What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia? (Edition 2019)


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.
Building upon our positive outreach experience the past few years, this year we will aim to further expand our efforts to reach all faculties (also faculties with less stringent doctoral schools requirements such as sciences, engineering and medicine).
The seminar is also open to supervisors and other interested academic personnel.


Young researchers are almost inevitably confronted with questions and considerations that their interest in science did not prepare them for. Today’s academic world is a complex system in an increasingly globalized social and economic context. The aim of the course is to introduce participants to the problematic nature of current-day academic life and to inform them about the structural causes of the challenges they face as young researchers, as well as to help them think about ways they can contribute to improving the current state of academia.

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 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.


All PhD students, no prior knowledge is required.

Organizing committee / Course coordinators

Prof. dr. Koenraad Bogaert (Universiteit Gent)
Prof. dr. Pieter Maeseele (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Prof. dr. Joeri Aerts (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Dr. Omar Jabary Salamanca (Universiteit Gent)
Dr. Esther De Loof (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Charlotte Bollaert (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Fien De Block (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Tilde Geerardyn (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Alihan Kaya (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Eline Mestdagh (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Freek Van Deynze (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Elvira Crois (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Drs. Pieter Present (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Drs. Ernest De Clerck (KU Leuven)

Contact person:

Sara Nyssen
Faculty: Arts and Philosophy - Department: Translation, Interpreting and Communication


Course activities will consist of interactive lectures, discussions, and an action training. Participants furthermore will need to prepare questions and discussion topics on the basis of their reading of the literature and of their impressions of the roundtable discussion during the first afternoon. Finally, a public debate will be organized as part of the course.


The introductory afternoon aims to encourage participants to discuss and reflect on their own experiences as young researchers, and about the broader social, political and economic context of research. The first thematic session focuses on publication pressure and the specificities of higher education financing. This sets out to give deeper insights into the political economy of knowledge production and research. The next session focuses on issues of gender and diversity. The third session will deal with the historical roots of academia and the boundaries of the university. The questions, concerns and suggestions raised within these sessions will form the basis for a public debate with invited panel members. During the last afternoon of the course participants will be encouraged to use the critical insights gained in the previous sessions to come up with concrete actions.


  • 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 have a critical understanding of the contemporary political economy of academic research environments and academic knowledge production more generally.
  • To obtain critical insight into and awareness of the relationships between academic institutions, markets and society/democracy, and of current responsibilities and societal role of academic research.
  • To formulate critical arguments and engage in interactive debates.
  • 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

4 April, 25 April and 26 April 2019

Venue: Universiteit Gent, Universiteit Antwerpen, KU Leuven campus Brussels, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Session 1: Thursday 4 April 2019
1.30 pm - 4.30 pm: Introductory afternoon (Universiteit Antwerpen Stadscampus, Building A, 107) - round table discussion

Patricia Schor

The aim of this first session is to introduce the students to the problematic nature of current-day academic life. Participants will reflect on their own position in academia during an open space session, and a roundtable discussion with the invited speakers and the organizers of the course.

A broad range of topics related to academic work will be addressed: mental health and wellbeing, publication strategies, challenges of particular research environments, visions on the relationship between research, education and society, etc... Participants are encouraged to reflect on ways in which academia could be organized and developed differently to the benefit of all. At the end of the session, they will be provided with relevant reading materials in order to prepare for the next sessions.

Session 2: Thursday 25 April
10 am - 1 pm:
Publish and/or perish and financing higher education (KU Leuven, campus Brussels, Hermes 3, 6303)
Jon Tennant and Reine Meylaerts

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.

2.30 pm - 5.30 pm: Gender and diversity (KU Leuven, campus Brussels, Hermes 3, 6303)

Nellie Konijnendijk

By now, there is fast body of knowledge on how to detect implicit bias and what the consequences can be if we do not account for it. To understand the effects of bias we need to understand the concepts that affect the way we interact in universities and how we deal with issues like diversity, inclusions, resistance and intersectionality. In this workshop, we will address these topics and the key studies that explain the effects of implicit bias and where it can hurt academic careers. The main goal is to discuss where and how we can do better and exclude the effect implicit bias can have on important decisions so that the university can move towards a true meritocracy.

