03.01.2018

Guidelines for the thesis follow-up group

Group members and forming the thesis follow-up group

A follow-up group (in Finnish: seurantaryhmä) is formed for all doctoral students (the operating principles of the University of Jyväskylä Graduate School for Doctoral Studies: in Finnish, in English; 18 § Degree Regulation of the University of Jyväskylä, in Finnish, in English). Also part-time doctoral students have a follow-up group, but it does not necessarily meet every year. Within 2 months of the doctoral student being granted the right to postgraduate study the student is required to give the doctoral programme the names, degree and affiliation of the thesis follow-up group members via the online form. She/he also gives the names of members in the supervision document in the Korppi portal. The members should be selected in consultation with the supervisor(s). The minimum size of the follow-up group is three persons: the supervisor and two other senior scientists (PhD with post-doctoral research experience) who do not belong to the research group in which the PhD project is being done. At least one of the members should be a senior scientist from the Department of the Biological and Environmental Science (JyU). One of the members is recommended to be outside of the Department. It should be noted that the doctoral programme cannot offer financial support for meeting arrangements.

The role and tasks of the follow-up group

The role and duties of the follow-up group are described in more detailed in the appendix of supervision document (ohjausasiakirjan liite 1) and additional guidelines for follow-up groups (in Finnish, in English) and for monitoring the progress of doctoral students in follow-up groups (in Finnish, in English) formulated by the Graduate School steering board. The main duties of the follow-up group are supporting and follow-up of the progress of postgraduate studies. The ultimate goal is to advance the doctoral student toward completion of the dissertation work by giving encouragement and support for the process as well as feedback on the progress of PhD studies and research.

Encouragement and support. The doctoral student and her/his supervisor(s) have the main responsibility for the progress and the content of PhD project. The focus of the follow-up group instead is more on the process of the PhD project (see example questions below). The follow-up group offers opportunities to get feedback from researchers outside the student's own research group and to discuss potential problems. In regard to potential problems with the progress, financing or other issues related to the doctoral studies and/or research, the follow-up group informs the board of the doctoral programme. In situation when a doctoral student is considering quitting her/his studies, the follow-up group members can act as neutral parties with whom to discuss the issue (See more).

Annual evaluation. The follow-up group evaluates the progress of the doctoral student on an annual basis, helping the student with scientific and practical issues. It assesses whether the study and research plan for the next year is realistic and in line with the degree requirements. The follow-up group should ensure that the student does not have excessive teaching or other duties that would prevent graduation within the target time of 4 years. Towards the end of the studies the follow-up group discusses postdoctoral career opportunities with the student.

Follow-up group meetings. The follow-up group and the doctoral student meet annually or more often if needed. Doctoral students are encouraged to use their follow-up groups actively, not only in connection with the annual meeting but for example in situations where problems arise. The follow-up group members read and evaluate the student’s progress report which she/he submits 2 weeks before the follow-up group meeting.  Please note that after the meeting, the doctoral student submits the progress report that should include a clear statement of the feasibility of the plan and evaluation of the progress of the PhD project.

The tasks of the doctoral student

The doctoral student is responsible for arranging an annual follow-up group meeting until the defence. A doctoral student is encouraged to contact her/his follow-up group members whenever she/he has issues related to the PhD project which she/he would like to discuss with them. The doctoral student informs her/his follow-up group members about the guidelines and practice of the doctoral programme. It should be noted that the doctoral programme cannot offer financial support for meeting arrangements

Before the annual follow-up group meeting, the doctoral student sends electronically  the progress report to the members of the follow-up group at least 2 weeks prior to the meeting. She/he can also give a list of example questions which helps the follow-up group members to prepare for the meeting. After the follow-up meeting, the student submits to the doctoral programme the up-dated progress report which includes a brief report of the follow-up group discussion (see instruction in the progress report template). The exception to this is the first follow-up meeting when reports are not written. However, the student informs the doctoral programme that the first meeting has taken place (date, place, participants) via an online form.

When does the follow-up group convene?

The follow-up group meets at least once a year. The doctoral student may also convene the follow-up group between the annual meetings and meet the external follow-up group members without the supervisors being present. The first follow-up group must take place within 3 months of the doctoral student has been granted the right of postgraduate study. The subsequent follow-up group meetings are held before submitting the progress report to the doctoral programme by the end of April or if the doctoral student's contract of employment at the University of Jyväskylä is ending, at least 1 month before the contract ends. More information below.

Organization of the follow-up group meeting

The doctoral student is responsible for arranging the meeting annually. A face-to-face meeting is recommended, but if this is not possible, you may consider using tools for real time online communication, such as Skype or video conference. Email alone is not acceptable. It should be noted that the doctoral programme cannot offer financial support for meeting arrangements.

