Course theme

Type of course


PhD impact incubator (A2)

A2 coordinator: Caterina Marinetti, MSc

1. Background

All research executed by SENSE PhD candidates is important and deserves to be communicated clearly, both within the scientific community and in its larger societal context. There is no better person to develop and to practice this communication than yourself. Within SENSE, we want to support and challenge you towards developing these specific PhD competencies. As a result, the A2 project is one of the compulsory courses for all SENSE PhD candidates.

General context of the learning situation

The course fulfils the key goals of the SENSE Network: 1) facilitating multidisciplinary PhD training, 2) creating a network for high quality environmental and sustainability research, and 3) being the bridging for sustainable solutions at the science-practice interface. The course is also shaped based on the academic culture of VU Amsterdam, which is personal, open, and responsible.

Nature of the subject

The course adopts a practical approach and focusses on developing skills related to scientific communication, interdisciplinarity and societal impact for academia. It is an advanced PhD course for PhD candidates which requires the participants to develop their own project taking into account these three concepts in the context of their research.

2. Learning goals

By the end of this course, students are able to:

  • Increase the impact of your research
    understand the concepts of scientific communication, interdisciplinarity and societal impact in academia and explain them in the context of your own research
  • Learn and practice how to communicate with your stakeholders
    creatively design and manage an innovative project fulfilling the criteria of societal impact of scientific communication, interdisciplinarity and societal impact
  • Understand and communicate the societal relevance of your research
    draw connections among your research results, needs of your stakeholders and other scientific disciplines and choose suitable communication modes
  • Position your research in an interdisciplinary context
    develop your own vision on impact and evaluate how your background, values, and interests influence it in a professional context and daily decisions
  • Strengthen your scientific communication
    independently evaluate to what extend the concepts of scientific communication, interdisciplinarity and societal impact are currently integrated in a project and propose solutions how to develop them further.

3. Course participants

A2 is an obligatory course for the SENSE PhD students. The participants are PhD candidates from having at least a basic understanding of the societal, scientific and interdisciplinary context of their research and willing to develop it further. We recommend taking other courses on communication and impact available in the SENSE network before starting this course.

  • Prerequisites: A1 course
  • Optional but recommended: course on impact and/or scientific communication.

4. Format and planning of the course

This course is ongoing, i.e. can be started at any time within the first two years of your PhD project. It adopts a hybrid form, which means that some activities are done online, and some on-site.

The course can be started at any time with the following steps:

Step 1: project proposal

  • Register for the A2 course on the online platform* and submit an A2 project proposal including three main parts:
    1) A2 Project proposal,
    2) self-assessment for the A2 criteria including points for improvement,
    3) reflection on how conducting the project will help him/her to develop the skills and address points for improvement.
  • After receiving the proposal, the A2 coordinator gives a Go-No-Go decision for the project, and/or provides feedback on the proposal and its fit with the A2 criteria (within one week from submission).

* Currently the SENSE Portal; we will move the A2 course to a new online platform in the course of 2023.

Step 2: project implementation

  • PhD students conduct their projects.
  • At a suitable moment by the end of your project an item about your project (event announcement/ publication/ launch/ news item/ blogpost, etc.) can be published on the SENSE website , to increase the project’s visibility and inspire others.
    Please send the news item directly to Marjolijn Dannenburg, Communication officer and web editor,

Step 3: finishing the project and A2 course approval

  • After finishing the project (or at the final stage, in justified cases), the PhD students submit a final report including a self-assessment for A2 criteria with a reflection on developed skills and addressed points for improvement through the online platform.
  • At the A2 seminar taking place twice a year, the PhD student presents a poster reflecting on his/her project’s interdisciplinarity, scientific communication, and societal impact and lessons learnt. The presentation is followed by QA. If necessary, an additional A2 seminar will be organised online or in a hybrid form. (See also heading 7)
  • Based on the final report, poster presentation and discussion during the seminar, the A2 coordinator gives a pass/fail grade and assigns the EC points for the course.

Please note: we are currently updating the A2 course. The course learning objectives and three criteria remain the same. The main changes include the following:

  • Poster presentation;
  • Peer feedback for your proposal;
  • Publishing a news item about your project on the SENSE website at a suitable moment (event announcement/publication/launch/etc.)

These elements of the course are currently being tested. They will become part of the course at a later stage.

5. Forms the A2 activity

Key questions for the A2 course are: Who should know my research? And by what activities can I reach these people? Therefore, for all the activities, please consider what your target audience is, why you bring these people together and what outcome you want to achieve.

