our doctoral schools workshop

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

The edition of 2021 will take place on the following days:

  • Thursday April 22nd
  • Friday April 23rd
  • Thursday May 6th
  • Friday May 7th

(practical info: see “Program sessions” below)


General description

Over the past few years, numerous scholars and university personnel have raised their concerns about research deontology, increasing publication pressure and the changing professional environment in which academics have to work. Cases of scientific fraud such as that of Diederik Stapel in the Netherlands, suspended in 2011 by Tilburg University, caused quite a stir within the academic community. Stapel was exposed for fabricating and manipulating data for research publications, a malpractice that was apparently going on for years. The scope of Stapel’s case may have been an exception. However, in March 2013, the Belgian scientific magazine EOS revealed in a study that 1 out of 12 researchers admitted to manipulating data sometimes in order to cope with the increasing pressure to publish. Even where publication pressures don’t necessarily lead to malpractice, they play a decisive role in determining what topics are addressed and what kinds of questions are asked. This situation obviously raises serious questions about ethics, deontology, norms, the conduct of research itself, and the relationship between science and society/democracy in general. 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.

Yet, while pertinent, raising awareness among young scholars cannot be reduced to a condemnation of individual practices alone. It is important to situate and contextualize these cases of individual malpractice within a broader context of academic internationalization and the position of local research institutions and universities in an increasingly global and competitive environment. The seminars and debate organized in this course – titled “What does it mean to be a researcher in the 21st century?” – address these broader questions. The course sets out to raise awareness among researchers not only of their individual obligations and role within academic institutions, but also of the broader context of the research environment in which they try to build a career. This course answers the structural need for thorough deontological, ethical and socio-political self-reflection about the changing role of academic knowledge and academics in our current society.

Program Sessions

Note that all sessions will take place online.

Session 1

  • 22/04/2021 13.30-16.30

Precarity in Academia in times of Covid19

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. It also seems particularly relevant to give young researchers the opportunity and space to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on their academic practice and on the way Covid has proven to be a magnifier of existing precarities, at the same time as creating new ones.

Participants will do this during a session of open space technology (OST), proposed by the organising committee and the writers of the Slow Science manifesto for an academic praxis after Corona. OST is a method used in order to detect recurrent themes and incentives among the participants to attend the doctoral course.

Participants can propose any topic related to academic work in the current context they want to address in small groups, such as mental health and wellbeing, publication strategies, challenges of particular research environments, visions on the relationship between research, education and society, etc. There will be two time slots and three different spaces in which participants can gather to discuss the proposed themes. The more intimate setting and bottom-up approach (theme-wise) will aid participants to engage and interact with each other throughout the doctoral course and create a group dynamic.

Session 2

  • 23/04/2021 10.00 – 13.00

Productivity culture, publish and/or perish, open science

Panel 1 – What does productivity mean?
Panel 2 – What does Open Science mean and how to ‘walk the talk’ ?

Over the last decade, the Flemish government has urged Flemish universities to use bibliometric data as objective, quantifiable and repeatable measures to review the quality of research activities. Advocates of this strategy are convinced that publications in high impact factors journals are good indicators of the quality of academic research. Yet, others are afraid that the tendency to publish in English and in academic journals will hamper the role of science in society at large. In this session, the students will reflect upon their publication strategies and the research climate in which these are developed. Topics that will be discussed include open science, the politics of indexing and ranking, the politics of performance measurement, effective writing and academic performance in general and during the Covid19 pandemic.

The Covid19 pandemic has impacted academics’ research productivity in various ways; while telework has meant an increase in productivity for some, it has hampered the “expected” productivity of many others (parents, female academics, isolated international academics, less materially equipped (from access to decent housing to technology) academics, etc.). Moreover, those impacted were often already underrepresented and precarized groups in academia before Covid19.

In the first panel “What does productivity mean?”, Prof. Patrizia Zanoni will reflect on the culture of productivity and how to conduct research during Covid19. Julian Kirchherr, the author of the book “The Lean Phd” will bring another perspective to the discussion and reflect upon practical tips and tricks for academic writing as well as on research impact. “Perfectionism is paralysing too many PhD students. A more pragmatic approach to doctoral research is needed”, dr. Julian Kirchherr.

