our doctoral schools workshop

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 2018 edition has taken place on 19, 20, 23 & 24 April.


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

Session 1: Publish and/or perish? – Thursday 19 April 2018, 10:00-13:00Venue: Justus Lipsiuszaal, Faculteit Letteren, Blijde-Inkomststraat 21, KU Leuven

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 international journals with high impact factors 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 the society at large.

In this session, we ask the students to reflect upon their publication strategies and the research climate in which they are developed. Topics that will be discussed include the politics of indexing and ranking, the politics of internationalization and the politics of performance measurement.

  • Nick Schuermans: On the topic of publish or perish

Bio: Nick Schuermans is a postdoctoral researcher and teaching associate at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He is the day-to-day coordinator of the interdisciplinary research program on Cities and Newcomers and a lecturer in the Erasmus Mundus MSc 4CITIES and the Msc Geography master’s degree programs. His current research builds upon his interest in the geographies of encounter and solidarity, and focuses on the role of diverse groups of professionals in the accommodation of newcomers in the city of Brussels.

  • Freek Van Deynze: On the topic of publish or perish in the particular Flemish context

Bio: Freek Van Deynze is a PhD. Student at the Center of Higher Education Governance Ghent (CHEGG). In his research he investigates the changing place of the university in society, and what this means for those working inside 21st century academia, more specifically with regards to doctoral education in Flanders. He will address these issues in his presentation, pointing out the linkages between personal experiences and broader sociological trends.

Session 2: Financing higher education in Belgium: the allocation model – Thursday 19 April 2018, 14:15-17:15Venue: Justus Lipsiuszaal, Faculteit Letteren, Blijde-Inkomststraat 21, KU Leuven
  • Koenraad Debackere: On the topic of the allocation model

Bio: Koenraad Debackere  is a professor of Technology and Innovation Management & Policy at KU Leuven since 1995. He has degrees in engineering and business. He was a visiting doctoral student and Fulbright post-doctoral fellow at MIT Sloan School and obtained best paper awards from the TIM Division of the American Academy of Management, the Decision Sciences Institute and the International Association for the Management of Technology. In 2006 he was awarded the Prize for Scientific Excellence of the Belgian Entreprise Foundation (VBO). In 2007 he received an honorary professorship from the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. He is the managing director of KU Leuven Research & Development and chairman of the KU Leuven seed fund, Gemma Frisius. He is cofounder and chairman of Leuven.Inc, the innovation network of Leuven high-tech entrepreneurs. Since 2005, he is the general manager of KU Leuven. In 2015, he was appointed chairman of EIT Health e.V. — a KIC of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

  • Ignace Lemahieu: On the topic of the university policies related to the allocation model

Bio: Professor doctor Ignace Lemahieu currently acts as Director of the Research Department (Vice-Rector Research) at Ghent University. He holds a Doctoral degin Physics and was Professor of Medical Image Processing and head of the MEDISIP research group at Ghent University until he became Director of the Research Department in 2003. As Vice-Rector Research, his responsibilities extend across the Technology Transfer Office, the University Library and the Research Coordination Office. He contributed to setting up Ghent University’s Doctoral Schools, is a steady supporter of Open Science. Professor Lemahieu is a member of the Executive Committee of the Flemish Council for Science and Innovation (VRWI), Board member of the Flemish Research Funding Organisation for investment in RI (Hercules Foundation), member of the Board of Directors of the RTO iMinds, member of the General Assembly of the RTO VIB, member of the Board of Trustees of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) and member of the Research Commission of the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR).

Session 3. Mental Health, Hypermobility and Precarity – Friday 20 April 2018, 10:00-13:00 – Venue: Lokaal A1.04 (Mercator A-gebouw), Abdisstraat 1, Gent

Increasingly, universities in Europe have been alarmed about rising levels of mental illness amongst academics amid the pressure of job insecurity, constant demand for results and an increasingly marketed higher education system. More and more studies document how demands for increased productivity, stress over student satisfaction surveys and research output causes symptoms of psychological distress, anxiety and depression. Yet, because of the persistent vision of ‘if you can’t stand the heat, you shouldn’t be here’, there is a continuing stigma amongst academia over seeking help to counter reduced well-being. In this session we debate on the personal costs of academic success and on the general ‘culture of acceptance’ around well-being in higher education. The discussion includes experiences of not only lectures but also students, administrative and other university staff and also aims to approach these issues in a broader context of the impact of current tendencies in academia. Furthermore we expand on this topic by highlighting the effect of hypermobility requirements for research and job precarity.

