What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia? (Edition 2021)


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.

Organizing committee

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

Drs. Charlotte Bollaert (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Elvira Crois (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Drs. Tilde Geerardyn (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Janet Molina Maturano (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Sara Nyssen (Universiteit Gent)
Drs. Jorn Van de Velde (Universiteit Gent)
Dr. Fien De Block (Universiteit Gent)
Dr. Valerie De Craene (Universiteit Gent)
Dr. Pieter Present (Universiteit Gent en Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Dr. Sigrid Vertommen (Universiteit Gent)
Prof. dr. Pieter Maeseele (Universiteit Antwerpen)

Contact person

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



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

  • Precarity in Academia in times of Covid19

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. It also seems particularly relevant to give young researchers the opportunity and space to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on their academic practice and on the way Covid has proven to be a magnifier of existing precarities, at the same time as creating new ones.
Participants will do this during a session of open space technology (OST), proposed by the organising committee and the writers of the Slow Science manifesto for an academic praxis after Corona. OST is a method used in order to detect recurrent themes and incentives among the participants to attend the doctoral course.
Participants can propose any topic related to academic work in the current context they want to address in small groups, such as mental health and wellbeing, publication strategies, challenges of particular research environments, visions on the relationship between research, education and society, 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 aid participants to engage and interact with each other throughout the doctoral course and create a group dynamic.

  • Productivity culture, publish and/or perish, open science

    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 high impact factors journals 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, the students will reflect upon their publication strategies and the research climate in which these are developed. Topics that will be discussed include open science, the politics of indexing and ranking, the politics of performance measurement, effective writing and academic performance in general and during the Covid19 pandemic.
    The Covid19 pandemic has impacted academics’ research productivity in various ways; while telework has meant an increase in productivity for some, it has hampered the “expected” productivity of many others (parents, female academics, isolated international academics, less materially equipped (from access to decent housing to technology) academics, etc.). Moreover, those impacted were often already underrepresented and precarized groups in academia before Covid19.

        • Panel 1 - What does productivity mean?
          Short/Lightning 5-8min presentations
          15 min Discussion
          5-10 min Q&A

    In the first panel “What does productivity mean?”, Prof. Patrizia Zanoni will reflect on the culture of productivity and how to conduct research during Covid19. Julian Kirchherr, the author of the book “The Lean Phd” will bring another perspective to the discussion and reflect upon practical tips and tricks for 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.
    Break 15 min

         • Panel 2 - What does Open Science mean and how to ‘walk the talk’ ?
           Short/Lightning 5-8min presentations
           15 min Discussion
           5-10 min Q&A

          • Round-up (30 min)

    In the second panel “What does Open Science mean and how to ‘walk the talk’ ?”, dr. Paola Masuzzo, Open Science activist (TP Vision & UGent Alumni) and independent researcher with IGDORE and Inge Van Nieuwerburgh (UGent) will reflect on public access to scientific knowledge, and the wider impact of scholarly communication on society. There will also be the opportunity to discuss the initiative for open access publishing and Plan S, which requires that from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms.

    • Decolonize the University! A conversation between UGent student representatives, Joachim Ben Yakoub (Luca School of Arts) and Sophie Withaeckx (Maastricht University)    In December 2020 the Ghent Student Council, Umoja, Flux and Engage joined forces in publishing an open letter to “Decolonize Ghent University”, urging the university board and administration “to confront our colonial past and its current influences on our educational practices and frameworks”. Following similar initiatives at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and KU Leuven, the letter addressed several issues, ranging from the decolonization of the curriculum to a better representation of people of colour in the UGent student and personnel corps and the creation of a racism contact point.
      Together with some of the initiators of the Decolonize UGent letter (Imane Salmi and Daisy Van de Vorst from Umoja and Rafael Garcia and Emma Moerman from Ghent Student Council) and Joachim Ben Yakoub (Luka School of Arts) and Sophie Withaeckx (University of Maastricht), we will discuss what it actually means to decolonize the university, beyond buzzwords of diversity and inclusion.
    • Bios:
      Sophie Withaeckx is assistant professor in Philosophy at Maastricht University. She previously held positions as a coordinator and post-doc researcher at RHEA (Centre for Gender, Diversity and Intersectionality) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and as researcher and lecturer at Odisee University College (Brussels). Her current research grapples with the ways in which normative concepts of ‘the human’ inform institutional spaces and practices. On the one hand, she examines discourses and practices of diversity and decolonisation in higher education. On the other hand, she looks at how taken-for-granted notions of humanness and ‘the family’ underlie ethics and practice in transnational adoption.
      Joachim Ben Yakoub is a writer, researcher and lecturer operating on the border of different art schools and institutions. He is affiliated to the MENARG and S:PAM research group of Ghent University, where he is conducting research on the aesthetics of revolt somewhere in between Tunisia and Belgium. He is guest professor at LUCA school of Arts Brussels and lecturer at Sint-Lucas School of Arts Antwerp, where he is also promotor of the collective action research ‘The Archives of the Tout-Monde’. He has published in various journals and books and is part of the editorial board of FORUM+, Documenta and Etcetera Journal.
      Imane Salmi and Daisy Van de Vorst (Umoja Gent). Umoja Gent is an African student association that aims to represent and promote African diversity in Gent. Umoja means unity in Swahili, and in order to create unity among all students, Umoja believes it’s important that students can identify with a student association. Umoja therefore serves as the voice of an important but underrepresented group of students. Umoja also engages with important societal debates on inequality, decolonisation and emancipation. Umoja stands for critical thinking and debate, engagement and solidarity, and against social inequality
      Rafael Garcia and Emma Moerman (Ghent Student Council). The Ghent Student Council is the central student council of Ghent University, which represents and defends the interests of the students. The topics range from all affairs concerning education as well as social affairs.
    • Another university is possible! Action Training by Vredesactie

    In this closing session we connect all the main questions raised in the previous sessions, and integrate them into a crucial discussion on ‘how another science/university is possible’. First, participants will be asked to form groups and think of a concrete 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 ideas.

    Registration procedure

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

    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 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.