What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia? (Edition 2022)


Career management

Target group

This seminar series targets PhD students, young researchers at the beginning of their academic career from all Doctoral Schools, and postdoctoral researchers. No prior knowledge is required.

It is also open to supervisors and other interested academic personnel. We reach out to all faculties (also those with less stringent doctoral schools requirements such as sciences, engineering and medicine). It is organised by an interuniversity partnership between four Flemish universities and one French-Speaking university. In this way we hope to reach a broad and diverse audience for topics that are relevant for every researcher in Belgium, regardless of his/her affiliation.


The seminar series aims to make researchers aware not only of their individual obligations and roles within academic institutions, but also of the broader context of the research environment in which they are trying to build a career. Young researchers are almost inevitably confronted with questions and considerations that their original interest in science did not prepare them for. Their awareness 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 organised in this course address these broader questions. They introduce participants to the problematic nature of contemporary academic life, inform them about the structural causes of the challenges they face as young researchers, and help them reflect on ways in which they themselves can contribute to improving the current state of academia. They answer the structural need for thorough deontological, ethical, and socio-political (self)reflection on the (changing) role of academic knowledge (production) and academics in our current society.


All PhD students, no prior knowledge is required.

Organizing & scientific committee

This course is organised by a heterogeneous group of scholars from an interuniversity partnership between Universiteit Antwerpen, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, KU Leuven, Universiteit Gent and Université catholique de Louvain: 

dr. Pieter Beck (Universiteit Gent)

drs. Elvira Crois (Universiteit Antwerpen & Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

dr. Valerie De Craene (Vrije Universiteit Brussel & Universiteit Gent)

prof. dr. Pieter Maeseele (Universiteit Antwerpen)

dr. Anneleen Kenis (KU Leuven)

drs. Sara Nyssen (Universiteit Gent)

drs. Maud Peeters (Universiteit Antwerpen)

drs. Aurore Potalivo Richardson-Todd (Université catholique de Louvain)

drs. Sophie Samyn (Universiteit Gent)

drs. Jorn Van de Velde (Universiteit Gent)

drs. Emma Verhoeven (Universiteit Antwerpen)

dr. Sigrid Vertommen (Universiteit Gent) 

The sessions will take place at UCLouvain (Woluwé Brussel), UGent and UAntwerpen.

Contact person

dr. Pieter Beck, Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences

e-mail: Pieter.Beck@UGent.be 


Course activities consist of an ‘open space technology’ session, interactive lectures, guided group discussions, and an action training. 

The input of PhD students is essential for the content of the course. During the ‘open space technology session’, participants bring forward their own experiences and reflections that provide inspiration for the subsequent lectures, discussions and action training. Furthermore, this annual course is organised by peers and former participants. Finally, participants are expected to prepare questions and discussion topics based on their reading of provided literature (chosen in consultation with the lecturers).


In recent 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: “It shows that the general well-being of students in higher education, including doctoral students, is under pressure. Specific attention will be paid to this.” In response, Belgian universities have expressed an interest in raising awareness among the academic population and have identified the Doctoral Schools as a way to achieve 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 current 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 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, especially with regard to the current context and the ongoing pandemic. 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.


  • Gain comprehensive knowledge of current debates on a range of topics related to the current role of academic research, such as publication policies and strategies, research ethics, intellectual property regimes, mental health issues, working conditions, etc.
  • Have a critical understanding of the contemporary political economy of academic research environments and academic knowledge production in general.                                                                                                    
  • Gain critical insight into and awareness of the relationships between academic institutions, markets and society/democracy, and of the current responsibilities and social roles of academic research.
  • Formulate critical arguments and engage in interactive debates.
  • Translate the gained awareness and insights into action in your personal academic environment.

Program Sessions

Friday 6 May 2022, Thursday 12 May, Friday 13 May 2022

18 contact hours

Venue: Université catholique de Louvain, Ghent University, University of Antwerp

Friday 6 May 2022 (10h-16h30)

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

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

10h – 12h30: Introductory Session

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 do this during a 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 academic work in the current context which they want to address in small groups, such as mental well-being, publication strategies, challenges of a particular research environment, visions on the relationship between research, education and society, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their academic practice and the way it has proven to be a magnifier of existing precarities, at the same time as creating new ones, 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 stimulate the interaction between participants throughout the doctoral course and create a group dynamic, facilitated by the organising committee of the doctoral course.

12h30 – 13h30: Lunch

13h30 – 14h30: Mental Well-Being: some Belgian figures

In this session, Madeleine Capiau and Camille Duveau from the Institute of Health and Society (IRSS) at UCLouvain and researchers from the Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Group (MENT) at VUB will each present their data from their respective surveys conducted in 2020-2021 during the pandemic, on the mental well-being of early career researchers at both Dutch-language and French-language universities. Increasingly, universities in Europe have been alarmed about the rising levels of mental issues amongst academics amid the pressure of job insecurity, constant demand for results and an increasingly marketed higher education system. This session aims to approach these issues in the broader context of the impact of current tendencies inside and outside of academia. Madeleine Capiau and Camille Duveau from UCLouvain and MENT researchers from VUB will each present their data and talk about the steps they have undertaken to enter into dialogue with their institutions. After their short talk, the presenters will reflect on the data together in combination with questions and reflections emerging from participants.

14h30 – 16h30: Forum

The day continues to consider the state of academia through the lens of mental well-being. During this session, the different conversations from the OST session are summarised and connections between the morning and afternoon sessions are made visible by a facilitator who switches between the different sessions. Reflecting on how the pandemic has heightened mental health issues that were already prevalent, the facilitator allows the participants to further engage with each other and work towards formulating some 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 ourselves moving while we work on structural change.

Thursday 12 May 2022 (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 marginalized. 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? 

The session will consist first of a presentation by Sibo Kanobana, who will talk about knowledge production from a decolonial perspective. Then participants will be divided in small groups for discussions on specific topics based on prompts. After lunch, we will bring together the different discussions and insights from the smaller groups to the plenary group. 

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 to get together, especially after two days of courses in which we get to know each other better.

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

Friday 13 May 2022 (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 Belgian academia and specifically the strategies of the people behind them. We want the groups behind the actions to be heard and to serve as inspiration for hands-on action. During a panel, we look at four issues: cleaning staff protests, transgender action groups, scholars working on cripping and disability, and efforts made to decolonize the university. In the session, we do not aim to go into the identities of the groups, but rather zoom in on their different actions and strategies.

Speakers in this panel include Sven Van den Bossche (transgender working group), Fien Criel (cripping), and Devanshi Saxena (8 Maart Comité). 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 organized or continue to organize, participants gain insights into the "do's and dont's" of change from within.

12h30 – 13h30: Lunch

13h30 – 16h30: Action Training ‘Another University 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

Registration fee

Free of charge for members of the Doctoral Schools. The no show policy applies.

Teaching material

Before the start of the course, participants will be provided with reading materials selected in consultation with the speakers of days two and three.

Number of participants

40 per session



Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

Participants will be evaluated on their attendance of all sessions, preparatory reading and active engagement in the group discussions.