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About the start of the Digital PhD Support Groups

The first Digital PhD Groups started the end of March 2020. Yes, you are right, in the middle of the Corona lockdown (for most of the world). I thought that there must have been many PhD researchers working from home, locked-up inside their apartment for most of the time, physically seperated from colleagues, friends and family. These first groups were specifically aimed for those persons finding it hard to focus on their research in these crazy times. Together with the input of these first groups, I have developed a program of 6 sessions.

What’s the idea?

You’ll join a small digital group of fellow PhD candidates via Zoom. We will have 5 weekly video calls to discuss your plans and your challenges for the week. The goal is to feel re-energized after a session, motivated, and to know where to start from there. Moreover, each week we will cover a different topic.

What topics will be covered?

  • How to set realistic goals
  • How to focus
  • How to be motivated and how to deal with frustration
  • How to plan
  • Work-life harmony

How I work and what to expect

I believe that when you’re a PhD Candidate, or a MSc student, you have achieved many things in life already. Therefore, I give you a lot of responsibility in the process. I’ll be honest with you, and in return, you can be honest with me. As I did a PhD myself, I can relate to your process and feelings.

In case of the Digital PhD Groups, I expect your responsibility of being prepared for a session, and active participation. That’s how you’ll get most out of it! I’m always open for structural feedback!

Is the Digital PhD Group something for me?

The Digital PhD Support Group is something for you if:

  • You find yourself struggling sometimes (or most of the time) with how to focus, you don’t know where to start, or you feel a bit lost
  • You feel that you could use a little extra support
  • You are open for novel insights and are committed to try them out
  • You like to meet other PhD candidates from all over the world
  • You are willing to share your experiences
  • You love to learn from others

When not to sign up?

  • If everything runs smoothly and you don’t need additional support
  • If you are not willing to share your thoughts and experiences
  • If you are judging others or are comparing
  • If you don’t want to work on your struggles throughout the week
  • If you want to discuss your research content-wise (if that’s the case: Great! Feel free to check out my individual consultation)


For several weeks, Tonke provided us with excellent guidance, support, and encouragement through a weekly scheduled digital PhD group. Each session was organized and provided a safe space for each member to discuss how they were feeling, what their progress was on last week's goals, and what they would like to accomplish for the week. The moderator planned for specific topics, providing resources to facilitate each discussion. Tonke was an excellent facilitator and leader of this group, ensuring that each member could share their thoughts, and did a wonderful job of motivating us to remain positive, productive, and to keep improving our work-life balance. I mostly enjoyed being held accountable by peers and being able to talk about issues we face as PhD students, especially during a difficult time like a pandemic. The most valuable takeaway was the fresh perspective I gained on writing, planning, motivation, and self-care from PhD students abroad! My favorite session was the planning topic - we were able to share our screens and share different methods for short and long-term planning, some of which I am incorporating into my own time management practice!

Lietsel Richardson - University of Central Florida, USAMechanical Engineering

The PhD Group was a real life-saver - not only because there was/is a corona lockdown in Germany, but also because it took effort to adapt to a new home-office situation. The weekly meetings helped me to take time for my own projects (in and outside of work), set goals for the week and even reflect on the long term perspective. I valued most that it wasn’t about our actual Phd topics, but rather how we bring harmony to our daily life. Everyone of us shared our successes, failures and goals without being ashamed and I felt supported by my group. I loved to see that although we were all from different countries and disciplines, we could all relate to the others' feelings. Tonke is a great group mentor, she makes sure each and everyone gets to talk, responds to individual situations and struggles and doesn’t only share her experiences on finishing a PhD, but also blends into the group, letting (conversational) hierarchies disappear by never loosing them out of sight. PhD groups on Monday were a good start into the new week!

Constanze Küchler - Universität Augsburg, GermanyMedia, Knowledge, and Communication

I would recommend these sessions to any PhD students who are looking for a bit of support in their PhD journey but also who are willing to share and learn from others on a similar path. Tonke is very welcoming and friendly so you feel at easy quickly.

Emily Thomas - University of London, UKPsychophysics and Neuroimaging

It was so lovely to connect with other academics, who were at different stages in their programmes, who could share their advice and experience. Our sessions were well planned and well researched, and you did a great job at chairing them so that everyone got to talk. It was so helpful to set aside a time each week where I could think properly about how I work, how I can be more productive and how I can maintain that essential work/life balance. You shared so many good tips and tricks and I have enjoyed implementing them! Finally, you’re approachable, kind, friendly and always so happy!

Harriet Earle-Brown - University of Exeter, UKGeography

The Digital PhD Group was a really nice way to connect with other PhDs from all over the world and talk about topics that we could use some extra help with such as time management, planning and motivation.
The fact that Tonke asked us what we wanted to discuss each week ensured that we discussed topics that were relevant to us. The size of the group and the way she moderated the conversation helped create a safe space where everybody shared openly about their progress and goals.

Deborah Sumter - Delft University of Technology, the NetherlandsIndustrial Design Engineering

As a PhD Group we had a wonderful support participating at Tonke’s PhD Digital Group. She was professional, conscientious and hard working preparing each week different topics that empowered a dynamic process towards our PhD focus. The Group was scientific content free and that was the secret of its success, as it has given us important tools how to cooperate with things that really matter, such as time management, motivation, focus, balance work-life etc.

We really appreciate Doctor Tonke and her commitment to our focus.

I trust her and therefore I highly recommend her!

Melina Laina - GreeceApplied linguistics

Participating in the Digital PhD Group was a very valuable experience for me. On the one hand, it provided a unique platform to discuss struggles and challenges regarding the PhD process with peers from different disciplines. On the other hand, it helped me to formulate short and long-term goals and to reflect on them throughout the weeks. Overall, it provided me with valuable insights on where I stand in my PhD and how to stay motivated and focused. Tonke facilitated this experience brilliantly.

Karlijn Hoyer - Tilburg University, the NetherlandsSocial Psychology

I really found the techniques useful and it indeed worked for me. Setting up self-care and short term goals helped me to better plan my activities. Now, I feel it's up to me to stick to that routine.

Tonke is a really sweet person. She ensured that everyone had there ideas or opinions heard, and provided useful tips to make our life a little better during the tough times stuck at home. She made the environment really comfortable to share our thoughts and overall the meetings were a very pleasant experience for me. I would definitely recommend her course for anyone who wants to plan their research better or just to sit and have a nice talk with PhDs from other countries.

Nandalal Girichandran - Delft University of Technology, the NetherlandsLarge Scale Energy Storage

I got to know a lot of traits that will be very useful during the time of my PhD journey. Some of them include planning well in advance, how to do effective planning, how to focus without distraction, how to be strong mentally and motivated during this long journey at times of failure etc. Most of the suggestions were spot on when actually reflected upon a time later. I hope you organize these kinds of events many more in the future that will help many PhD's struggling all around the world.

Vikram Korede - Delft University of Technology, the NetherlandsProcess & Energy


We ran groups in Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. New groups start soon!

119 euros

everything included

(rates apply to private individuals)

Ready? Sign up for the waiting list Here