In the second panel “What does Open Science mean and how to ‘walk the talk’ ?”, dr. Paola Masuzzo, Open Science activist (TP Vision & UGent Alumni) and independent researcher with IGDORE and Inge Van Nieuwerburgh (UGent) will reflect on public access to scientific knowledge, and the wider impact of scholarly communication on society. There will also be the opportunity to discuss the initiative for open access publishing and Plan S, which requires that from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms.

Session 3

  • 06/05/2021 13.30-16.30

Decolonize the University! A conversation between UGent student representatives, Joachim Ben Yakoub (Luca School of Arts) and Sophie Withaeckx (Maastricht University)

In December 2020 the Ghent Student Council, Umoja, Flux and Engage joined forces in publishing an open letter to “Decolonize Ghent University”, urging the university board and administration “to confront our colonial past and its current influences on our educational practices and frameworks”. Following similar initiatives at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and KU Leuven, the letter addressed several issues, ranging from the decolonization of the curriculum to a better representation of people of colour in the UGent student and personnel corps and the creation of a racism contact point.

Together with some of the initiators of the Decolonize UGent letter (Imane Salmi and Daisy Van de Vorst from Umoja and Rafael Garcia and Emma Moerman from Ghent Student Council) and Joachim Ben Yakoub (Luka School of Arts) and Sophie Withaeckx (University of Maastricht), we will discuss what it actually means to decolonize the university, beyond buzzwords of diversity and inclusion.


Sophie Withaeckx is assistant professor in Philosophy at Maastricht University. She previously held positions as a coordinator and post-doc researcher at RHEA (Centre for Gender, Diversity and Intersectionality) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and as researcher and lecturer at Odisee University College (Brussels). Her current research grapples with the ways in which normative concepts of ‘the human’ inform institutional spaces and practices. On the one hand, she examines discourses and practices of diversity and decolonisation in higher education. On the other hand, she looks at how taken-for-granted notions of humanness and ‘the family’ underlie ethics and practice in transnational adoption.

Joachim Ben Yakoub is a writer, researcher and lecturer operating on the border of different art schools and institutions. He is affiliated to the MENARG and S:PAM research group of Ghent University, where he is conducting research on the aesthetics of revolt somewhere in between Tunisia and Belgium. He is guest professor at LUCA school of Arts Brussels and lecturer at Sint-Lucas School of Arts Antwerp, where he is also promotor of the collective action research ‘The Archives of the Tout-Monde’. He has published in various journals and books and is part of the editorial board of FORUM+, Documenta and Etcetera Journal.

Imane Salmi and Daisy Van de Vorst (Umoja Gent). Umoja Gent is an African student association that aims to represent and promote African diversity in Gent. Umoja means unity in Swahili, and in order to create unity among all students, Umoja believes it’s important that students can identify with a student association. Umoja therefore serves as the voice of an important but underrepresented group of students. Umoja also engages with important societal debates on inequality, decolonisation and emancipation. Umoja stands for critical thinking and debate, engagement and solidarity, and against social inequality

Rafael Garcia and Emma Moerman (Ghent Student Council). The Ghent Student Council is the central student council of Ghent University, which represents and defends the interests of the students. The topics range from all affairs concerning education as well as social affairs.

Session 4

  • 07/05/2021 10.00-13.00

Another university is possible! Action Training by Vredesactie 

In this closing session we connect all the main questions raised in the previous sessions, and integrate them into a crucial discussion on ‘how another science/university is possible’. First, participants will be asked to form groups and think of a concrete 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 organization in order to develop and further concretize their ideas.

How to register?

You can register by following this link: https://eventmanager.ugent.be/whatdoesitmeantwentyone
Note that there is a maximum capacity of 30 subscriptions.

You can also check the website of Ghent University for all information: https://www.ugent.be/doctoralschools/en/doctoraltraining/courses/transferableskills/all/what-does-it-mean-2021.htm

Hope to see you there and then!