Foreign grant researchers usually do not have any work space of their own and often feel neglected. “Our position is a grey area.”
For support, they are forced to depend on the charity of institutes and faculties; they cannot take anything for granted.
A number of these grant students recently wrote a letter calling attention to their problems; they are fed up with the arbitrariness and the lack of facilities. The Executive Board was shocked to hear the complaints and has promised to look into the issues and come up with solutions. The PhD students have also been discussing their situation with the institutes’ management.
But what exactly is wrong? Wen Pan and Xinrong Ma both came from China to get their doctorates in Political Science; their research is funded by universities in their home country. “One problem is that it is not clear who exactly is responsible for us: the faculty, the institute or the graduate school”, explains Xinrong Ma. “The situation is never the same in any two places.” Wen Pan adds: “Our position is a grey area.”
Although the grant researchers realise that their situation is not the same as that of research fellows, they would be grateful it they were to have similar facilities.
“I’ve been here for three years”, says Wen Pan. “Before I arrived, I was told I would not have my own office, so that wasn’t a surprise. My supervisor tried to find somewhere for me to work, but nothing was available so now I do my work in the library.”
This inequality between grant researchers and regular PhD students raises some awkward problems: “Research fellows have a copy card, but I don’t, and I have to pay for courses for things like presentation skills which regular research fellows get for free. The same applies to attending important congresses – they are often free for “regular” PhD students but entrance fees are difficult to arrange for us.”
“Some of the external PhD students are in Leiden full time”, says Behrouz Karoubi, an Iranian who is doing linguistic research. “And in that case, there really should be basic facilities available, such as work space, free use of the copiers, etc. Otherwise it is very difficult to get any work done. Grant researchers do not get assistance as a matter of course. I’m lucky enough to be able to use an office in the Huygens Building, but I have to share it with seven other people. However, the faculty did its best to get us that space, and we appreciate that. They’re not obliged to help us in any way. No one is responsible for us.”
All this adds to the mental strain. “Some people are at risk of becoming alienated, it’s all very tiresome.”
“I have an office, but not on the same floor as the Political Science faculty”, says Xinrong Ma, who has been here for nine months. “It isolates you from your colleagues.”
Wen Pan continues: “The problem is that we do not really become involved in our colleagues’ work at the institute and there is a lack of communication. I miss that. We want to join the institute’s mailing list so that we can stay abreast of all the developments.”
Wen Pan would like to be part of a team. “Emotional support is very important too. I’m not an object, I’m a human being. Many Chinese students have asked us whether it is a good idea to come to Leiden for their doctorate”, she says. “They have the impression that the institute is poor.”