has more than 2,000 enrolled PhD students, who constitute a significant resource and a very large investment. Such a large investment raises a key question of the extent to which AU makes the most of its investment. Does the university recruit and develop talented graduates who have the ability, will and desire to conduct research at a high level? In order to clarify this matter, every four years AU carries out a survey financed by interdisciplinary strategic funding from AU's Talent Development Committee.

Data and methodology

The survey is based on data from an electronic questionnaire sent out in 2013 and 2017, respectively, to all PhD students enrolled at AU. The response rate was 79% (N=1780) in 2013 and 75% (N=1739) in 2017.

Results and perspectives

The main conclusions of the survey are that, in many respects, AU’s PhD schools are efficient, as the PhD students are generally satisfied with what they learn and with the quality of research. Most students are satisfied with the quality of research supervision, take ownership and responsibility of their projects, want to continue research, they work hard and they invest many hours in their projects. Moreover, the majority have presented their research at international conferences and their research findings have been accepted for publication despite long peer-review processes.

However, the survey also shows that the PhD programmes are associated with considerable uncertainty and mental stress, as many PhD students experience severe stress symptoms, uncertainty with regard to the standards they have to meet, uncertainty with regard to their own skills, as well as academic and social loneliness.

Analyses also show that the two crucial factors for satisfaction, academic independence, academic confidence, project progress and well-being are (i) the degree of integration in well-functioning research environments and (ii) the quality of supervision.

Finally, the survey reveals significant differences between the four PhD schools and between the individual PhD programmes within the four schools.

Status: finished

Report 2013

Main report

Key figures for the PhD programmes

The factor structure of the questionnaire 

Report 2017

This report shows the results for Aarhus University and its four PhD schools. Results from 2017 and 2013 are compare.

Kvalitet i Ph.d.-forløb 2017. Hovedrapport for Aarhus Universitet (in Danish only)

If you are interested in the specific reports for each PhD Program, please contact project manager Gitte Wichmann-Hansen.


  • Wichmann-Hansen, G., & Herrmann, K.J. (2017) Does external funding push doctoral supervisors to be more directive? A large-scale Danish study. Higher Education, 74(2), 357-68
  • Herrmann, K.J., & Wichmann-Hansen, G. (2017) Validation of the Quality in PhD Processes Questionnaire. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, 8(2), 189-204.