Your PhD Advisory Committee (PAC)

1. What is the point?

The success of any scientific project can be greatly enhanced when it is discussed with multiple experienced scientists. (Best practice guide by Max Planck Society)

During regular PAC meetings, you and your advisors deliberate extensively about results, past and future development as well as strategic decisions regarding your PhD project. Career planning and networking are also important aspects of the PAC meetings.

Writing your thesis proposal will help you to structure your work effectively. It is a powerful way to brief your PhD advisory committee members on the state of your project (and the state of the art) and will enable them to give better advise.

2. What is the PAC?

The PAC is a committee consisting of at least three senior scientists who guide the doctoral researcher in all aspects of her/his PhD. The PAC includes

  • the main supervisor,
  • another IMPRS faculty member from the partnering institution, and
  • an external scientist, ideally related to the foreign research visit

Other scientists strongly involved in the supervision should also participate.

The most important criterion for the selection of the PAC members is that they have the expertise and time to advise the PhD candidate with regard to their current research project, but also regarding their future career. Different scientific perspectives are constructive as long as there is a strong common interest in the research topic.

For PhD candidates working on special projects it can happen that none of the IMPRS faculty members fulfills the above criteria for co-advisors. In this case, the search is first extended to other professors at the FSU, then to other universities.

3. Timing

The PAC should meet

  • 3-5 months after the start of the PhD,
  • 12 months after the start of the thesis,
  • 20 months after the start of the thesis,
  • 30 months after the start of the thesis,
  • in between or afterwards if needed.

Of course, the PhD candidate should also have a kick-off meeting with the core advisors from his/her institution right at the start of the project.

The PhD candidate is in charge to initiate all meetings, with the possible exception of the kick-off meeting. Feel free to use a poll to find a date which suits all.

Please inform the IMPRS coordinator about the meeting date and place (in advance).

4. Thesis proposal

For the first meeting, the doctoral researcher prepares a thesis proposal in accordance with the IMPRS agreement (May 2021).

4.1  Content

The thesis proposal should include

  1. Title of the thesis, PAC members
  2. A clear development of the research questions/hypotheses out of a detailed review of the recent research in this specific area
    • It is helpful to think in publishable units.
  3. A literature review that reflects the state of the art
  4. A method section on how to answer the research questions
    1. Clearly point out the links to the research questions
  5. Possible results and their implications
  6. A timeline with defined milestones (in form of a simplified Gantt chart), including publications (a cumulative dissertation should be aspired)
  7. A preliminary program for the additional curriculum, tailored to fit this research program and considering the minimum requirements detailed in the IMPRS agreement (including a suggestion for 3-month research stay with foreign research group)
  8. References / bibliography

There are no hard page limits. However, even skilled, concise writers will have difficulties to present all of the above information in less than 5 pages. If you want to use the proposal to give a very detailed overview about the state of the art and your approach, please go ahead. Do make sure though that your document can be easily and quickly navigated by your readers.

4.2  Distribution

The proposal will be sent to the PAC members and the IMPRS coordinator one weeks prior to the meeting. After the PAC meeting, a revised version of the thesis proposal might be sent to the PAC members and the IMPRS coordinator.

5. Thesis report

For all subsequent meetings, an updated version of the thesis proposal is circulated one week prior to the PAC meetings. It should include the progress made so far as well as changes in the work plan.

To write this report is an opportunity to reflect, discuss and document the work you have done for your PhD project and to define objectives for the next months. This will make both your work and meetings more productive and help you to receive more constructive feedback. You will train your writing skills and will benefit when you get to the paper writing stage.

5.1  Content

  1. Title of PhD project, PAC members
  2. Changes in research questions (if any), what has caused these changes?
  3. Updated literature review, especially if new findings have to be considered
    • Optional, but very helpful as a building block for future publications and to understand the research field better
  4. Key steps taken to address research questions since previous report, key results
    • Document issues that might have held you back / difficulties you have overcome,
  5. How do you plan to adress your research questions in the future?
    • Do you expect any problems?
  6. People assisting you, collaborations
  7. Ideas & plans for research stay, if this is still to take place
  8. Updated timeline, say when you expect to submit your thesis
  9. References

6.  Fulfillment of IMPRS requirements

During the 3 years of the PhD project 20 credit points must be collected according to the guidelines of the IMPRS agreement in a way that is most beneficial for the scientific development of the doctoral researcher. The doctoral researcher prepares an overview of his/her curricular activities using the list below to inform the PAC about his/her progress, e.g. using this template.

7. Agenda of the meetings

We suggest an overal time frame of maximum 90 minutes. During the first 15 min, the doctoral researcher presents the thesis proposal (or progress report) in a talk. Afterwards the proposal (or progress report) will be discussed, along with the questions given in the >> PAC meeting report form
and the PAC meeting guidelines.

One of the PAC members or the coordinator, if available, fills in the report form. A copy goes to all participants and the IMPRS coordination office.

8. But…

what if one or several PAC members are far a way, either permanently or on frequent travels? Try to integrate a video chat with the absent person(s) into the personal meeting. Just send your slides to the remote participant(s) in advance. These meetings are likely to be much more fruitful than just talking to the absent advisor individually.

9. If PAC meetings are overdue...

... for a long time, the PhD candidate might be suspended from participation in IMPRS courses until the PAC meeting has taken place. Should you as a PhD candidate have problems to motivate your advisors, please talk to the IMPRS coordinator.

10. Questions?

Send an email, call, or come by the IMPRS coordination office.

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