'What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century Academia?'


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. The seminar is also open to supervisors and other interested academic personnel.


All PhD students, no prior knowledge is required.

Organizing committee / Course coordinators

Prof. dr. Koenraad Bogaert, Universiteit Gent,
Prof. dr. Christopher Parker, Universiteit Gent,
Prof. dr. Pieter Maeseele, Universiteit Antwerpen,
Prof. dr. Nick Schuermans, Vrije Universiteit Brussel,
Prof. dr. Pieter Boulogne, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven,
Dr. Esther De Loof, Universiteit Gent,
Dr. Omar Jabary Salamanca, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Freek Van Deynze, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Laura Van Beveren, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Laura Nys, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Sara Nyssen, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Maarten Geeroms, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Tilde Geerardyn, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Charlotte Bollaert, Universiteit Gent,
Drs. Pieter Present, Vrije Universiteit Brussel,
Drs. Valerie De Craene, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven,

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 program consists of eight distinct contact moments: six sessions for PhD students, a public debate and a follow-up session with our PhD students.
● In each of these sessions we aim to have ample time to let our participants debate with leading figures from the university management, funding organizations, the ministry of education, unions and representatives of junior/senior faculty.
● 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 specificities of higher education financing and the Belgian allocation model. This sets out to give deeper insights into the political economy of knowledge production and research by exploring funding/investment strategies and priorities.
● On the second day of the course (day 2, morning session), we will go on to tackle the effects of hypermobility and increasing precarity on the mental health and wellbeing of academic personnel. In the afternoon session (day 2, afternoon session), we will broaden the scope and move from a personal level to a more structural analysis, the fourth 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.
● On the third day (day 3, morning session), we will focus on the interrelations between academia and society, aiming to investigate the political, economic and social role of academics and academia.
● These five 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 sixth session (day 3, afternoon) consists of a reflective afternoon session in the form of a discussion and debate where, based on the insights gained from the five previous sessions, participants will be encouraged to reflect upon what it means to be a researcher in 21st century academia. During this session we aim to shift from theory to practice.


● 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 19 April 2018, 10:00-13:00 - Venue: 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, 14:15-17:15 - Venue: 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: Grote Vergaderzaal Engels, Blandijnberg 2, 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.

  • 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 wellbeing of academic personnel in Flanders, highlighting stressors and buffers as well as delving into their structural causes.

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

Bio: Yannis Tzaninis wrote his PhD-thesis on ‘Building Utopias on Sand: The production of space in Almere and the future of suburbia’ (University of Amsterdam). His work embarks on understanding the relations between urban spatial form and social process. He also followed the recent occupation of the Maagdenhuis at the University of Amsterdam which lasted for months. 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: Grote Vergaderzaal Engels, Blandijnberg 2, Gent

Diversity has been a part of policy jargon for years. However, ‘classical’ policy practices focusing on diversity have often yielded limited results when it comes to ameliorating the position of specific groups –women, ethnic minorities, disadvantaged economic classes– in institutions such as the university. This panel aims to dissect the basic assumptions underlying the term ‘diversity’ and the ways in which it might distract attention away from structural causes of subordination by veiling interpersonal and institutional mechanisms –such as dominant discourses, discrimination, exclusion from certain networks,…– which (re)produce power imbalances. Concentrating on how the relations between social identities and their associated competences might inform power relations between actors, we’ll try to formulate ways of countering inequality in its multi-layered forms. To this end, we will contrast strategies that center on communication and branding, on one hand, with 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, on the other hand.

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

Bio: Evelien Geerts is a PhD researcher in Feminist Studies (DE History of Consciousness) at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), whose work is situated on the crossroads of philosophy and gender studies. She owns an MA in Philosophy (Antwerp University, Belgium), an MSc in Global Management studies (Antwerp Management School, Belgium), and a Research MA in Gender and Ethnicity Studies from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. In her spare time, she works as an editor for the Dutch journal of Gender Studies, and as a journalistic volunteer and activist for several feminist and intercultural organizations in Belgium.

  • Jelle Mampaey: On the topic of policies on social and ethnic diversity in higher education

Bio: Jelle Mampaey is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Open University (Heerlen, The Netherlands), visiting researcher at CHEGG (Centre for Higher Education Governance Ghent, Ghent University, Belgium) and a member of EqualDiv@Work, an international network of researchers with an interest in socio-demographic diversity management in organizations. He holds a Master in Psychology and a doctoral degree in Business Administration. His research focuses on marketing and management in higher education. He is currently involved in research projects on branding and communication of universities.

Session 5: Activism and scholarship - Monday 23 April 2018, 10:00-13:00 - Campus pleinlaan, VUB
  • Riet Van de Velde: On the topic of “Transition UGent: a bottom-up initiative towards a more sustainable university”

Bio: Riet van de Velde is a bioscience engineer and has worked as a researcher in the laboratory of wood technology (“Woodlab”) at Ghent University. She is currently head of the Environment Office at this same university. In 2012, she founded 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). She has also co-authored a reflection on integrating sustainability in the educational and research activities of the university.

  • 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 - Campus pleinlaan, VUB
  • 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 open to the broader public. Shortlist for the panel to be confirmed.

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.

Registration procedure

To register please follow this link: https://webappsx.ugent.be/eventManager/events/whatdoesitmean

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

If you would be interested to attend the workshops without taking the whole course, this is also possible. Please contact for more information.

Registration fee

Free of charge for members of the Doctoral Schools

Preparatory reading

The PhD students will be asked to prepare the course by writing a short reflection on the required literature in relation to their own observations, questions and sense of the contemporary university. Participants should select two topics and write a short essay (max. two pages, in English or in Dutch, due one week before the beginning of the course) based on the required readings for these topics, focusing on the following broad questions: How do I interpret the current situation at my university, department or research group in relation to the two themes and to the issues discussed in the required readings for these two themes? How could it be organized and developed differently and in better ways?

1. Publish and/or perish?
Schuermans, N., Meeus, B. & 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. Journal of Cynical Geographies 1(1).
2. Financing higher education
Debackere, K. & Glänzel, W. (2004). Using a bibliometric approach to support research policy making: The case of the Flemish BOF-key. Scientometrics 59(2): 253-276. Olssen, M. & Peters, M.A. (2005). Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: from the free market to knowledge capitalism. Journal of Education Policy 20(3): 313-345
3. Mental health, hypermobility and precarity
Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden & J., Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy 46: 868–879. Ylijoki, O. H., & Henriksson, L. (2017). Tribal, proletarian and entrepreneurial career stories: junior academics as a case in point. Studies in Higher Education 42(7): 1292-1308.
4. Gender and diversity at university
Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3): 575-599. Ahmed, S. (2007). The language of diversity. Ethnic and Racial Studies 30: 235-256.
5. Activism and scholarship
Chatterton, P. (2008). Demand the impossible: journeys in changing our world as a public-activist scholar. Antipode, 40(3): 421-427.Mountz, A., Bonds, A., Mansfield, B., Loyd, J., Hyndman, J., Walton-Roberts, M., Basu, R., Whitson, R., Hawkins, R., Hamilton, T. & Curran, W. (2015). For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 14(4): 1235 - 1259.

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.