  • Ingeborg Meijer: On the topic of mental health

Bio: Ingeborg Meijer is a part-time researcher and leader of the working group SURe (Society Using Research) at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) of Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on the societal use of research, especially the development of proxies, tools and indicators, to help in research assessment purposes. Together with i.e. her colleague Inge Van der Weijden, she recently published about mental health issues in doctoral students in the Netherlands (for more information, see Van der Weijden I., Van Gelder E., Meijer I., Van der Ven I., Beukman J.J. & Farzand Ali R. (2017), Continu in de stress: Mentale problemen bij promovendi, (4): 80-84).).

  • Yannis Tzaninis: On the topic of hypermobility and precarity in academia

Bio: Yannis Tzaninis is a social geographer and activist. He has been involved in several political movements, including the assemblies that sprang from the UvA Maagdenhuis occupation in 2015. The occupation formed part of a movement for a more democratic university and contested the increasing marketization of higher education and the increasing reliance on managerialism to run (public) universities.

Session 4: Gender and Diversity at University – Friday 20 April 2018, 14:15-17:15 – Venue: Lokaal A1.04 (Mercator A-gebouw), Abdisstraat 1, Gent

Diversity has been a part of policy jargon for years. However, too often ‘classical’ policy practices have yielded limited results when it comes to ameliorating the position of specific groups –women, ethnic minorities, disadvantaged economic classes– in university, failing to address existing intricate intersecting power relationships and inequalities. This panel aims to dissect the basic assumptions underlying the term ‘diversity’ and the ways in which it neglects to address structural causes of subordination by veiling interpersonal and institutional mechanisms which (re)produce power imbalances.

Concentrating on how the relations between social identities and their associated competences inform power relations between actors, we aim to formulate ways of countering inequality in its multi-layered forms. We will discuss reflections and tactics that have come out of feminist intersectional and interference thinking, as well as out of recent struggles against the Eurocentric foundations of global academia.

  • Evelien Geerts: On the topic of intersectionality, situated knowledges and feminist philosophy

Bio: Evelien Geerts is a Ph.D. candidate in Feminist Studies with a DE in History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an affiliated researcher at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry at Utrecht University. She previously studied at Antwerp University (MA Philosophy), Utrecht University (research MA Gender & Ethnicity Studies) and AMS (MSC Global Management), and works on the crossroads of Continental philosophy and contemporary feminist theory. Her research interests include new feminist materialisms, difference philosophies, epistemology and political philosophy, and critical and diffractive pedagogies.

  • Omar Jabary Salamanca: On Slow Science, Guerrilla Intellectuals and the Undercommons

Bio: Omar Jabary Salamanca is FWO research fellow and lecturer in the Department of Conflict and Development at Ghent University. He is also research associate at the Observatoire des Mondes Arabe et Musulman at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He was previously Marie Curie Fellow at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. His research lies at the intersection of urban studies, settler colonialism, political economy and Middle East studies, with a focus on the histories and geographies of infrastructure in Palestine. He is also engaged in a variety of research, cultural and community projects, including Eye On Palestine Arts and Film Festival and the Slow Science collective.

Session 5: Activism and scholarship – Monday 23 April 2018, 10:00-13:00 – VUB Campus  Etterbeek, Pleinlaan 2, lokaal G.6.308

In this session, we focus on the interaction (and possible tensions) between scholarship and activism. The latter term is used here in a broad sense to refer to any active engagement towards changing things within academia, or towards enabling a more fruitful interaction between society and academia. In the first presentation, we discuss the transition initiative at Ghent University, as an example of making academia more sustainable from within. In the second presentation, we discuss ‘Slam the city’ as an example of societal engagement, aimed at building bridges between academia and society.

