Congratulations! You are about to start your PhD program at the Department of Surgery within the Maastricht University (UM). We want to welcome you at Department of Surgery and provide you with some tips and tricks for a successful PhD program. This Department of Surgery PhD guide is aimed at informing PhD candidates and their supervisors within Department of Surgery about our PhD policy. It offers information about organizational aspects, PhD courses, conferences, supervision, annual interviews, monitoring of the progress of the PhD project, and about the PhD defense.

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The Department of Surgery

The Department of Surgery has a long tradition in translational research. Problems encountered in the daily clinical care of patients are translated into research questions that are experimentally addressed in our laboratories using patient-derived materials and/or via small interventions during surgery. Insights gained from these studies aim to improve patient care and treatment options of patients. Basic and translational research at our department focuses on disorders of all surgical perspectives.

The scientific staff of the Department of Surgery actively participates in diverse courses of the bachelor's and master's programs of the Medicine and Biomedical Sciences curricula of FHML. Staff members have coordinating roles, provide lectures, act as a tutor during Problem-Based Learning, and guide students during internships. A variety of internships for medical and biomedical students is offered by each of our research programs.

There are several divisions within the department of Surgery: 

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Secretary and administrations

Nicole Hermans is responsible for issuing the Umcards and also office spaces at the UM to new PhD-students.

The Surgery secretariary is responsible for issuing MUMC+ cards, SAP access and other licenses.

You can contact Nicole (UM) or Sabeth (MUMC+) for administrative questions. If you are in need for office supplies, think of office basics like paper, notebooks, toner, folders, mailing supplies, writing instruments but also computers or laptops, please ask the secretary for advice.

A PhD program at the Department of Surgery

The general aim of the PhD program is to encounter in the daily clinical care of patients are translated into research questions that are experimentally addressed in our laboratories using patient-derived materials and/or via small interventions during surgery. The PhD candidate will be trained to take ownership of its own research project and, as a result, becomes an independent scientific researcher. The PhD candidates receive supervision from highly experienced and internationally acknowledged scientific researchers associated with the Department of Surgery, supervised by their specific professor.

The main objective of the PhD candidate is to perform scientific research (typically a series of experimental studies), resulting in a PhD thesis. A PhD thesis consists of a summary of the work performed within the PhD project. This experimental research can be published in peer reviewed international journals. Guidelines for publishing your research are different for each journal and can be found on the journal’s website. PhD deliverables differ per project and will be discussed within the team of supervisors at the start of the PhD project. In addition, the PhD thesis includes an introductory chapter and a conclusion chapter. The UM also requires that the PhD thesis contains a valorization chapter. The PhD program of the Department of Surgery is led by their specific professor and daily supervisors (co-promotors). An overview of the monitoring system of a PhD candidate in The Department of Surgery is shown below. All related forms can be found in the PhD guide folder on the server.

Table 1. PhD monitoring system at DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY

Documentation at the start of the PhD Program

  • At the start of each PhD project, a PhD research plan is filled out which contains a detailed description of the PhD project (including several subprojects). This document is signed by the PhD candidate, the promoters/supervisors, and a member from the HR office of the FHML at the start of the PhD project. The PhD candidates will upload their plan in PhD TRACK. You can find your track under the section “Monitoring of progress in TRACK”. Here you will find the different weblinks to the research school.

  • No later than twelve weeks after the start of each PhD project, a Training and supervision plan is filled out and signed by the PhD candidate and the team of promoters. This PhD Training and supervision plan contains PhD project details, the studies to be conducted, the team of promoters/supervisors, and the planning of the studies that need to be fulfilled by the PhD candidate. Aspects such as teaching, courses, conferences and other obligations are also included in this plan. This document is signed at the start of the PhD project by the PhD candidate, the promotor, supervisors, and a member of the HR department of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life sciences (FHML). The PhD candidate will upload her plan in PhD TRACK. More information about supervision of the PhD candidate, as well as the method to monitor progress in the PhD project, you can find under under the section “Monitoring of progress in TRACK”.

Duration of PhD program

A regular (full-time) PhD candidate in The Netherlands needs on average four years to finish the PhD thesis (extension is possible in case of delay for reasons outside of the research such as pregnancy, maternity/paternity leave). It is important that at the start of each PhD project the starting and end date are carefully estimated and determined.

PhD supervision

During all steps of the PhD project, supervision will be provided (e.g., feedback during the writing process, methodological advice on data analysis, etc.) by means of face to face meetings, or for external PhD candidates via email, Skype, and telephone. Two (min.) or three (max.) supervisors are involved. Normally, one promotor (professors) and one co-promotor (daily supervisor) are assigned to each PhD project. Together they are responsible for monitoring and stimulating the progress and quality of the project. In the case of external collaborations, the PhD candidates are assigned a local supervisor (holding a PhD degree). When a supervisory committee for specific reasons wishes to include more than 3 members, approval from the dean needs to be obtained.

