'What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century Academia?' Inter-university Course


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. Building upon our positive outreach experience last year, this year we will further expand our efforts to reach all faculties (also faculties with less stringent doctoral schools requirements such as sciences, engineering and medicine). No prior knowledge is required.


All PhD students

Organizing committee / Course coordinators

- Dr. Sigrid Vertommen, Ghent University, sigrid.vertommen@ugent.be

- Dr. Omar Jabary Salamanca, Ghent University,

- Dr. Esther De Loof, Ghent University,

- Dr. Marlene Schäfers, Ghent University,

- Drs. Freek Van Deynze, Ghent University,

- Drs. Tessa Boeykens, Ghent University,

- Drs. Eva Willems, Ghent University,

- Drs. Charlotte Bollaert, Ghent University,

- Drs. Wim De Winter, Ghent University,

- Prof. Dr. Wim Fias, Ghent University,

- Prof. Dr. Christopher Parker, Ghent University,

- Prof. Dr. Pieter Maeseele, University of Antwerp,

- Prof. Dr. Koenraad Bogaert, Ghent University,

- Prof. Dr. Nick Schuermans, Vrije Universiteit Brussel,

Key words

Publication policies, publication strategies, research ethics and deontology, science and society, gender and diversity at university, mental health and wellbeing at university, open access, intellectual property regimes, precarity, slow science.

Content and added value

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.


● The first session for PhD students (day 1, morning session) aims to raise awareness about the broader social, political and economic context of research by starting with a topic most young researchers are confronted with: publication pressure. The second session (day 1, afternoon session) will further focus on the effects of hypermobility and increasing precarity on the mental health and wellbeing of academic personnel.
● On the second day of the course, we will broaden the scope and move from a personal level to a more structural analysis. The third session (day 2, morning session) will focus on issues of diversity (i.e., race and gender) and explore the ways in which contemporary academia impacts upon both the diversity at the different faculties as well as the diversity of research topics. The fourth session (day 2, afternoon session) will focus on the political economy of knowledge production and research by exploring funding/investment strategies and priorities.
● These four sessions include a talk by at least two speakers, combined with a suitable form of debate/interaction (either through intense interaction during the talk, through group debates or through a preparatory assignment). The overall goal is to involve the students as actively as possible in order to come up with concrete concerns, questions and suggestions which will be raised during the public debate. Students will also have to prepare these sessions by writing a short reflection with regard to the main topics of the course and the required readings outlining their own personal concerns. This information will be used as a guideline for the discussion in the different sessions.
● The fifth session is a debate that is open to the broader public (day 2, evening session). Here our aim is to start from the questions, concerns and suggestions raised within the four preceding 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.
● In the sixth and final session, students will be encouraged to use the critical insights gained in the previous sessions to come up with concrete solutions and actions. In order to allow students time to prepare for this session, it will be organized one week after the initial five sessions.


● To have a critical understanding of the contemporary political economy of academic research environments and academic knowledge production more generally.
● To have critical insight into and awareness of the current responsibilities and societal role of academic research.
● To gain comprehensive knowledge of current debates on a series of topics related to today's role of academic research, such as publication policies and strategies, research ethics, intellectual property regimes, etc.
● To obtain critical insights into the relationships between academic institutions, markets and society/democracy.
● To formulate critical arguments and engage in interactive debates.
● To formulate a critical analysis of the elaborated topics and defend one's own arguments in short academic essays.
● To apply the obtained critical insights during a public debate with policy makers and university staff.
● To translate the obtained awareness and insights into action in their personal academic environments.

Program Sessions

Session 1: Publish and/or perish? - Thursday 4 May 2017, 10:00-13:00 - Venue: Room E207, Grote Kauwenberg 2, Antwerp

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 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: Mental Health, Hypermobility and Precarity - Thursday 4 May 2017, 14:30-17:30 - Venue: Room E207, Grote Kauwenberg 2, Antwerp

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 marketised 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.

  • Katia Levecque: On the topic of mental health

Bio: Katia Levecque is a professor of Industrial Relations and manager at the Centre for Research & Development Monitoring (ECOOM) of Ghent University, active in the field of occupational and public health/well-being. She will present data on the well-being of academic
personnel in Flanders, highlighting stressors and buffers as well as delving into their structural causes.

