our doctoral schools workshop

Each year, we organise an Inter-University Doctoral Schools Course regarding the question ‘What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia?’ 

The edition of 2023 will take place on the following days:

  • Friday May 5th 
  • Thursday May 11th 
  • Friday May 12th 

An up-to-date programme and further practical information can be found here

General description

Over the past few years, numerous scholars and university personnel have expressed concerns about research deontology and ethics, increasing publication pressure, mental well-being and the changing professional environment in which academics have to work. The urgency of these concerns was recently recognized by the Flemish government in its coalition agreement: “Research shows that the mental well-being of students in higher education, including PhD students, is under pressure. Special attention is paid to this.” In response, Belgian universities have expressed an interest in raising awareness among the academic population and pointed to the Doctoral Schools as a way of accomplishing this.

This course is an initiative of the ‘21st century slow science academics’ collective that aims to raise awareness and understanding of the structural causes of the challenges facing young researchers, and help them think about ways in which they can contribute themselves to improving the state of academia. In addition to considering the mental well-being of PhD students, the course also addresses the conditions in which researchers work today, which not only affect mental health, but also raise questions about quality, ethics, deontology, norms, conducting research itself and the relationship between science and society/democracy in general. 

The introductory morning aims to encourage participants to discuss and reflect on their own experiences as young researchers, and on the broader social, political and economic context of research. The first thematic session focuses on raising awareness for mental health. The following session focuses on knowledge production. The third session centres on a hands-on approach to tackling issues related to labour at the university, and what specific actions are undertaken within universities to improve people’s working conditions. During the afternoon of that day, participants are encouraged to use the critical insights from the previous sessions to arrive at concrete actions. The last session provides the opportunity to reflect on the entire course.

Friday 5 May 2023 (10h-16h30)

Location: Université catholique de Louvain (Woluwé campus, Brussels)

Topic of the day: Raising Awareness for Mental Well-Being

09h30 – 10h: Introduction

We will begin by welcoming participants and stimulating an open interactive environment through short exercises (mindfulness and ice-breaker) facilitated by the organising committee of the doctoral course. 

10h – 12h30: Creating a Better Research Environment Part 1 

The aim of this first session is to inquire into the problematic nature of current-day academic life through the experiences and knowledge of the participants themselves. Participants will engage with the seminar theme during the session inspired by ‘open space technology’ (OST). OST is used as a method to organise a tiny colloquium at the start of the doctoral course in order to detect recurrent themes and incentives among the participants. Participants can propose any topic related to mental health in academia which they want to address in small groups, such as work-life balance, imposter syndrome, publication pressure, inter-personal struggles within a research group, the challenges posed by global events and the precarity of research careers. Members of the organising committee of the doctoral course will help to facilitate the different discussions and help to record the main points that emerge for use in the afternoon session. The more intimate setting and bottom-up approach (theme-wise) will stimulate the interaction between participants throughout the doctoral course and create a group dynamic, facilitated by the organising committee. 

12h30 – 13h30: Lunch 

13h30 – 16h30: Creating a Better Research Environment Part 2 

During this session, we will move from talking about the challenges in researcher mental wellbeing to thinking about what we can do to change the situation. Our guest speakers Dr. Stéphanie Gauttier and Mathias Schroijen from the ReMO Cost Action will engage the participants in a workshop focusing on looking inward and outward to actively develop strategies that would improve researcher mental wellbeing. We will address these in three stages: 

The focus of the first part will be to reflect on how we currently manage and engage with our self-care. A self-care inventory provides the participants with information about areas we can focus on to enhance and empower early career researchers to manage their self-care for more positive results. 

In the second part, we focus on communication and relationships which highly influence the potential for mental wellbeing and health in research environments. Particular attention will be paid to verbal and non-verbal listening skills and how to transfer and use these as favourably as possible with different kinds of relationships which exist in the research environment to enhance clear, transparent communication. 

Finally, the last part will focus on reviewing the systemic issues which influence our mental wellbeing. This encompasses a review of many different types of systems personal and professional and how they all influence and connect to the status of a person’s mental health and wellbeing. 

