Thesis committee

PhD supervision by a team.

The thesis committee has a primary supervisor, who is responsible for day-to-day content supervision, and further members who provide support and counsel on the process, mediating in cases of conflict. Widely used in the Anglo-Saxon world, this model is rare in Germany. Examples include institutions at the University of Freiburg, such as the Spemann Graduate School of Biology and Medicine, the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, and the Bernstein Center.

Birgit Ahrens is a teaching and training coordinator at the Bernstein Center in Freiburg. She has had positive experience with the model: “PhD students are not dependent on any one person and can build up an academic network, while the primary supervisor is able to share the responsibility for supervision. Furthermore, the project benefits from additional expertise, while potentially undesirable developments can be identified earlier.”

More supervision costs more time and therefore more money. Ahrens, too, speaks of additional effort for supervisors that is not to be underestimated. In addition, different opinions may lead to conflicts of loyalty among PhD candidates. Many cooks can either stimulate each other—or spoil the proverbial broth.