  • Mariya Ivancheva: On the topic of hypermobility and job precarity

Bio: Mariya Ivancheva is a Bulgarian sociologist and anthropologist. She is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Education, University of Leeds, working on the ESRC/Newton/NRF funded project The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape. Her work has been dedicated to the ways in which academics as a social group, and universities, as institutions, impact or are impacted by economic inequalities and broader political processes of social change.   

Session 3. Decolonizing and Transforming the University - Friday 5 May 2017, 10:00-13:00 - Venue: Vergaderzaal John Vincke, Kortemeer 5, Gent

Building on and connecting to contemporary struggles around race, gender and class, recent student and faculty led campaigns—such as Rhodes Must Fall, Why is My Curriculum White, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, Black Lives Matter Syllabus or Standing Rock Syllabus Project—are unsettling the colonial foundations of Universities across the Globe. Historicizing and unveiling power relations embedded in Eurocentric forms of knowledge and higher education institutions, this anti- and decolonial movement embraces and seeks to accommodate non-Western thought, ways of knowing and world views. As such, it questions from what texts are read, to who is admitted, employed, and promoted, to the relation between the university and the community, to what knowledge is valued and what is dismissed or ignored. This panel considers initiatives and conceptual articulations to decolonise learning and the University in ways that trace the historical precedents and impulses moving these struggles forward. In doing so, it hopes to come up with practical and workable suggestions for strategies on how to achieve transformations aimed at dismantling systemic injustices, not merely at reproducing social diversity.

  • Kerem Nisancioglu: On British initiatives to Decolonize the University in theory and practice

Bio: Kerem Nisancioglu is a Lecturer in International Relations. Before this he was Visiting Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Westminster and Adjunct Lecturer at Richmond University. He received his PhD in International Relations from the University of Sussex in 2014. Kerem’s research focuses on Eurocentrism in international relations, and how this Eurocentrism can be subverted in both theory and history. In particular, his research has explored the ways in which non-European societies have been constitutive of European social relations in the early modern period. His current research seeks to uncover the international origins of whiteness as a form of social control. Kerem also blogs at The Disorder of Things.

  • Stien van Groendal: On the topic of the Palestinian conflict

Bio: Stien van Groendal is a Belgian activist with Palestinian roots. She is one of the coordinators of the campaign to end the collaboration with the Israeli police within the EU funded LAW TRAIN project. She has been working for several years now on the issue of Palestinian child prisoners and political prisoners culminating in the photo exhibition 'If I Were in Palestine' and the short film '700 chances lost for peace' on the detrimental effects of arrest on the development of children.

  • Chloé Deligne: On the chart, experience and initiatives around the Désexcellence campaign

Bio: Chloé Deligne is a FNRS fellow at the ULB. Her research lies at the intersection of Medieval History, Environmental Management and Human Geography. Her PhD dissertation, Bruxelles et sa rivière, offered a political ecology approach to explore the socio-economic and environmental dynamics that tight together Brussels and its hinterland throw the close study of water. Deligne’s current work is focused on environmental history and cities and more specifically on contemporary histories of pollution and water management. She is a regular contributor to the campaign “Pour une désexcellence des universités”.

Session 4: Political Economy of Knowledge Production and Publishing - Friday 5 May 2017, 14:30-17:30 - Venue: Vergaderzaal John Vincke, Kortemeer 5, Gent

In contemporary Academia scientific knowledge is increasingly commercialised and enclosed by a handful of private publishers and corporations. This commercialization of scientific knowledge is happening in a context of increasing governmental cuts and educational policies that encourage competition between and within universities and its workers. This situation raises important questions: What actually happens to our articles once we submit them to academic publishers? According to what kind of property regimes do these academic journals operate? Why do universities continue to pay astronomical prices to academic publishers to access the very knowledge that is produced within their own establishments? In this context, what are our rights and responsibilities as researchers? What can we do to ensure open access to scientific knowledge? This workshop aims to address these and other questions and also set an agenda for collective action steered towards a University of the commons.