The group will formulate a series of good practices e.g. collective actions by staff, ways in which universities have set things in motion to help out early-career researchers, and possible tactics to keep on moving while working on structural change. 

At the end of the day, connections between the experiences of early career researchers and the wider academic context will be made visible by the guest speaker Prof Hilal Lashuel. He will discuss the challenges of faculty life reflecting on the mental health struggles of different bodies within the university that are presented as isolated but are actually deeply intertwined. 

Thursday 11 May 2023 (10h-16h)

Location: Ghent University

Topic of the day: Knowledge production 

10h – 12h30 and 13h30 – 15h 

The core of (academic) teaching and research is the production and reproduction of knowledge. Yet the context in which these take place (institutional structures as well as everyday academic practices) determine to a large extent the kind of knowledge that is produced, and which knowledge is valued or marginalised. In this session we reflect on what counts as (academic) knowledge, and by whom and under which conditions it is produced. Questions of what another university could look like start with questions of which knowledge we aim to achieve, and how this knowledge comes into being. As such, the aim of this session is to expand the way in which knowledge is produced and how knowing is constituted. Questions that will be discussed include: 

  • Who is considered a knowledge producer, and where are ‘informants’, or ‘activists’, for example, positioned in this process? 
  • Who produces ‘theory’ (versus ‘data’ or ‘experience’), and what counts as such? 
  • Who do we produce knowledge for and whose interest do we serve when we produce knowledge? 
  • When does knowledge become activism and vice versa, and who decides this? 
  • What is the role of academia in relation to students, research participants, and society at large? 
  • Who owns knowledge, and with whom is it shared? 
  • Why do we undervalue science communication, and is activism one of many forms of science communication? 
  • What role can or do citation politics, translations, or open access databases and publications play? 

This day will be facilitated by dr. Sibo Kanobana (to be confirmed). After his opening lecture ‘Knowledge production from a decolonial perspective’, participants will be divided in small groups for discussions on specific topics based on prompts. After lunch, the different discussions and insights from the smaller groups will be brought to the plenary. 

12h30 – 13h30: Lunch

15h – 16h: Social session

In the last part of the day, we provide time and space to get together for those who want to continue talking, or plan actions together, or just aim to find support amongst peers. This allows for more time for participants to develop lasting connections, especially after two days of courses in which we got to know each other better.

In case there is a specific question for a more formal or organised networking session after the first doctoral school course, the organisers can arrange this too.

Friday 12 May 2023 (10h-16h30)

Location: University of Antwerp  

Topic of the day: Changing the university from within

10h – 12h30: Changing the university from within

During the session “Changing the university from within”, we focus on existing actions in the Belgian academic world and more specifically on the strategies of the people behind them. We want the groups behind the actions to be heard and inspire each other for future hands-on action. During the panel we discuss issues such as decolonization, transgressive behaviour and intimidation, and racism and sexism in higher education. The aim is not to dwell on the specific issues themselves or the specific identities of those involved, but on their different actions and strategies and what they have in common.

For this day, we invite speakers such as Danira Bourabain (UHasselt, researcher on racism and sexism in higher education), Katrien Schaubroeck (UAntwerp, feminist researcher), and Fien Criel (on cripping the university). They all perform extra and often unpaid labour to create a more accessible, inclusive or fair version of academia. As they recount the actions they have organised or continue to organise, participants gain insights into the “do’s and dont’s” of change from within.

12h30 – 13h30: Lunch

13h30 – 16h30: Action Training ‘Another University is Possible’

In this closing session, led by NGO Vredesactie, we connect all the main questions raised in the previous sessions and in the debate, and integrate them into a crucial discussion on ‘how another science/university is possible’. Participants are encouraged to reflect on ways in which academia could be organised and developed differently to the benefit of all. First, participants will be asked to form groups and think of an action or campaign, which will be presented to the other participants. The participants can draw upon Vredesactie’s experience in teaching and mediating workshops on organisation in order to develop and further concretize their idea.


Registration procedure

To register you have to follow this link: https://webappsx.ugent.be/eventManager/events/ResearcherCentury 

Contact person:

drs. Sophie Samyn, Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy
e-mail: Sophie.Samyn@UGent.be