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ASCA – Pilot Study Guidelines

General information

All PhD candidates with ASCA are expected to hand in a pilot study for evaluation, together with a table of contents for the dissertation and a time schedule for its completion. For PhD candidates with a full-time employment contract (1.0 fte), the pilot study is normally due in the 9th month. The month in which the evaluation will take place is stipulated in the PhD candidate’s employment contract. The evaluation can only be postponed with the permission of ASCA’s vice-director, who has been mandated by ASCA’s director to oversee the pilot study evaluation process.

The pilot study is evaluated by the supervisors, an external reader (preferably an ASCA staff member with expertise in the area of the dissertation who is not directly involved in the PhD candidate’s project) and ASCA’s vice-director (for self-funded PhD candidates there is no external reader). On the basis of the evaluations, ASCA’s vice-director decides whether or not the pilot study is of the required quality. If ASCA’s vice-director decides the pilot study is not up to standard, the PhD candidate will be informed of this at the evaluation meeting and will be given 4 weeks to revise the pilot study. After the revised pilot is submitted, it is evaluated again by the supervisors, external reader and ASCA’s vice-director. The PhD candidate will receive an assessment report in which the pilot study is either deemed satisfactory (in this case, the employment contract will be extended for the full period of the PhD) or unsatisfactory (in this case, the candidate’s contract will not be extended). A second evaluation meeting will take place in which the PhD candidate can respond to the assessment report. If the meeting does not change the vice-director’s decision, the procedure to not extend the PhD candidate’s contract is started. The PhD candidate is informed at least 1 month before the end of the contract that it will not be extended.

It should be emphasized that the assessment takes place solely on the basis of the pilot study, the table of contents and the time schedule; any other activities – including those undertaken in the context of a larger project of which the PhD candidate forms part – are not part of the assessment. The main supervisor (promotor) is responsible for ensuring the PhD candidate has enough time to complete the pilot study. The PhD candidate should not teach in the period in which the pilot study has to be written and other activities should be kept to a minimum or should be directly related to the pilot study. The PhD candidate and the supervisors should make a planning for the completion of the pilot study – including deadlines and feedback moments – as soon as possible after the beginning of the contract. The completion of the pilot study should be the absolute priority for both the PhD candidate and the supervisors.    

Arrangement of evaluation meeting and submission of pilot study

The ASCA office contacts the supervisors, the PhD candidate and ASCA’s vice-director at least one month in advance to set a date and time for the evaluation meeting and to ask the candidate to complete the ASCA evaluation form. Ideally, all supervisors are present at the evaluation meeting; if this is not possible, the absent supervisor is expected to send a written assessment by email.

The PhD candidate submits the pilot study, together with a table of contents for the dissertation, a time schedule for its completion and the completed ASCA evaluation form to the supervisors, the external reader, ASCA’s vice-director and the ASCA office at least two weeks before the evaluation meeting by email with all the addressees visible, so the ASCA office can check it has been sent to all those involved in the evaluation.

External reader  

An external reader is only required for the funded PhD candidates. When the ASCA office contacts the supervisors about the date and time of the evaluation meeting, it also asks the supervisors to suggest an external reader. Once the external reader has been approved by the ASCA vice-director, the supervisors approach the external reader and secure their cooperation. The external reader is asked by the supervisors to read the pilot study and to send a short assessment report to the supervisors, ASCA’s vice-director and the ASCA office at least two days before the evaluation meeting. The assessment report should outline whether, on the basis of the pilot study, the external reader feels the PhD candidate will be able to produce a defendable dissertation within the contract period.

The supervisors are responsible for communicating the content of the external reader’s assessment to the PhD candidate before the evaluation meeting. The external reader does not attend the evaluation meeting. The main supervisor (“promotor”) is responsible for checking that the external reader’s report is received in time and sent to the other supervisor(s), ASCA’s vice-director and the ASCA office.

Content and form of the pilot study

In terms of content, the pilot study should be designed to form an integral part of the dissertation, either as the introduction or as a chapter. Experience has shown that pilot studies designed as chapters tend to work better than pilot studies designed as introductions. The pilot study should not take the form of a research proposal; it needs to be a coherent, independently readable, non-fragmentary text.

In the case of an introduction, the pilot study should outline the main problem and research questions of the dissertation, as well as the theoretical framework, methods and objects used to address this problem and research questions in an innovative manner. It should also demonstrate the PhD candidate’s ability to engage critically with existing scholarship.

In the case of a chapter, the pilot study should demonstrate the PhD candidate’s ability to lucidly present and analyze one or more case studies in relation to the central research question(s) of the dissertation project and should articulate where the innovation of the analysis lies. It should also demonstrate the PhD candidate’s ability to engage critically with existing scholarship.  

In formal terms, the pilot study should be:

  • between 5,000 and 10,000 words long;
  • a coherent, independently readable text with a beginning/introduction, middle/body and end/conclusion and a clearly developed argument;
  • professionally presented (spell-checked, with a consistently used reference system and a full bibliography);

Any questions about the pilot study and the evaluation on the part of the PhD candidate, the supervisors or the external reader should be addressed – as soon as they arise – to the ASCA vice-director ( and the ASCA office ( 

ASCA evaluations after the pilot study

If the pilot study is deemed satisfactory, the PhD candidate’s contract is renewed for the rest of the four- or three-year period. Throughout the contract period (and after it, if the dissertation has not yet been defended), PhD candidates and their supervisors are invited for annual ASCA evaluations so that any problems with the candidate’s progress can be signaled and resolved. For these evaluations, the PhD candidate submits an evaluation form detailing their progress and planning, and a recent piece of writing (e.g. a chapter, an article submitted for publication) chosen in consultation with the supervisors. No external reader is involved in these evaluations and they do not constitute a go/no-go moment like the pilot study evaluation.