CAREER PATHS. The SA PhD Coach Network initiative has turned out well at Sahlgrenska Academy. The first four young researchers have now been certified for coaching, and in the spring the network’s third round of training will begin.
The SA PhD Coach Network, or SA-CONE, has two purposes: for young researchers to develop their leadership skills and for PhD students to receive support in their professional development. A total of 15 junior researchers have now completed training in coaching and have started coaching PhD students and postdocs at Sahlgrenska Academy. In connection with a network meeting this week, four of them were officially certified in coaching.
“Certification indicates that they have the experience required to independently act as PhD coaches. It is proof that they have completed leadership training and conducted 10 coaching sessions. For the faculty, certification means that the initiative has paid off and that we now have a good foundation for the network to provide additional impact,” says Anna Karlsson-Bengtsson, vice dean and chair of the Council for Third-cycle Studies (FUR), which initiated SA-CONE in collaboration with Future Faculty.
The four young researchers certified were Elisabet Jerlhag Holm, Marie Kalm, Carl-Fredrik Flach and Justin Schneiderman. However, Schneider was not able to participate in the certification ceremony.
To qualify as coaches in the network, the young researchers completed five days of training in coaching. They can then begin supporting PhD students and postdocs in matters such as setting goals for their postgraduate studies, finding tools for attaining their goals or finding ways to work more effectively.
“The fact that there are so many who have completed their training and more who want to do so shows that there is a clear willingness among young researchers to develop their leadership skills and that there is also a need for PhD students to receive the guidance a coach can provide,” says Elisabet Jerlhag Holm, who will soon succeed Marie Kalm in chairing the network.
A large black hole
The pent-up demand among PhD students for coaching becomes apparent when the coaches in the network share their experiences. A common issue is the uncertainty of what will become of the PhD students after they defend their thesis:
“For many, being a PhD student means a chance to really immerse themselves in their area of specialization for four years, but after that their future is like a big black hole,” says one member of the network.
“I have met PhD students who are not even halfway through their postgraduate studies and who already think that the uncertain future is very stressful.”
“PhD students are in a precarious situation, and being coached gives them a way to deal with this uncertainty.”
“There are many rumors circulating among PhD students that continuing in research is hopeless and a lost cause. But often students have not looked into the true state of affairs and the options they have.”
Anna Karlsson-Bengtsson listens, and interjects:
“The fact that so many perceive the end of postgraduate studies as a black hole makes it clear that the faculty needs to provide more career guidance for PhD students and young researchers.”
A third round of training
So far there have been two rounds of training in coaching for young researchers, and in the spring a third series of training sessions will be offered. Despite a lack of time, researchers are very interested in participating.
“We have some people on a waiting list and some who have already expressed interest in taking part in the next training. Young research managers receive really good leadership training that also makes them better supervisors in their own group,” says outgoing SA-CONE Chair Marie Kalm.
Considerably more research managers in the faculty could benefit from a coaching approach, the network noted during its meeting. When Sahlgrenska Academy fills the vacant position of academy-wide director of studies in the near future, special attention will be given to developing support for supervisors, explains Ann Karlsson-Bengtsson: “As coaches, PhD students mature and learn to a greater extent to take personal responsibility for their own professional development. In the future it may be possible for us to broaden our coaching initiative, so the training also becomes available to supervisors,” she muses.
TEXT AND PHOTO: ELIN LINDSTRÖM CLAESSEN