75th Anniversary: 32) 100 PhD graduates

The 75th anniversary of the Rural Sociology Group also marks another milestone: 100 completed and successfully defended PhD theses. The first PhD graduate was Jan Doorenbos, who successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled ‘Opheusden als boomteeltcentrum‘ (Opheusden as tree-growing centre) on 14 June 1950. His PhD study was supervised by Prof. E.W. Hofstee. The 100th PhD graduate was Lucie Sovová, who successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘Grow, share or buy? Understanding the diverse economies of urban gardeners‘ on 13 October 2020. Her PhD study was supervised by Dr. Esther Veen, Dr. Petr Jehlicka and myself. Below the covers of the 1st and 100th PhD thesis.

In this blog about 100 PhD graduates in 75 years Rural Sociology at Wageningen University, I want to present and reflect on some trends related to these 100 PhD graduates. In another forthcoming blog I will present and reflect on some trends related to the content and focus of these 100 PhD theses.

Trend 1: from less than 1 to close to 4 PhD graduates per year

The 100 PhD theses that were completed in the last 75 years are not evenly distributed over the years, as the figure below shows. In the first 50 years 23 PhD theses were completed, meaning that the average number of PhD graduations was below 1 per year (with no PhD graduations at all in the years 1966-1970 and 1986-1990). This increased to approximately 2 per year in the 1996-2005 period and to almost 4 per year in the last 15 years. There are multiple reasons for this. First, until the 1980s having a PhD degree was not that important for an academic career as it is now. When I did my Masters in Wageningen in the late 1980s and early 1990s a large part of the courses I took were taught by assistant, associate and even full professors without a PhD degree. Nowadays, having a PhD degree is a prerequisite for an academic career. Second, in the early 1980s the Dutch government introduced the so-called ‘Two-phase structure’ for university education, with the second phase referring to a 4 year PhD program. The ambition was that 20% of the MSc graduates would continue with a PhD, and as a result universities created more PhD positions (which were then called assistant-in-training or researcher-in-training positions). Alongside, tenured staff without a PhD degree was also encouraged to write a PhD thesis. While these two reasons may explain the increase from the early 1990s onwards, they do not explain the relative high numbers in the last 15 years, with an average of 3 to 4 PhD graduations per year. These figures are a result of: a) the growth of externally funded research projects in which (part of) the research was/is carried out by PhD students; b) the acquisition of specific PhD programs with multiple PhD projects (NWO-WOTRO, INREF, and EU Marie Curie Training Networks); c) the internationalization of our PhD community (more about this below) with a growing number of PhD scholarships funded by NUFFIC and national governments in Asia (mainly China) and Latin-America. In addition, there has been an internal push for more PhD students due to PhD supervision criteria for RSO staff in Tenure Track. And last but not least, the PhD graduation allowance that we get from the national government (currently approximately € 60,000 per PhD graduate) also implies that there is a financial incentive to have a steady and preferable high inflow of PhD students and outflow of PhD graduates.

Trend 2: The average age at which a PhD degree is obtained remains the same (but becomes more diverse)

The average age at which a PhD degree is obtained has remained fairly stable over the past 75 years (just below 40 in 1950 and just above 40 in 2020), but has become more diverse in recent decades (ranging from 27 to 76 years). When making this overview I had actually expected that the average age at PhD graduation would have shown a downward trend as I assumed that the role of the PhD thesis had changed from someone’s life’s work (a middle- to end-career achievement) to a first stepping stone (an early-career achievement) in an academic career. The latter certainly holds true for a large group that obtained their PhD degree at the age of 35 or younger. However, among the PhD graduates of the last 20 years, the PhD degree has also been an important mid-career stepping stone. Many, in particular international, PhD graduates, who got their PhD degree at the age of 40 to 50, have moved up to senior academic or management positions. And throughout the years we’ve had PhD candidates that embarked on their PhD study more towards the end of their career or even after retirement (with two obtaining their PhD degree at the age of 76). For this relatively small group the PhD thesis has remained a life’s work.

Trend 3: From men only to more gender balance

One aspect that has really changed over the past 75 years is the male/female ratio of PhD graduates. In the past 75 years we’ve had twice as many male graduates as female graduates, as the figure below shows.

However, this 2:1 male-female ratio has not been like that over the past 75 years. In the first 55 years the vast majority of PhD graduates were men (32 men versus 2 women), and this changed considerably in the last 20 years (34 men versus 32 women), as the figure below shows. It clearly reflects the changing male-female ratio of BSc and MSc students at Wageningen University (and most likely also at many other universities in and outside the Netherlands). And this also has had an impact on the gender balance within the current academic staff at the Rural Sociology Group.