7.00 pm - 9.00 pm: Debate ‘University, Sustainability and Transition’ (VUB & Muntpunt – Munt 6, Literair Salon S1)

Mohamed Al Marchohi

Tom Cox

Anneleen Kenis

Barbara Van Dyck

In order to broaden the discussion and allow stakeholders and others from outside academia to participate in the conversation, we will have a public debate, co-organized with Muntpunt, focused on a timely topic which links the concerns discussed in the doctoral course with broader societal issues. 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 actions of the ‘klimaatspijbelaars’ gave rise to a public debate on climate change and the way it should be addressed. In several ways, the role of scientists was one of the topics under discussion. Some argued that scientists should stick to communicating the facts and that we should clearly separate science from politics. For others, the issue of climate change blurred the line between science and politics. The responsibility of scientists for them goes beyond merely ‘stating the facts’.

These facts have been around for a while now. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was founded in 1988 and published its first Assessment Report in 1990. Since then, it has kept publishing reports on the existence of climate change and the expected consequences. International climate summits have however been criticised as failing to result in effective international policy. Does this discrepancy between the urgency of the facts and the inertia of policy mean that scientists have not stated the facts clearly enough? Should they be more clear in their communication? Or does it indicate that there is a limit to the effectiveness of ‘just stating the facts’ in order to change things?

The relation between politics and science is also implicated in the debate on so-called ‘ecorealism’. According to ‘ecorealists’, the problem cannot be solved by ‘costly’ or ‘unpopular’ measures, but only through research, technology and innovation. This view is presented as a ‘rational’ or ‘realistic’ policy based on science. What is hidden beneath it, however, is the (political) decision as to what research should be deemed relevant. It also presupposes that the problem can be solved by a ‘more of the same’-formula, whereas questions can be asked about the way scientific research is organised, the relation between universities and industry, political decisions about what is deemed worthy of research, and the circulation of knowledge and innovations developed at universities.

Session 3: Friday 26 April

9.30 am - 12.30: Slow Science and Society: Another University is Possible? (Universiteit Gent, Campus Mercator, A 1.04)

Shiri Shalmy

Omar Jabary Salamanca

Sigrid Vertommen

The systemic challenges that we are facing as a society – from the rise of authoritarianism and political repression to ever growing social inequalities and global warming– urge us to imagine and build another science and another university. In this session we discuss whether and how we, as university workers, can envision forms of research, knowledge production and working practices advancing a more just redistribution of power, labor and resources and, equally important, the ways we can work towards educational and learning spaces committed to accessible higher education, antiracism and social justice. Centered around three concrete university actions, campaigns and collectives -- the Antiuniversity, the Slow Science and the Women’s Strike -- we will discuss forms of organizing in and beyond neoliberal Academia, with and against the university.

  • Shiri Shalmy is a co-founder of Antiuniversity Now, a collaborative experiment in radical learning and mutual education. She is also an executive member of the autonomous trade union United Voices of the World and co-editor of Doorways: Homelessness and the Trauma of the Neoliberal City (House Sparrow Press, spring 2019)


  • Omar Jabary Salamanca is a research fellow in the Department of Conflict and Development at Ghent University. He is a member of the Eye on Palestine Film and Arts Festival and the Slow Science collective.
  • Siggie Vertommen is doing postdoctoral research on global fertility markets in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. She is also a part of the Slow Science collective, the Women’s Strike Assembly in London and Furia in Belgium.


1.30 pm - 4.30 pm: Action training ‘Another university is possible’ (Universiteit Gent, Campus Mercator, A 1.04)


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 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 organization 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/whatdoesitmeantobe

Please read our cancellation policy: cancellationpolicycourses

Registration fee

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

Teaching material

At the end of the introductory afternoon, participants will be provided with reading materials selected by the speakers of days two and three.

Number of participants

30 per session



Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

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