Introducing the CWTS ECR/PhD Council

Introducing the CWTS ECR/PhD Council

In this blog post, we'll introduce you to the CWTS ECR/PhD Council, shedding light on its significance, objectives, and how it can serve as a crucial resource for early career researchers and PhDs at CWTS.

CWTS is an interdisciplinary institute at Leiden University with a diverse multinational academic culture. PhD candidates, early career researchers, and visiting scholars from around the world gather at CWTS to pursue their research journeys. The journey can be an inspiring yet challenging experience. It might be filled with research, innovation, and personal growth, but it can also be a journey that feels isolating at times due to the solitary nature of research. Researchers need to spend extended periods working alone, which can lead to a sense of detachment from the broader social and academic community. Loneliness can be particularly challenging for our PhD candidates, early career researchers and visiting researchers who have transitioned to a new, unfamiliar environment. To counter this and to create a dynamic and supportive community, in September, we have started an Early Career Researcher (ECR) /PhD council with the two of us, Qianqian Xie as the Chair and Dmitry Kochetkov as a Council member, in the lead.

What does it mean to be a PhD candidate or early career researcher?

There is more to being a PhD candidate than just obtaining a degree. It assumes full involvement in the research process, from generating ideas to implementing them practically. The research process includes not only conducting research but also actively participating in academic events such as seminars, conferences, symposia, and round tables. Here, PhD candidates can exchange experiences with peers, discuss their ideas, and become familiar with new methods and approaches in their field of knowledge.

Being a PhD candidate also entails constant self-development and self-education. It is necessary to continuously update one's knowledge, monitor new trends and discoveries in their field. Ultimately, all of this contributes to the development of the PhD candidates’ professional skills, their readiness for independent research activities, and successful careers.

To some extent, the same holds true for early career researchers – not only the PhD candidates. Early career researchers are people taking their first steps in a academic career. They have a fresh and critical view of the world, full of energy and desire to contribute to the development of science. At CWTS, quite a few colleagues are doing research without following a PhD trajectory. We realized that we need to include them as well, since some of their struggles are the same.

To provide support on the PhD and early career journey, we established the ECR/PhD Council.

What is the ECR/PhD Council?

The ECR/PhD Council is a small, dedicated body (currently consisting of two members) within CWTS that brings together PhDs and early career researchers. The Council is committed to the promotion of internal communication, coordination of supportive and networking activities, and social cohesion within the ECR/ PhD community. At the same time, the Council is the formal connection between the ECRs and PhDs and the CWTS PhD coordinator and the CWTS management board.

What are we planning to do?

  • Building a Supportive Community: Pursuing an ECR/PhD can often feel like a solitary endeavor. The ECR/PhD Council offers a supportive community where individuals can connect, share experiences, and provide emotional support to one another. The Council members also take the lead in organizing non-academic related meetings and informal ECR/PhD moments, to provide support for the well-being and social needs of individuals beyond their academic pursuits. For instance, introducing properly new CWTS ECRs/PhD candidates and discussing challenges met during the PhD trajectory. Every two months we will have informal ECR/PhD moments (on-site), including drinks and pub-quizzes.
  • Academic Networking Opportunities: The Council provides a platform for networking with peers, mentors and potential collaborators, opening doors to new research opportunities. The Council holds monthly ECR/PhD internal seminars. These meetings will be held in hybrid format and in English to be as inclusive as possible. ECRs/PhD candidates may present and discuss academic work (proposals, results, papers, posters). We are also delighted to announce that the Council hosts farewell meetings for early career researchers, providing them with the opportunity to present the research they have conducted during their time at CWTS. Of course, this event is not mandatory but highly encouraged.
  • Buddy system: New CWTS PhD candidates are now offered the opportunity to be paired with a senior CWTS PhD candidate (a 2nd or 3rd year PhD candidate). External PhD candidates will also benefit from this system.
  • Providing insights to the CWTS Management Board.

    What has happened so far?

    Our experience of joining the ECR/PhD Council has been great so far! It’s not just about attending meetings and organizing events. It’s all about being part of a supportive and dynamic academic community. Here’s what the experience has been like:

    • Community Building: We’ve had the opportunity to connect with fellow PhD students and early career researcher from various fields, which has broadened our perspective.
    • Professional Development: Workshops, seminars and resources offered by the council are sharpening our professional skills and broaden our knowledge base.
    • Voice and Advocacy: The council gives us a platform to voice our needs and concerns as PhD candidates and early career researchers. It’s empowering to know that our interests are being represented.
    • Collaboration and Leadership: We’ve already been encouraged to take on leadership roles within the council, which we hope will allow us to develop leadership and teamwork skills.

    On October 13, 2023, ECR/PhD Council held its first welcoming meeting, at which the new PhD candidate and a new postdoc had a chance to introduce their research. The chairman of the Council also introduced all issues relevant to do a PhD at CWTS (i.e. facilities and services offered to PhDs, PhD trainings and courses, etc.). Even though the meeting took place on Friday, 13 nothing terrible happened. On the contrary, the meeting was held in a warm, friendly atmosphere.

    Welcoming event photo
    First welcoming event organised by the ECR/PhD Council.

    After the meeting, the council prepared food for all participants, and one of our colleagues even taught others how to roll spring rolls. It was not only a fascinating cultural experience but also an excellent way to strengthen relationships.

    If you would like to share your experience on how PhD activities are organized in your institution or if you have any questions, you can reach us via!

    Header image: Hannah Busing


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