PhD candidates schedule (proactively) a one-hour meeting with their promoters (professors) approximately once every month. The PhD candidate submits an agenda for the meetings and documents to be discussed and makes a short memo about the appointments that have been made. Normally, the co-promoter and/or the daily supervisor organize regular supervision meetings with the PhD candidate. PhD candidates schedule about one meeting a week with their daily supervisor of approximately one hour. In addition, contact with the daily supervisor is desirable in case of questions. The hours specified for supervision hold for PhD candidates with a contract of at least 0.8 full-time equivalents (fte). PhD candidates who work less hours on their PhD receive a proportional number of hours for supervision per week. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that the numbers of hours of supervision per week might differ throughout the PhD project. At a later stage of the PhD project, the PhD candidate might need fewer amounts of contact hours. In the case of an external collaboration, meetings will be organized with the external experts in the field to discuss progress and outlook of the PhD trajectory.

Besides face to face progress meetings with their supervisors, the PhD candidate is also required to present its research in weekly and/or monthly group meetings.

Monitoring of progress (TRACK)

Progress of the PhD project is monitored by the PhD candidate and his/her team through the online program TRACK. To access this program, select your school below:

All PhD students receive a TRACK account at the start of their project and are asked to complete missing information. They also upload their Training and Supervision Plan and Personal Research Plan within 12 weeks after the starting date. Once a year, a questionnaire is sent out to the PhD to evaluate progress. The content of the questionnaire is afterwards discussed in a PhD evaluation meeting with the supervisors.

PhD coordinator and confidential PhD counselor

A PhD coordinator is available for all PhD candidates involved in the Department of Surgery. These coordinators can be found under specific school in which you work in (see section Research Schools).

The PhD coordinator has the following responsibilities: to inform the PhD candidates about the PhD policy, about PhD courses, supervision of PhD candidates and about teaching obligations of the PhD candidates. These topics will also be discussed in this PhD guide. The PhD coordinator can also be contacted by PhD candidates and PhD supervisors when problems are encountered within the PhD project.

The PhD coordinator is also responsible for use of the monitoring system TRACK. Furthermore, a confidential PhD counselor is available for PhD candidates within your research school. PhD candidates can discuss matters with the confidential counselor that they prefer not to discuss with their supervisors or with the PhD coordinator. The confidential counselor will treat all information confidentially. PhD candidates are recommended, if possible, to first discuss their concerns with their supervisors and to search with their team of supervisors for solutions if problems are experienced. However, if there are particular issues that they would not like to discuss with their supervisors or if they need advice on how to discuss a difficult topic with their supervisors, there is always the possibility to discuss it with the PhD confidential counselor of your research school. In case of serious conflicts, it is also possible to consult the confidential office of Maastricht University.

PhD courses

Each PhD candidate is entitled to follow courses as part of the PhD program. Below, we have listed suggestions for these courses which are offered by UM and/or Department of Surgery. The PhD candidate can always suggest courses and summer schools offered externally and discuss this with its supervision team.

  • Each PhD candidate is entitled to follow courses as part of the PhD program. There are several mandatory online modules for internal and external UM PhD candidates. Which can be found under the following weblink:  For more information and instructions, read the practical information page. In case of any questions, you can e-mail: 

    Each PhD candidate is entitled to follow suggested courses as part of the PhD program. Below, we have listed suggestions for these courses which are offered by UM and/or Department of Surgery. The PhD candidate can always suggest courses and summer schools offered externally and discuss this with its supervision team.

    Relevant PhD courses for PhD candidates are offered by Maastricht University. The most relevant face-to-face courses are: English writing skills for the Sciences (part I), English writing skills for the Sciences (part II), Presentation skills in English, and Self-management for first year PhD candidates. These and more PhD courses can be found on the webpage of UM’s Staff Development Centre.

    The career centre at Maastricht University also offers career management courses for PhD-candidates in the last year of their PhD project. A three or four-day long course is offered as well as possibilities for individual coaching and advice.

    Information about these courses can be found at the following websites:

    PhD training programs:

    Current PhDs:

    An increasing number of PhD courses are offered online, such as ‘Online PhD writing course’ offered by the Language Center and some of the short courses provided by the University Library. You can find these courses in the overview on the websites above.

  • If you are a clinical researcher at the MUMC+ and involved in medical research that belongs to the Medical Research in Human Subjects Act (WMO)? Then you must follow the compulsory Basic Course in Regulations and Organization for Clinical Researchers (BROK®), which was developed on the initiative of the NFU.

    If you want to participate in research with animal testing, there is a strict legislation and regulation. Information can be found under the following link:

    Good Clinical Practice

    This online course is based on the investigator’s responsibilities as documented in chapter 4 of ICH GCP E6(R2). Learn everything you need to know to master the investigator responsibilities of ICH GCP for international clinical trials via this highly interactive, self-paced, and certified GCP e-learning course, aimed at site staff. Includes 6 interactive modules and a test of 25 questions.