  • Gwen Franck: On the topic of open access science

Bio: Gwen Franck is Open Access Project Officer for LIBER, the Association of European Research Libraries. She brings to the role extensive experience related to Open Science. As a freelance consultant, Gwen has worked for several organisations dedicated to Open Science
and has been involved with the OpenAIRE project since 2010, when she was working at Ghent University Library . Gwen is currently the Open Access Programme Coordinator for EIFL , coordinating the Region East activities within OpenAIRE. Within the scope of the OpenAIRE project, Gwen co-started Open Access Belgium , aiming to spread the word about Open Access for scientific research in the Belgian research community. From 2013 to 2016, Gwen was also the regional coordinator for Creative Commons , overseeing the activities of the Creative Commons affiliate teams in Europe. In addition, she is a board member for Open Belgium , a network of people who want to see all kinds of knowledge open, used and useful in Belgium.

  • Sigrid Sterckx: On the topic of patenting, spin offs, start-ups, technology transfer, and other commercialisation tools

Bio: Sigrid Sterckx is Professor of Ethics and Political and Social Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences of Ghent University. She is a founding member of the Bioethics Institute Ghent and a founding member of the Ghent Centre for Global Studies. She lectures courses in theoretical and applied ethics as well as social and political philosophy. Her current research projects focus on: human tissue research and biobanking; patenting in biomedicine and genomics; organ transplantation; neurosciences, criminal law and ethics; end-of-life decisions; and global justice. She has published more than 120 books, book chapters and articles in international academic journals on these issues, including the co-authored books Exclusions from Patentability: How far has the European Patent Officeeroded boundaries? (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Climate Change and Individual Responsibility: Agency, Moral Disengagement and the Motivational Gap (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and the co-edited book Continuous Sedation at the End of Life: Ethical, Clinicaland legal perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Sigrid also serves on various advisory committees, including the Belgian Advisory Committee on Bioethics and the Ethics Committee of Ghent University Hospital.

Bio: Sarven Capadisli is a researcher at the University of Bonn, working in the field of web development and the semantic web, with a particular focus on linked publishing. As part of his research he has developed the Linked Research initiative/framework that aids in the freely accessible publication of research as well as open review systems. In this way, Capadisli offers a practical solution for a number of concerns in the current publishing economy.

Session 5: Debate: The Future of the University - Friday 5 May 2017, 20:00-22:30 - Venue: Academieraadzaal Aula, Voldersstraat 9, Gent

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 open to the broader public.    

  • Short list for the panel:

Newly elected rector of the UGent (candidates Prof. dr. ir. Rik Van de Walle and Prof. dr. ir. Guido Van Huylenbroeck have both confirmed)
Prof. dr. Herman Van Goethem (rector UA) [confirmed]
Prof. dr. Anya Topolski (academic faculty) [confirmed]
Prof. dr. Jan Danckaert (vice-rector VUB) [confirmed]
Dr. Anton Froeyman (Actiegroep Hoger Onderwijs) [confirmed]
Dr. Sigrid Vertommen (Women’s strike Ugent) [confirmed]

  • Moderator: Julie Carlier

Bio: Julie Carlier is the research coordinator of the Ghent Centre for Global Studies, an interdisciplinary research network at Ghent University in Belgium, where she also teaches on gender and globalisation, and the transnational history of feminism. She is the representative of the UGent in the Flemish Stakeholder Group for Societal Challenge 6 (Social Sciences and Humanities) of the European research programme Horizon 2020, and co-organized the Footprint conference on the social impact of Social Sciences and Humanities (UGent, 13 December 2016). Between 2010 and 2015 she was a board member of the IFRWH (International Federation for Research in Women's History). She has published on the topics of gender, feminism and transnational history.

Session 6: Another university is possible: Towards a slow science ethics and politics - Thursday 11 May 2017, 10:00-17:30 - Venue: Meeting room at the Law Faculty, Gent

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 form groups in the days following the initial four sessions and prepare a hypothetical group action/campaign concerning one of the issues raised in the previous seminars, meetings, debates. The students will be asked to present their action@academia, which will be discussed with representatives from the Actiegroep Hoger Onderwijs, the unions and researchers. This interaction will be mediated by member of the organisation VredesActie who have extensive experience in offering action-trainings to groups.

  • Anneleen Kenis: On the topic of activist research and the case of the potato action

Bio: Anneleen Kenis is an FWO postdoctoral researcher at the Division of Geography and Tourism at KU Leuven. She wrote a dissertation on ecological Citizenship, Movement Building and Politicization, and is currently doing research on the politics of air pollution. In 2011, she was involved in the potatoes action in Wetteren, which led to the dismissal of Barbara Van Dyck. As an activist researcher, she studied the complex relation between academic research and social commitment.

