If you are doing an individual PhD there are a few steps you can take to take responsibility off your shoulders and decrease your own mental burden. Every PhD researcher is different so there is no one-size-fits-all solution but some basics should be given in every PhD:

  • Approach your supervisor and involve them in day-to-day as well as long-term project management
  • Ask for regular (at least monthly and ideally weekly) meetings with your supervisor where progress is monitored according to specific milestones
  • Agree together on a realistic long-term timeline and rough publication plans (in case of a cumulative dissertation)
  • Always make a plan B (e.g. analyses on already collected data) in case milestones cannot be reached


If you are in a structured PhD program you probably already have a supervision committee and a time frame for your project. It is always a good idea to address the coordinators of your program and ask them for help (in the case of the ECN: Dr. Oliver Mai-Kolerus or Dr. Benedikt Salmen). They have probably dealt with similar problems before and know the infrastructure of your institution and where to get further help. They are also able to function as a mediator between supervisor and supervisee in the case of disagreements. ECN PhD fellows who could not be helped by either their supervision committees or Dr. Oliver Mai-Kolerus resp. Dr. Benedikt Salmen can contact the ECN conflict mentor, Professor Constance Scharff, to get further help.

  • If there are technical topics your supervisor has less expertise in, find other researchers to ask for their expertise (e.g. in your supervision committee) and get them involved (via your supervisor or with their agreement)
  • Ask senior PhDs and postdocs from your lab or institution for their opinion/help
  • Attend self-management courses (e.g. offered by the HU Graduate School, they often offer left-over places even for non-affiliated students)


If you are an international PhD student this might come with additional cultural and language barriers. There are specific courses on intercultural communication offered by a lot of institutions (e.g. the HU Graduate School and Dahlem Research School).