Conferences and grants

Besides developing scientific skills through courses, the PhD candidate is also obliged to present its research at national and international conferences. Ask your daily supervisor or the research team which conferences are important and valuable for your own research topic. The selection of the conference that can be attended should be discussed with the supervision team of the PhD candidate. Own suggestions are always open for discussion with the supervisors. The PhD candidate is strongly requested to apply for an oral presentation.

Throughout the PhD program, the PhD candidate will face opportunities to apply for grants. This can appear when attending a conference or summer school or offered by an internal/external organization. These opportunities should always be taken by the PhD candidate to try receiving funding (whether this is for travel or research). How to apply for such a grant differs per opportunity. Examples of grants to apply for are: ZonMw, NOW, Eurostars, EIT. When the PhD candidate wants to apply for a grant, there will be guidance from the supervision team. At the UM’s Grant Office, Eva Rijkers is the contact person (email:

Health and safety at work

UM is dedicated to providing staff with a healthy and safe work environment. More information on work safety and health & vitality can be found via the link below.

Teaching and other responsibilities

  • UM is known for teaching in a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) system. The Department of Surgery is participating in UM teaching and let its employees (including PhD candidates) take part in these activities. The PhD candidate will complete two PBL teaching courses offered by UM prior to participation in teaching activities. More details can be found here:

    Teaching hours are registered in BROS, the education staff registration system within the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences for Budgeting, Recruitment and Realisation of Education. You can create an account and check your hours via the following website:

  • Maastricht University has a surgery lab. Acclimatized laboratories house state of the art mass spectrometers and high performance liquid chromatographic equiment dedicated to support clinical and basic (bio)chemical research questions. Innovative immunological assays, many of which are developed in-house, are widely used throughout the scientific community. The facilities, operated by experienced researchers, are not only open for support of internal research, but also for collaboration and/or contract research for both scientific and/or commercial partners. Besides the lab activities, each PhD candidate has lab responsibilities, such as cleaning duties and instrument responsibilities. These responsibilities are compulsory for all group members and are necessary to run a well-organized and safe work environment for each Department of Surgery employee, including the PhD candidate.

    With regards to the use of lab instrumentation, the Department of Surgery has a training by Mohammed Hadfoune. He can arrange this training and can guide you through the lab. He can also give you access to the Surgery Lab.

    Choose the corresponding department of Surgery division related to the instrumentation you want to use. Important note: The instrumental infrastructure cannot be used without proper training received from the instrument responsible person. This also means that a safety training will be given to the PhD candidate prior to the experimental work.

    Acquired data is stored on the network server of the Department of Surgery. This server is serviced by the IT department of UM and a back-up of this server is taken frequently. This means no double copies of data have to be stored. To keep the IMS server organized, the following folder structure is maintained in the General folder: Lastname_Firstname.


At the UMployee page ( you can find your personal profile and sick leave and reintegration or your salary statement,  including your annual tax statement. Via this website, you can also file reimbursements or request an advance payment. The department of Surgery members are all registered in the who-is-who and you can find contacts easily. 

PhD thesis and PhD defense ceremony

At the final stage of the PhD program, the PhD candidate has to write and defend its PhD thesis. The research chapters in the thesis will be conducted by the research performed throughout the 4 years. 

Printing of the PhD thesis can be done at an official publisher (such as or You can decide yourself where you would like to have it printed. Once the team of supervisors agrees that the PhD thesis is of sufficient quality, it will be presented to an Assessment Committee consisting of several independent and external assessors. However, first it will be checked for plagiarism. The results will only be communicated by the Dean and first supervisor. The Assessment Committee will assess the quality of the thesis and will decide within four weeks whether the thesis is of sufficient quality to be defended at Maastricht University.

As a final step, the thesis has to be presented and publicly defended in a one-hour session in which members of the Assessment Committee, who approved the thesis before it could be admitted for defense, and one or two other examiners question the author of the thesis on various aspects of the research. The defense is an open ceremony and may be attended by relatives, friends, and colleagues of the candidate. The PhD degree from Maastricht University is awarded after the ceremony. The PhD candidate is only allowed to make a reservation for the day of the defense at Maastricht University after the external Assessment Committee has approved the PhD proposal.

The whole approval procedure, starting with submission of the thesis to the Assessment Committee and ending with the PhD defense ceremony, takes at least 20 weeks. The PhD candidate is allowed a compensation for the costs associated with the defense ceremony (printing the dissertation and reception costs), to a maximum of €2000. Maastricht University will reimburse a portion of the printing costs of the PhD dissertation to the extent that UM will purchase ten copies of the dissertation at a rate of €0.36 per page.

Career development

PhD candidates are encouraged to discuss their career development with their promoters and supervisors and are encouraged to subscribe for the PhD career management courses offered by Maastricht University. If the PhD project is not finished within the contract period, the PhD candidate will not receive an extension of the appointment.


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