  • Barbara van Dyck: On the topic of activist research and the case of the potato action

Bio: Barbara van Dyck is a bioscience engineer and researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In 2011, she was involved in the potato action in Wetteren, which led to her dismissal from university. Years later, she was admitted to university again to pursue research. Based on her experience on the severe implications of combining activism with her role as a researcher, Barbara will share her insights on activism@academia.

  • Jan Dumolyn (confirmed) Representative of the ACOD union

Bio: Jan Dumolyn is professor at the Department of History of Ghent University, where he specializes in medieval history. In combination with his academic career, he is also a representative for the ACOD union, where his main area of expertise is education and academic personnel. He is also an alternate member of the Flemish Council for Science and Innovation. In addition to this, he was also one of the leading figures behind the 2011 petition ‘Onderzoekers in Actie’ through which researchers successfully urged the Flemish Government to increase the budget dedicated to research.

  • Loes Debuysere (confirmed)

Representative of the UGent women’s strike
Bio: Loes Debuysere holds degrees in Arab Studies and Political Science and is currently working on a PhD on the topic of gender politics during a democratization process in Tunisia. She is a convinced feminist and recently brought those feminist ideas into practice by co-organizing the UGent Women’s Strike on March 8th, 2017. She believes the parallels between theory (mainly her dissertation) and practice (a.o. the Women’s Strike) have been particularly enriching for her.

  • VredesActie (confirmed)

VredesActie is een pluralistische vredesbeweging die radicaal pleit voor een maatschappij waarin conflicten worden opgelost zonder geweld of het dreigen ermee. VredesActie is een motor voor de ontwikkeling van geweldloze actie en de invulling van een pacifistisch vredesbeleid. De organisatie streeft naar een maatschappij waarin conflicten zonder geweld beslecht worden. Sociale actie, vredeseconomie en vredesopvoeding zijn de drie hoekstenen van VredesActies strategie. De organisatie probeert dan ook actief mensen in beweging te zetten, onder andere door middel van campagnes en trainingen rond geweldloos actie voeren.

Registration procedure

To register please follow this link: https://webapps.ugent.be/eventManager/events/WDiMtbaR     

Registration involves a commitment! A no-show fee can be charged. Cancellation at the latest 5 days before the start of the 1st session is only possible by e-mail to

Registration fee

Free of charge for members of the Doctoral Schools

Preparatory reading

The PhD students will be asked to prepare the four initial sessions by writing a short reflection on the required literature in relation to their own observations, questions and sense of the contemporary university. We have an extensive literature list in the Zephyr documents section, but it suffices to select two articles per session (S1 to S4). The reflection will be a short essay (max. two pages) focusing on the following three broad questions:
1) How do I interpret the current situation at my university, department or research group in relation to the main topics of the required reading list?
2) How could it be organized and developed differently and in better ways (both collectively and individually)?
3) Which questions concerning the topics discussed in the required readings would you like to raise during the public debate.

Link to Zephyr site: http://zephyr.ugent.be/main/course_home/course_home.php?gidReset=1&cidReq=2017WHATDOESITMEAN

Schuermans, N., Meeus, B. and De Maesschalk, F. (2010) Is there a world beyond the Web of Science? Publication practices outside the heartland of academic geography, Area (42(4): 417-424.

Mountz, e.a. (2015) For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University, ACME, International E-journal for Critical Geographies https://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/acme/article/view/1058

Stengers Isabelle, Another science is possible! A plea for slow science, 2012 (http://threerottenpotatoes.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/stengers2011_pleaslowscience.pdf).

Hoffman, S. (2011) The new tools of the science trade: contested knowledge production and the conceptual vocabularies of academic capitalism, Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 19 (4): 439-462.

Baron, P. (2014) Working the Clock: the academic body on neoliberal time, Somatechnics, 4(2): 253-271.

Chatterton, Paul (2008) Demand the impossible: journeys in changing our world as a public-activist scholar, Antipode, 40(3): 421-427.


Editorial of the Journal of Cynical Geographies.

Number of participants

30 per session



Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

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