Vrije Universiteit has made ten doctoral positions available to people with disabilities. There are more directions, but the level remains the same.
Ideally, people with disabilities should not apply for a doctoral position through a special process. However, this has not yet been achieved in the academic world, admits PhD student Evelyn Wolfe (41). Vrije Universiteit (VU) has therefore provided a subsidy for ten places for people with disabilities who wish to obtain a doctoral degree.
Jobs at universities for people with disabilities currently focus largely on support jobs.
During several brainstorming sessions of the steering groups to achieve greater diversity at the university, the question was raised about how to ensure the recruitment of more scientific staff with disabilities. Then it turns out that they must first be given the opportunity to obtain a doctorate degree. This does not seem to happen automatically.
“It’s a shame that it has to be done, but if you look at how things work at universities and with PhD programmes, you will understand it better,” says Wolf, who will supervise PhD students and work on a PhD himself. disability.
“The workload is high at universities and supervisors are busy. So, if you had to choose who to hire, you would likely choose people who you expect to check all the boxes. “Or someone who fits the image of the ideal PhD candidate, although you have to wonder if that exists,” says Wolfe, who stresses that there is still a lot of prejudice about people with disabilities.
“People have all kinds of ideas about this that are not always true. For example, people with disabilities are often late or absent. We know from research that this does not have to be the case at all. And expectations are different too.”
“If you have two people, one of whom is not disabled and has all kinds of additional papers and projects on his CV and the other with a disability has successfully completed his studies, in theory both should have an equal chance of getting a PhD position. In practice, things are different and that is why The reason this project is necessary: “To show that it is possible,” Wolff says.
VU is funding the first year. If it doesn’t work out at first or turns out to be a mismatch, no one loses.
However, it’s not just about the money. Wolf knows from experience that there is a special benefit to the right guidance. She suffered a spinal injury when she was 17 and is now in a wheelchair.
“I went to study psychology at Victoria University and at the time there was a special student advisor for people with a physical disability. That has now been reduced, but at the time he still helped me make a realistic plan, for example.
Spasticity, autism and physical limitations. There are different challenges that fall under the heading of disability and not every person with a disability needs help and not everyone needs the same help.
For example, Wolf particularly benefited from help with her resilience. “I wanted to overcompensate because I felt like I had to put in the extra effort to show that my mind could handle this level perfectly, that I could do it all. I caught myself in that. During the first years of my studies, I immediately passed all the subjects. I went out and pretended That my disability doesn’t exist. Then I went beyond my limit and had to rest for a while. Now I know better what I can and can’t do and what’s possible. Yes, I need care and I need a lot of help. I go out and get into bed and turn over at night, But I’m also smart enough to be a scientist.
She sees overcompensation for herself in many people with disabilities. “This is also one of the reasons why we provide additional guidance during the PhD process. Personalization. Because everyone needs something different.”
For Wolf, overtime is a no-go. “You have to look at it this way: to arrange my care, I already have a job in addition to mine. I can’t work evenings and weekends. That’s what is still expected of PhD students, and in any case, we have to ask: can you expect that? “From someone? But that’s a different discussion.”
The ten doctoral students in this new program will have Wolf as an additional supervisor. You will discuss this with the PhD candidate and supervisor to create a practical PhD program that benefits everyone.
People are flexible
Because, Wolf asserts, there is also a need for more diversity in science. “Different researchers give us more diversity in research and insight. People with disabilities are often flexible and able to solve problems, because they are used to dealing with the situation that confronts them. These are very important qualities for scientists.”
One of the ten promotion spots has already been filled. The research is about how non-human actors such as trees, soil and animals respond in crisis situations such as fire or drought. The woman who doesn’t want her name to appear in the newspaper is autistic and needs an assistance dog. The first conversations about how she can get additional guidance have already begun.
Wolf: “It’s important to her that I build a bridge between the caregivers outside the university and the mentoring at the university. How can a doctoral student apply what she has learned in therapy and with a trainer within her doctoral degree?
You can still apply for the other nine positions. “And not everyone needs extensive guidance,” Wolff says. “We look at what someone needs, and if that means just a casual conversation, that’s it. If more is needed, more is available.”
About the author: Rawnaq Khudari writes in Het Parol about education, youth, and young adults. In her series Nieuwe Lichting she looks at the challenges and trends faced by people in their 20s and 30s in the city.
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