What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia? (Edition 2020)


Career management

Target group

In the first place this seminar series targets PhD students, young researchers at the beginning of their academic career from all Doctoral Schools, and postdoctoral researchers. The seminar is, however, also open to supervisors and other interested academic personnel. 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). This outreach is obtained by programming lecturers from different fields and addressing various concerns from researchers in these different scientific fields as well as by an intensive dissemination strategy through the different faculties and doctoral schools at the organising universities.


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 critically engage with, debate on and think about ways they can contribute to improving the current state of academia.


All PhD students, no prior knowledge is required.

Contact person

  • Fien De Block Faculty: Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, Department: Talen en Culturen: Arabistiek en Islamkunde


Other members of Organizing committee

This course is co-organized with Universiteit Antwerpen and Vrije Universiteit Brussel:

Prof. dr. Pieter Maeseele (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Drs. Sara Nyssen (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Charlotte Bollaert (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Tilde Geerardyn (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Elvira Crois (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Drs. Pieter Present (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Drs. Jorn Van de Velde (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Janet Molina Maturano (Universiteit Gent)


Course activities will consist of an open space technology session, interactive lectures, guided group discussions, and an action training. Participants furthermore will need to prepare questions and discussion topics on the basis of their reading of the provided literature (chosen in consultation with the lecturers) and of their impressions of the roundtable discussion during the first morning.


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.


a. 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.
b. To have a critical understanding of the contemporary political economy of academic research environments and academic knowledge production more generally.
c. To obtain critical insight into and awareness of the relationships between academic institutions, markets and society/democracy, and of the current responsibilities and societal role of academic research.
d. To formulate critical arguments and engage in interactive debates.
e. To apply the obtained critical insights during a public debate with policy makers and university staff.
f. To translate the obtained awareness and insights into action in one’s personal academic environments.

Dates & Program Sessions

Thursday May 7th 2020, Friday May 8th 2020, Friday May 15th 2020 

Venue: Universiteit Gent, Universiteit Antwerpen, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Session 1: Thursday May 7th, 2020 - Location: University of Antwerp

9.30 am – 12.30 pm: 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. Participants will reflect on their own position in academia during a session of open space technology (OST), proposed by the organising committee. OST is a method to organise a tiny colloquium at the start of the conference in order to detect recurrent themes and incentives among the participants to attend the doctoral course. Participants have the opportunity to propose a topic related to academic work they want to address in small groups, such as mental health and wellbeing, publication strategies, challenges of particular research environments, visions on the relation between research, education and society, etc... There will be two time slots and three different spaces in which participants can gather to discuss on the proposed themes. The more intimate settingand bottom-up approach (theme-wise) will aid participants to engage and interact with each other throughout the doctoral course and create a group dynamic.

1.30 pm – 4.30 pm: Hypermobility, Precarity & Mental Health - Prof. Dr. Katia Levecque (UGent), Dr. Emma Hernandez Sanabra (UGent), ITC of the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering (UGent)

  • 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. This session consists of lectures and a round table discussion with prof. dr. Katia Levecque (UGent), dr. Emma Hernandez Sanabria (UGent) and the International Training Centre of the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering (UGent). 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. This session provides participants with data on mental health and wellbeing of PhD students at Flemish universities and aims to approach these issues, also taking into account the broader academic context, current tendencies in academia and their impact. Furthermore we expand on this topic by highlighting the effect of hypermobility requirements for research and job precarity as well as on the specific employment status of international PhD students
Session 2: Friday May 8th, 2020 - Location: Ghent University from 10 am - 1 pm: 10 am – 12.30 pm: Effective writing, Publish and/or perish and Open Science - Dr. Rachael Ainsworth (University of Manchester), Julian Kirchherr (Utrecht University), Dr. Paola Chiara Masuzzo (TP Vision & UGent Alumni), and Inge Van Nieuwerburgh (UGent)
  • 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 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 effective writing, open science, the politics of indexing and ranking, the politics of internationalisation and the politics of performance measurement. Reflection is supported by lectures on science communication, public access to scientific knowledge, and the wider impact of scholarly communication on society. Also, the author of the book “The Lean Phd” will reflect upon practical tips and tricks to academic writing as well as on research impact. “Perfectionism is paralysing too many PhD students. A more pragmatic approach to doctoral research is needed.” - dr. Julian Kirchherr. There will also be the opportunity to discuss the initiative for open access publishing, Plan S, that was launched in September 2018. Plan S requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms.

1.30 pm – 4.30 pm: Gender and Decolonisation - Prof. Dr. Marieke van den Brink (Radboud University), dr. Sophie Withaeckx (VUB) 'Decolonising the University'

  • 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 –ethnic minorities, disadvantaged economic classes, women– in university, failing to address existing intricate intersecting power relationships and inequalities. This session aims to dissect the ways in which institutions neglect 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 decolonising thinking, as well as out of recent struggles against the Eurocentric foundations of global academia.

7.30 pm – 9.30 pm: Debate with university staff and policy makers - Speakers to be confirmed in cooperation with Curieus/Festival van de Gelijkheid.

  • 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.
Session 3: Friday May 15th, 2020 - Location: VUB
9.30 am – 12.30 pm: Action Training ‘Another University Possible’
  • In this closing session, led by 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.
1.30 pm – 4.30 pm: Reflection Session
  • Learning from last years’ experience, we introduce a final session in which we round up the issues addressed during the course and assess the whole of the course together with the participants. This session, guided by the organising committee, will consist of discussions in smaller groups for the evaluation and a collective session to conclude the course.

Registration procedure

To register you have to follow this link: https://eventmanager.ugent.be/wdoesitmean

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

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

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 group discussions.