Trend 4: From mainly Dutch to ‘all over the world’

Over the past 75 years the PhD community at the Rural Sociology Group has really become international. Although there were a few non-Dutch PhD graduates in the early years, in recent years PhD students come from all over the world: other European countries, Latin America, Africa and Asia (see figures below: Europe refers to all European countries excluding the Netherlands). A large number of the PhD projects of these international PhD students are projects jointly supervised with staff members of the Sociology of Development and Change group, which traditionally has a strong network in Latin America and Africa. The former chair of Rural Sociology, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, also has a large international network, in particular in Italy, several Latin American countries and China, and this has clearly contributed to the inflow of PhD students from these parts of the world. The aforementioned growing importance of external research funding and international PhD scholarships has also contributed to the internationalization of our PhD community. I also assumed that the international focus and status of Wageningen University, with all its MSc and part of its BSc programs taught in English, would have contributed to the internationalization of our PhD community. However, hardly any of our international PhD students has an MSc degree from Wageningen University.

In addition to looking at the countries/regions where our PhD graduates come from, I have also made a figure of where they are currently residing/working or where they were residing when they retired. This basically shows that the vast majority of PhD graduates is residing/working in the country/region where they originate from. Some have moved to other countries and a few of the international PhD graduates have stayed in the Netherlands.

Trend 5: From government official to academic/researcher

A last topic related to 100 Rural Sociology PhD graduates I want to present is their current or last (in case of retirement) sector of employment. Is a PhD degree really a stepping stone for an academic or research career or does it result in careers in a variety of sectors? This has been summarized in the figure below, which shows that many of the PhD graduates in the early years continued their career in government. To be fair, many of those PhD graduates actually had a government job and were given the time and space to do their PhD research while keeping their job as government official and continued as a government official after obtaining their PhD degree. Since the 1990s the PhD degree seems to have been favorable for a career in academia/higher education or at a research institute. Many of our international PhD graduates now have tenured positions at foreign universities as assistant, associate or full professor or as senior scientist or senior manager at a research institute. Some are self-employed as advisors/consultants and a few ended up working for a NGO or in the private sector (in or related to agriculture or elsewhere). But as the primary aim of our PhD program is to train PhD students to become independent researchers/academics, it is great to see that so many do indeed succeed in building a career in (academic) research (and higher education).

75th Anniversary: 1) an introduction to a year of celebration events and activities (updated)

In September 1946 Evert Willem Hofstee, the founding father of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University, started as Professor and Chair of Social and Economic Geography and Social Statistics.

In the years that followed, the department was reorganized and renamed (e.g. Agrarian Sociology of Western Areas; Sociology) several times, with Rural Sociology being the official name since the late 1990s. Hofstee was also one of the founders and the first President of the European Society for Rural Sociology.

The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University will celebrate its 75th Anniversary on the 13th of May 2022. On that day we will organize an international conference at which we will present, discuss and reflect upon the past, present and future of rural sociology in an interactive setting. And we will, of course, also have a party in the evening of the 13th of May 2022 to celebrate 75 years of rural sociology at Wageningen University with current and former staff members, PhD students and graduates, former and current students and colleagues with whom we collaborated in national and international research projects. So SAVE THE DATE if you want participate in our conference and join our party. More details about the conference program will be published on this website soon!

The conference and party will not be the only activity that we will organize to celebrate our 75th anniversary. Starting today, we will arrange a variety of events, activities and outputs leading up to our main festivity on May 13, 2022.

  • A weekly blog (on this website) about the past, present or future of Rural Sociology. This may be about a specific theory, a research project, an event, or something else;
  • A seminar series (online or blended) with agrarian, rural and food sociologists from other universities;
  • A series of rural field trips in the Netherlands, visiting, for example, rural sociology graduates that have become farmers;
  • A PhD Day with and for PhD graduates and PhD candidates and a PhD Magazine with an overview of all PhD graduates, their PhD thesis and career after completion of their PhD thesis;
  • An anniversary book about the past, present and future of Rural Sociology in Wageningen.

We are looking forward to a year of celebration activities and events and hope many of our (former) colleagues and students will do so too. And we hope to welcome you at our celebratory event on the 13th of May 2022. So stay tuned to this blog and get to know more about the past, present and future of Rural Sociology in Wageningen in the forthcoming 12 months.