  • David van der Ha: On the topic of “Sustainability Policy of Ghent University”

Bio: David van der Ha is a bioscience engineer and has obtained his PhD on microbial treatment methods for greenhouse gasses at Ghent University. He is currently sustainability coordinator at this same university. Together with staff members and a team of dedicated students, he integrates sustainability concepts in the management, research and educational programs of UGent. He is member of the core group of the ‘Transition UGent’ think tank, which engages over 250 academics, students and people from the university management in suggesting objectives and actions for the Sustainability Policy of Ghent University (Belgium).

  • Iman Lechkar: On the topic of “How academia tries to meet society: ‘Slam the city’ as an example”

Bio: Iman Lechkar has a Phd in Social and Cultural Anthropology (2012, University of Leuven). Her doctoral research focussed on conversion to and within Islam. Since 2017 she is holder of the Fatima Mernissi Chair at VUB. Her current research centers on Islam, gender and violence among muslims in Brussels. One of the explicit objectives of the Fatima Mernissi Chair is to build bridges between academia and society as a whole. The Fatima Mernissi Chair carries out the ideas and engagements of Fatima Mernissi and therefore cooperates closely with civil society organizations and Muslim youth and women in order to promote exchange and social cohesion. As part of this engagement, Iman Lechkar has organised several ‘Slam the City’ events in Brussels.

Session 6: Reflective afternoon – Monday 23 April 2018, 14:15-17:15 – VUB Campus  Etterbeek, Pleinlaan 2, lokaal G.6.308
  • Part 1: Session with union representatives on the rights of doctoral studentsJo Coulier (ABVV), Tim Van de Voorde (ACLVB), Tania Stadsbader (ACV)
  • Part 2: Reflection

In this session we aim to work with some of the insights gained from the first five sessions and let students reflect on their own position in academia in the form of a debate and discussion. A broad range of topics related to academic work will be addressed. Students will be encouraged to actively discuss and debate publication strategies, challenges of particular research environments, visions on the relationship between research, education and society, views on how research relates to social/political engagements, and finally also about the students’ perspectives on their own mental health (i.e. the impact of stress, output-related pressure, competition and job insecurity). The discussion will be moderated by a member of the organizing committee.
The aim of the session is threefold and builds further on the students’ preparatory essays:
1. Link back to the preparatory essay the students wrote in the light of the insights gained during the doctoral school. How did the students interpret the situation at their university, department, research group, etc. in relation to the required reading list before the doctoral school and after the five sessions.
2. Prepare the follow-up day more concretely by trying to answer the question as to how academia could be organized and developed differently and in better ways (both collectively and individually). Time will be provided to think of concrete actions@academia, which will form the starting point for session 8.
3. Make use of this discussion to formulate questions (based on the topics discussed in the sessions and the required readings) to be raised during the public debate.

Session 7: Debate: The future of the University – Monday 23 April 2018, 20:00-22:30 – Campus pleinlaan, VUB

This debate is a public event where we try to connect some of the issues that were raised in our doctoral school sessions with a wider academic and professional audience. It is our explicit aim to start from the questions, concerns and suggestions themselves raised within the different sessions instead of starting from a prepared talk from each individual panel member. As such, we wish to incite our panel to answer directly to the issues that have been raised in the different sessions. The debate will be organized in cooperation with DeBuren, up-to-date information on the debate and the panel can be found via this link: https://www.deburen.eu/programma/4603/de-democratische-erfenis-van-68-waar-staat-de-universiteit-vandaag. (The debate will be free of cost for participants in de DS)

Session 8: Another university is possible: Towards a slow science ethics and politics – Tuesday 24 April 2018, 10:00-17:15 – D015, Grote Kauwenberg 18, Stadscampus UAntwerpen

In this closing session 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’. First, students will be asked to think of a hypothetical group action/campaign concerning one of the issues raised in the previous seminars, meetings, debates during session 6. The students will be asked to present their action@academia, which will be discussed with members of the organizing committee and mediated by the organisation VredesActie who have extensive experience in offering action-trainings to groups.

Vredesactie is a pluralistic organisation that is part of the peace movement, making a radical plea for a society in which conflicts are resolved without violence or the threat of violence. Vredesactie is an engine for the development of non-violent action and
the realization of a pacifist peace policy. Social action, peace economy and peace education are the organisation’s foundation stones. Through these, Vredesactie aims at actively engaging citizens in society, amongst others by organizing campaigns and trainings on non-violent action.