In the beginning of the meeting, the doctoral student, her/his supervisor(s), and the follow-up group members are present. The discussion should be led by the student whereas the role of the supervisor is more of a guiding nature. The doctoral student should also discuss with the group members without the supervisor(s) being present, and the supervisor(s) should discuss with the group without the student being present.

The follow-up group meetings are “checkpoints” where the student looks back, evaluates the progress of her/his PhD project, identifies the problems (if any) and sets the next goals for her/himself. It is not necessary to make a PowerPoint presentation for the meeting but the follow-up group meeting should be mainly about discussion and dialogue. In the meeting, the follow-up group will go through the progress report and the plan, discuss the student’s progress and future plans, and make suggestions for future directions if necessary. There is no definitive way to run a group meeting and the nature of the follow-up group meeting changes as the PhD project proceeds (see below).

After the follow-up meeting, the student submits to the doctoral programme the up-dated progress report which includes a brief report of the follow-up group discussion (see instruction in the progress report template). The follow-up group meeting should be documented so that it is possible to return to it as a basis for preparing for the next meeting. More instruction in the template of the progress report. An off-the-record discussion may be needed in the meeting. The student should clearly states which part of the discussion she/he does not want to be documented. If the member of the follow-up group want, they can also write a separate report and submit it to the doctoral programme. Please note that it will be forwarded to the doctoral student and her/his supervisor(s).

The first follow-up group meeting

The first meeting of the follow-up group must take place within 3 months of the doctoral student has been granted the right of postgraduate study. As the PhD studies are in the initial stage, the doctoral student submits her/his study and research plan instead of the progress report to the follow-up group at least 2 weeks prior to the meeting. That is, the focus of the meeting is on the study and research plan. Also the role of the follow-up group should be discussed. Reports and follow-up forms are not written but the student informs the doctoral programme that the meeting has taken place (date, place, participants) by filling in the online form. You may discuss:

  • Dissertation requirements at the University of Jyväskylä (in Finnish, in English)
  • The role and tasks of the follow-up group (see here)
  • What are the duties of the follow-up group members and the doctoral students (with the respect to the meetings)?
  • The role of the follow-up group when a student is considering not continuing her/his PhD project or her/his supervisor(s) considers that the doctoral student is unable to complete PhD project (more information here).
  • What does the student hope to get from the follow-up group?
  • What is the topic of the PhD?
  • What are the goals? Are they realistic?
  • What is the student’s schedule? E.g. when is she/he going to defend her/his thesis, the approximate schedule of the research and doctoral studies?
  • How realistic and feasible is the schedule?
  • What studies are the student planning to do and how will they support the PhD project? See the degree requirements.
  • What other activities that might improve her/his skills the student is planning to take (e.g. visits abroad)?
  • What are likely to be her/his biggest obstacles and challenges in completing the dissertation?
  • What are the next goals?
  • More example questions and tips for the meeting (in Finnish, in English)

The subsequent follow-up group meetings

After the first follow-up meeting, the student organizes a follow-up group meeting at least once a year. Part-time doctoral students have a follow-up group, but it does not necessarily meet every year. Doctoral students are encouraged to use their follow-up groups actively, not only in connection with the annual meeting. Deadline for the yearly meeting (and the progress report) is in April or if the doctoral student's contract of employment at the University of Jyväskylä is ending, at least 1 month before the contract ends. Once the date of the defence and the name of the opponent have been decided there is no requirement for further group meetings. At the latest in the follow-up group meeting (which should be just before the end of the third year), the follow-up group should discuss the dissertation date and the proposals for preliminary examiners and the opponent. The doctoral student submits the progress report to all members of the follow-up group at least 2 weeks prior to the meeting. In the meeting, the student will present the progress of the PhD project, formal studies and future plans. After the meeting, the student submits the updated report to the doctoral programme via an online form.

You may discuss:

  • What did the student accomplish since the last meeting?
  • Has the PhD project (studies and research) progressed as planned?
  • What went well?
  • What did not go well?
  • What obstacles kept the student from meeting her/his goals?
  • In what ways will/did the student address those obstacles?
  • What problems the student has encountered? E.g., with a part of the dissertation itself, a relationship problem that has arisen in conjunction to the dissertation work.
  • Does the student get sufficient guidance and support from her/his supervisor(s)?
  • Are there sufficient resources available to do the planned research?
  • What will the student do differently in the future?
  • Will the student complete her/his PhD within the target time of 4 years? If not, why and what should the student do differently?
  • What are the next goals?
  • How the follow-up group could give the student support?
  • The role of the follow-up group when a student is considering not continuing her/his PhD project or her/his supervisor(s) considers that the doctoral student is unable to complete PhD project (more information here).
  • Towards the end of the studies the student’s career plans must also be discussed. E.g. has the student considered different career options after PhD?
  • More example questions and tips for the meeting (in Finnish, in English)