Making your research proposal work for youCourses for beginning PhD candidates

Course information

ECTS: 2.5 
Number of sessions: 4
Hours per session: 3
Entry level: Introduction
This course is suited for PhD candidates who have formulate their own, or a relatively short research proposal. It is less helpful for PhD candidates working on a project predefined by their supervisors (such as NWO or ERC grants).

Course fee:

  • free for PhD candidates of the Graduate School
  • €440,- for non-members
  • consult our enrolment policy for more information


Telephone: +31 10 4082607 (Graduate School).

Session 1
October 11 (Wednesday) 2017
Mandeville building (directions) room T16-01

Session 2
December 6 (Wednesday) 2017
Mandeville building (directions) room T16-01

Session 3
January 10 (Wednesday) 2018
Mandeville building (directions) room T16-01

Session 4
January 31 (Wednesday) 2018
Theil building (directions) room CT-2


Many PhD candidates start their research journey with a good and creative proposal that contains an ambitious research question, a first understanding of the relevant literature, and some preliminary notions about the methods to use.

In order to keep tight control over your PhD project, it is imperative to fine-tune your research into a set of useful concepts, a legitimate research logic and a workable set of methods. This course will show you how to break your proposal down into a definitive number of research activities, which you can then timetable over your PhD track.

Aims and working method

There are four sessions consisting of workshops with mini-lectures and practical training exercises directly applied to your research proposal.

In order to participate, you must hand in a draft of your proposal in advance of the first session. The instructor can then confirm whether this course will cater to your specific needs.

Learning objectives

After completion of this course, you will:

  • Be able to identify and formulate your main research question
  • Be able to translate the research question into a useful conceptual framework
  • Be able to develop and appropriate an operational research design 
  • Be able to make your proposal flexible and adaptive without losing control of progress

Session descriptions

Session 1:
Research question and conceptual system

  • what is a good research question, and what is the difference with a research aim?
  • to what lack of knowledge does it provide an answer and for whom is this relevant?
  • the importance of defining your core concepts 
  • relations between concepts
  • visualising your conceptual framework

Session 2:
Identifying the appropriate research design 

  • Dimensions

    • Descriptive – explanatory
    • Correlation, causation and prediction
    • Inductive, theory building – deductive, theory testing

  • Types of designs (logical structure of inquiry)

    • Case study
    • Experiment
    • Cross sectional
    • Longitudinal, life history
    • Ethnographic

  • Required reading: What is research design? (pdf) New York University (NYU)

Session 3:
Turning question and design into actual research activities

  • Operationalization: from broad concepts to specific items and measurements

Session 4:
Application to your own research proposal, timetabling the work 

  • How to manage your PhD journey?

    • Interacting with your supervisor
    • Dividing your work into 4 years
    • Fieldwork, analysis and writing in it up? 

About the instructors

Dr. Peter Scholten is a governance and sustainability specialist with a background in Social and Political Sciences of the Environment. He is coordinator of the PhD programme of the Institute of Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam also lectures at Radboud University Nijmegen.

In addition, he works as an individual consultant for Academic Alternative, research training and advisory services and is co-founder of the ‘nurturing landscapes’ approach for sustainable and integrated landscape & resources planning.