Project for a general audience or specific stakeholder groups

  • Organize a conference;
  • Organize a SENSE PhD Colloquium or a SENSE Context Symposium (about the “bigger picture” of your research);
  • Organize a course including (online) in-depth courses; summer schools; PhD courses that include societal perspectives and are interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary; courses for high schools or the general public, etc.;
  • Organize a workshop/webinar for your stakeholders;
  • Write a research proposal (for a new research project) with a focus on stakeholder interactions;
  • Design and develop a media campaign and media network to get your work into newspapers, or other media. This can include writing press releases, and discussing with the press office of your institute how to go about.
  • Create and upload your own scientific ‘home video’ at Youtube, this may generate many hits and interest for your work including promotion strategy for your video.
  • Create (or contribute to) an information page in Wikipedia (link with examples)
  • Write a policy brief (recommendations from your research for current policies) and design a strategy to reach the policymakers
  • Write a research view (a short, max. 6 pages, critical evaluation of the PhD candidate’s research) for the SENSE e-News or in journals that publish VIEWS, e.g. Re/Views in Environmental Science and Bio/Technology or Environmental Chemistry Letters.
  • Conduct a project with a community, art group, elementary/secondary/high school, etc.
  • Propose your own project.

Please note that there are some activities which are related to your PhD environment but cannot count as A2 project. These include e.g. organising a group BBQ or pub quiz, a small workshop for PhD candidates of their chair group, and other activities with limited scientific or societal impact. These activities can still count for credits under the management section of your TSP.

Tips for the news item/blog post

Your A2 project can consist of multiple activities, e.g. organizing a conference session + writing an article for a general audience.

  • Stay within 500-1000 word count
  • Use the Who, Where, What, When, Why and How in the introductory paragraph.
  • Keep in mind who your target group are, and why they need and should want to hear what you have to say. Adjust your tone of voice to the target group.
  • Focus on what you think the take-home message should be and leave all possible side-steps out.

Some useful links

6. Grading criteria for A2 projects

Your project should address all three criteria:

  • Scientific communication – clarification of analysis, accurate explanation of relevant knowledge, clarity of argument for experts as well as for laypersons. To meet this criterion, your project should communicate your research in a form appropriate for the audience, e.g. general audience or scientists from other fields.
  • Multidisciplinarity – the inclusion of relevant research questions from other scientific disciplines beyond one’s specialization and specific arguments for the relevance of such multidisciplinary research questions. To meet this criterion, your project should involve strong interaction with other fields of science, e.g. by engaging researchers from other fields or interdisciplinary approach to the problem.
  • Societal impact – bridging research with the societal issues, making results available to the non-academic public. To meet this criterion, your project should have a direct impact on societal stakeholders, e.g. by involving them in the project workshops, designing software for their use, communicating via relevant media channels.

The assessment and feedback moments during the course build on the mixed classroom approach by taking into account a variety of backgrounds, values, and experiences. Since the course is ongoing, there are three summative assignments (A2 project proposal, final report and final poster presentation) and multiple feedback opportunities to monitor progress. The formative assessments are scheduled throughout the course to provide continuous support and stimulate student’s motivation.

After submitting your final report (and presenting a poster), your A2 project will be evaluated. Your submission will be reviewed within ca. 7 days.

7. Final presentation A2 projects

To complete the course,  you give a final poster presentation of your project. The goal of the presentation is to once more meet with other PhD candidates around the country who work on relevant projects, increase your research visibility and possible collaborations, and to offer inspiration for new projects to the A1 participants.

During the presentation you will reflect on the project’s interdisciplinarity, scientific communication, and societal impact and lessons learnt. The presentation is followed by QA.

The poster presentation takes place during an on-site A2 seminar which takes place twice a year (autumn and spring, at the same time as the A1 course).

The posters will be assessed by the A2 coordinator during the presentations, but without grade. You are allowed to apply for your SENSE diploma already before the poster presentation, after the approval of your final report.

If due to the corona situation or stay abroad you cannot give a poster presentation during the designated time, please contact the course coordinator.

Requirements for the final presentation

  • You have approval for doing your A2 project
  • You have done the activity itself
  • You have finalised or are close to submitting the final reflection report
  • The A2 coordinator has agreed that you are ready to present

Poster requirements

In the poster you shortly describe your A2 project and your PhD subject.
Lay-out requirements:

  • A1 or A0
  • Printed
  • Portrait style

Next opportunity for final presentations A2 projects

  • Date: tbd
  • Registration deadline: tbd
  • Target group: SENSE PhD candidates
  • Venue: tbd


shape Banner
We provide a disciplinary and multidisciplinary research programme aimed at advanced understanding of environmental problems and advanced training of PhD candidates in this field.
More information
shape Banner
Here you will find a selection of international events related to the socio-economic and natural sciences of the environment.
View our events