There was something like spring in the air during the Eurodoc conference 2003. The unusually mild and sunny weather in Soest, the Netherlands, where the meeting was held, certainly played its part. But more influential by far were the enthusiasm and motivation of the PhD students from all over Europe.

Although the young scientists from Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western Europe came from quite different environments, it was the similarity of their challenges and visions that brought them together for the third time. "After a first get-together in Sweden 2 years ago, and our constitutional meeting last year in Spain, this is the first time that we can really focus on the issues that concern young researchers in Europe," said Annemarie Kerkhoff, one of the organizers.

Those issues are several, and pressing: PhD supervision and training, gender equality, professional futures, and international mobility, among others. In a lively mixture of plenary sessions and sparkling workshops, the PhD students shared their views, exchanged best practices, and worked out agendas for Eurodoc's permanent working groups.

"The workgroups are our workhorses," explains newly elected Eurodoc president Christian Siegler. Their job is to take forward the conference discussions and serve as Pan European platforms for further work on the PhD students' vision through the year. "The meeting was tremendously intense, extremely well organized, and truly inspiring," says Siegler, "but the success will be measured finally by the output of the workgroups over the next months."

Meanwhile, just like Europe itself, the young organization keeps growing at a surprising pace. During the meeting, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, and Belgium where cordially welcomed as new member countries. That brought the total to 13, with eight more candidates already waiting in the wings. "Since we want to be accepted as democratic representatives of Europe's PhD students, we are asking that our national member organizations have documented democratic structures as well," Siegler explains. It's a requirement that is speeding up the foundation of new national PhD student organizations across the continent--in Greece, for example, which offered to host the 2004 meeting.

That there is a need for an organization like Eurodoc is amply demonstrated by the enthusiasm of young researchers from so many countries to join in. But what exactly is its purpose? "Eurodoc will help to articulate the needs of PhD students, to coordinate our activities and to be listened to, also in Brussels," Siegler is sure. It's a view that was shared by keynote speakers such as Raffaele Liberali, the European Commissions' Human Factor, Mobility and Marie Curie activities director. Liberali not only gave a pep talk to the young researchers but also invited them to join the debate at the EC level.

Next stop for Eurodoc will be the Berlin Summit on Higher Education in September, where European research ministers gather to review progress and set directions and priorities for the next stage of the creation of a European Higher Education Area. Future plans also include a European Mobility Conference to be held in Portugal in the second half of 2003, organized jointly with the Marie Curie Fellowship Association ( MCFA), the Postgraduates International Network ( PI-Net), and Euroscience.

Says Siegler, "The conference was simply great. Now it's up to us to carry this enthusiasm along with us and spread it throughout our member countries."

Editor's Note: Next Wave Europe has been writing about Eurodoc and its activities for some time. So, if you're interested in additional information, please visit our Eurodoc Exchange page. There you'll find access to an ongoing forum discussion as well as links to Next Wave articles explaining both the PhD education processes in countries across Europe and the particular challenges facing PhD students in each of those countries.