Update (July 8, 2021): due to COVID-19, the celebratory event is postponed from October 24, 2021 to May 13, 2022

 

Reminder – Vacancy Assistant Professor in Food Sociology (tenure track)

At the Rural Sociology Group we have a job opening for an Assistant Professor (tenure track position) in Food Sociology. As assistant professor you will undertake independent research and participate in international research projects focusing on the dynamics of food provisioning practices and processes and on the relations between food provisioning and sustainable rural and urban development. You will also teach and coordinate Bachelor and Master courses for the Bachelor and Master program International Development Studies (specialization Sociology of Development), the Master program Food Technology (specialization Gastronomy), and the Master program Organic Agriculture and supervise Master thesis research for these programs. Other aspects of the job include project acquisition, training and supervision of PhD students and participation in various research and/or education committees. About 45% of your time will be spent on education, 45% on research and the remaining 10% on a variety of activities within and outside the university.

For more information about the position (and the Rural Sociology Group) go to the vacancy page of Wageningen University or contact Prof.dr. Han Wiskerke (han.wiskerke@wur.nl). Candidates can apply for this position onlineThe deadline for application is Thursday 14 September 2017.

Pre-announcement Vacancy Associate or Full Professor in Agrarian Sociology

On the 5th of January 2017 we will open a vacancy for an associate or full professor in agrarian sociology. We are looking for someone with demonstrated excellence in research and education in the domain of agrarian and rural sociology. The associate/full professor will undertake independent research and participate in (and coordinate) international research projects, focusing on topics such as agricultural and rural development, rural-urban transformation processes, transitions towards regenerative agriculture, and the role of (multifunctional) agriculture in rural eco-economies. The associate/full professor will also teach courses for the Bachelor and Master programs International Development Studies and the Master program Organic Agriculture, and supervise Bachelor and Master thesis students for these programs. Other aspects of the job include project acquisition, training and supervision of PhD students and participation in various research and/or education committees. At least 40% of the time will be spent on research, a maximum of 40% on education and approximately 20% on other aspects.

Candidates applying for this position are expected to have the following qualifications:

  • A PhD degree in (agrarian or rural) sociology, human geography or related social science discipline;
  • An inspiring vision on agrarian sociology and the future challenges and priorities for agrarian studies;
  • An excellent track record in research in agrarian/rural sociology, proven by publications in key international journals and by the successful acquisition of research grants;
  • A relevant international academic network, combined with good connections with grassroots networks and policymakers (at different levels);
  • Ample empirical research experience, preferably in different geographical settings;
  • Proven experience in supervision of PhD candidates;
  • Excellent didactic qualities and the capacity to motivate and inspire students;
  • Teaching competences that comply with the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Program (LTHEP, in Dutch referred to as BKO, a system adopted by all Dutch universities) or willingness to follow the LTHEP;
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • Fluency in English and, if appropriate, willingness to learn Dutch.

If you are interested in this position, keep an eye on the vacancies webpage of Wageningen University or create your job alert, so you will be notified when the vacancy opens. Applications can be submitted between 5 January and 8 February 2017. From 9 January 2017 onwards you can contact me (email: han.wiskerke@wur.nl) for more information about the position.

International Master Sciences of Rural Development (IMRD) – Application open till March 15 2015

IMRD Programme

IMRD Programme

Wageningen University is partner is the International Master of Science in Rural Development (IMRD) and providing an advanced module in Sociology of Rural Development in the 3rd semester.  Students can subsequently do their MSc-thesis in Wageningen. Till March 15 2015 students can apply for a scholarship. See the IMRD website for more information.

Theoretical approaches to the ecologisation of agrifood systems – European Society of Rural Sociology 2014 Summerschool

Transitions towards more sustainable agrifood systems and rural landscapes are at the core of societal demands, technological but also social innovations and renewed public policies at various scales. In rural sociology they are addressed through different theoretical frameworks and the main objective of the ESRS PhD Summer School this year, is to discuss these competing and sometimes articulated frameworks and thereby to help the PhD students to clarify their own theoretical choices and to position them in relation to other theoretical frameworks that are used in rural sociology. For students who are rather at the beginning of their PhD, the aim will be to help them organize their state of the art and clarify their problematisation, while for students who are more advanced, it would rather be a discussion of their results in the light of existing literature and/or possibly the preparation of a future article. All the participants should have an interest in the theoretical frameworks that will be structuring the discussion, i.e. mainly Socio-Ecological Systems/Resilience theories, Food Regime Theory, Transition Theories, Actor Network Theory, and Social Studies of Science and Knowledge. Continue reading