10 – Help & Support

10.1. Counseling Services

The Psychological Counseling Service at ETH and UZH (PBS) offers professional advice for people who are experiencing difficulties in the workplace or in their private life. The special requirements and stress placed on a person doing a doctorate or an assistantship can lead to working disorders or personal problems, such as lack of concentration and the inability to make important decisions or deal with competitive situations or interpersonal conflicts. The counseling service is free and all contacts are treated completely confidentially. The service is available both during the term and in the semester holidays. Appointments must be made in advance here

10.2. The AVETH Counselling Service

AVETH Counselling is a peer-to-peer counselling service run by volunteers made up by ETH Mittelbau employees. They are a group of people trained in communication/ mediation/ de-escalation/ active listening and are familiar with the rules and regulations of ETH. As peer-to-peer counselling service, their aim is to support Post-Docs and Doctoral students at ETH to solve arising concerns in an early stage and before they grow in size. Providing a confidential service on eye level, they lower the barrier for people to come forward early on if they experience uncertainties, mismatching expectations, miscommunications and other concerns during their stay at ETH. Even when you are not sure you really have a problem, just a feeling, talk to us and we can help you avoid a problem from occurring. The earlier you seek help, the more likely it is to avoid an escalation. This can be problems with your supervisor, other group members or living in Switzerland. We will work out a solution together with you, help to avoid escalation, provide mediation and connect you with the necessary services at ETH. It is our mission to make your time at ETH a positive experience and assist you in any way requested. We understand that many problems are of a confidential nature and anything you tell/ entrust us with will remain between us. The counselling team is part of the AVETH organization while being run completely independent. We do not venture into psychological nor legal issues but rather guide you to the specialists in those fields. On the AVETH webpage you will find all help services and specialists that might provide you more specialized help. Contact us via email at counselling@aveth.ch.

10.3. Bullying and Harassment

Bullying – Contact your AVETH counselling team for a confidential conversation and they will provide you an overview of your options. These options depend on your specific situation. They might advise you to go to the ombudspeople, to go to HR’s Respekt unit, or to the Psychological Counseling Service. They can help you confront your situation head-on and support you at every step of the way toward a better working environment.

Harassment – Unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other visual, verbal or physical misconduct of a sexual nature are classified as sexual harassment when:

It is implicitly or explicitly suggested that submission or rejection has consequences in the professional field.
The conduct interferes with the work performance by creating an uncomfortable work atmosphere.
Considering the multi-national body of staff at ETH Zurich, various misunderstandings may occur about what is considered reasonable behavior. Be sure to use clear words both verbally and in writing when you disagree with the behavior of others towards you. Do not expect hints alone to be understood. The Office of Equal Opportunities provides support and advice on how to deal with such situations. They can be contacted at equal@sl.ethz.ch.
Nottelefon 052 213 61 61 und Beratungsstelle für Frauen – gegen sexuelle Gewalt. Here, a group of female psychologists gives advice, legal counseling, information on discussion groups and self-defense courses.
Mannebüro Züri. They advise men to develop constructive forms of conflict resolution and support them in their implementation in everyday relationships. They offer men advice in personal conflict and crisis situations such as separation or divorce. They support men in coping with problems as a man, as a father, with marriage and relationship problems and with questions about sexuality. They carry out triage work and refer men to suitable positions after determining their position. Over 1,200 personal consultations are held annually in the consultation rooms of the mannebüro züri, plus around 1,500 telephone and email consultations and almost 300 specialist consultations (2015 figures).

Psychological Aid – Find the right balance between professional and private life. Get involved in social activities and leisure like sports, arts, etc. If you feel you are approaching a limit, you feel constantly tired or the pressure is too much: react right away. Don’t wait for an escalation or manifestation, be proactive and talk to someone, like the Psychological Counseling Service.

10.4. Difficult Supervisor Relationships

General Advice from AVETH Team
The relationship with your supervisor is vital for your success in your doctorate. Research in such small groups strongly depends on trust. Make sure you don’t risk you relationship with your supervisor.
If you have any questions regarding bringing your family with you to Switzerland, please get in touch with the Human Resources Department. Your institute will provide you with the name of your administration assistant. It is advisable to enquire about the procedure before starting at ETH Zurich.
Independent of your relationship with your supervisor and these insights also hold true for any meeting or professional interaction: keep a good documentation. In every meeting, no matter if formal or informal, take notes and at the end of the meeting read them back, citing the major points and agreements. Often problems arise form something simple as a misunderstanding. By reading your notes back, you present your own understanding of the content of the meeting and give your counterpart the option to correct you, if you have understood something incorrectly. It is also a good idea to send a confirmation email to everyone involved in the meeting to share your minutes in writing to protect you in case of future problems.
Every email you receive on your work email should be answered, either by a confirmation of receipt or if you disagree with a proposal or question. When an email remains unanswered it will be considered as agreed upon (by work law) which could get you in trouble.
If you really feel something is not going well, talk to the Ombudsperson or the AVETH counselling team before letting a conflict escalate. After things have escalated, it is often very difficult to get back to a good working relationship.

What to do if: Your supervisor suggests a project that does not appeal to you

Listen to the suggestions. Do not say much at first, but do not give the impression that you are agreeing – stay neutral. Try not to get dragged down by unappealing aspects of the project. Maybe those ‘negative’ aspects are not as pronounced as you think and there just might be very appealing aspects you had not noticed at first! Write a list of the project’s pros and cons. Point out the cons and suggest alternatives. Present this list to your supervisor and discuss it together. If they do not agree with your arguments, a group meeting might be helpful or a neutral third party. Your research plan should be a guideline for your doctorate and you can use it to point out if a project seems too far off topic and not helpful. Still try to avoid a negative development of the argument, keep it focused on finding a compromise.

Do not involve superiors like the head of department, head of institute or HR employees since this will likely upset the professor and only make things worse. At first, try to come up with good alternative projects or arguments why you would like to take a different approach. If you cannot convince your supervisor then try it their way and see if maybe it is not as bad as you initially expected. Remember – they have a great deal of experience running projects, and likely have a very good understanding of what will be successful or not. If you are still having issues with the project, you could ask AVETH counselling to prepare the meeting with your supervisor before confronting them with your disappointment.

What to do if: Lack of feedback from your supervisor

Ask for feedback regularly. You should have a clear idea of how your supervisor thinks your project is progressing. Often, good ideas and suggestions emerge during conversation. Do not expect your supervisor to come and check on you every day. Your initiative is appreciated and required. Consult your supervisor or a senior scientist. If this does not work for whatever reason, there is a last resort: As a doctoral student at ETH Zurich, you have the right to submit a written progress report at any time of your dissertation and your supervisor is formally obliged to comment on it (Doktoratsverordnung, Art. 14). Of course, this is really the last thing you should try since it is not the most congenial method. Personal approaches are usually quite sufficient. Here you can practice the confrontational meeting together with AVETH counselling team.

What to do if: Corrections on your draft are not handed back

Dissertation drafts usually require laborious proof-reading on the part of the supervisor. If this process takes a long time, do not complain openly. Instead, try to motivate them and agree on a timeline.

What to do if: Total disagreement with your supervisor

Long before you reach this point you should contact the AVETH counselling team or the Ombudsperson. We will sit down with you and figure out a solution. This could be a mediation (see below) or a strategy to get around the problem.

The first official step, if nothing else works would be to talk to the head of your department. We strongly advise you to discuss this step with AVETH counselling first, as talking to the head of department will make your conflict public in the eyes of your supervisor and this could escalate the situation. At ETH Zurich, xx has a duty to mediate between doctoral students and their supervisors (Doktoratsverordnung, Art. 16). You can bring an AVETH counsellor and/or the Ombudsperson to this mediation meeting if you feel you need support.

The next stage of escalation would be to involve the pro-rector for doctoral students. If the conflict is not resolved, the arbitration commission will hold a hearing and pass their findings to the rector. The rector will then reach a binding decision. Your supervisor might quit on you before it gets to this stage. If that happens you should do the following.

What to do if: Supervision cannot be continued

Your supervisor can quit your doctoral thesis supervision by writing a letter to the pro-rector and to doctoral administration stating a reason. You cannot discuss or challenge this reason, because it is the subjective decision of the Professor not to supervise you anymore. This sounds very harsh and may make you feel unsafe. This is not the case. A Professor at ETH should take their responsibility for supervision seriously. Still, if this occurs, you will receive a letter from the doctoral administration informing you of this situation. From the start date of that letter, you have 6 months to find a new supervisor. If you find a new supervisor within the same department, you would not need to redo your qualifying exams because they apply for the entire field. You might have to redo your qualifying exams if you switch department, but this would be beneficial since you would start your research in a new field.

The head of your department should assist you in the search for a new supervisor and independent of your contract should provide up to 3 month’s salary. It is not their job to find you a new supervisor – this task is yours. However the head of department will be able to advice you at the least. If you cannot find a new supervisor within the 6-month period, you will be automatically dematriculated as a doctoral student from ETH. Your working contract with ETH will then also be nullified, as it is directly linked with your status as a doctoral student. If you are in the process of switching supervisors and your 6 month period has almost past then the new supervisor can request an extension of matriculation with the pro-rector to finish the procedures. This extension cannot be requested by the student alone. If a doctoral student is dematriculated, they can still look for a new supervisor since their files at the doctoral administration are not magically disappearing after 6 months. Again, we would like to stress that you should contact AVETH counselling or the ombudsperson as early as possible and not go about this process alone.

What to do if: Authorship of a paper is unclear

Discuss the authorship on a paper before the writing begins. Ask about the rules of authorship in the group or consult the trusted intermediaries. Usually, the contribution of data warrants authorship. Often, the order of the authors can cause major disagreement.
There are mutually satisfying solutions to this, such as additional comments (“both authors contributed equally to this work…”). Make sure you follow ETH Zurich’s guidelines for research integrity and good scientific practice.

What to do if: Workload is too high

Talk to your supervisor or use the group meeting to ask for help and make sure your situation is clear. If you ask for help, bring suggestions on how to solve the problem. You could ask for a diploma student or assistant and delegate a small part of your project to them whilst acting as their supervisor. However sometimes this can be more work since you are required to train them.
Attend a project management course provided through HR courses. Quite a few of these are geared toward the needs of scientific staff. In any of these cases you can discuss options with your AVETH counselling team (counselling@aveth.ch).