Have you met Wesley De Neve?

Prof. Wesley De Neve (large view)

Prof. Wesley De Neve

(20-02-2018) Did you miss the New Year's reception of ELIS? Then you might have missed the opportunity to meet Wesley De Neve. Fortunately, there was still time to ask him a few questions before his return to the Ghent University Global Campus in South-Korea.


Wesley De Neve: "I am a professor at the Ghent University Global Campus (GUGC). Therefore, I work in Belgium for three months and nine months in South Korea. In South-Korea, I’m responsible for courses in Computer Science and Bioinformatics. My research focuses on the analysis of biotechnological data, using deep machine learning (in that context I supervise four PhD students on the campus in Korea). Furthermore, together with my colleagues in South Korea, I also contribute to the administrative operation of the Ghent University Global Campus, as well as to the promotion of this campus."


You probably get this question a lot, but do you notice a difference between Flemish and South Korean education? And between Flemish and South Korean students?


"The student population in the first year in South Korea is very heterogeneous. We have students who were (barely) not accepted in a top university in South Korea, students who have studied abroad and have returned to South Korea and students who were home-schooled. That is why students in South Korea have very diverse skills in terms of mathematics, science, and language (English). "


Specific challenges

"We notice that the analytical and problem-solving skills of our students in South-Korea need more work. Since secondary education in South Korea is more focused on knowledge reproduction than on independent research learning, this is something we have to look into.

In addition, students in South Korea expect the first year at a university to be relatively simple, because many students just completed an intensive preparation for the so-called Suneung test in the final year of their secondary education. The score on this very challenging test largely determines which prestigious university in South Korea a student can attend. But it goes without saying that in South Korea, we set the bar high for our education, as we do in Belgium. So, the first year is often harder for the new students than initially expected, which may deter possible newcomers."


Investing in student counselling

Infodag studenten GUGC

"In order to better prepare our students for an academic year at Ghent University Global Campus, we organise an admission test, a preparatory semester and a summer programme. This trains the students in our way of teaching and they understand better what is expected of them. The students in South Korea are also required to spend a semester at the University in Belgium in the last year of the programme.

To lower the threshold of our future students, we not only focus on preparatory programmes, but also on high-quality student counselling during their study career at Ghent University.  This entails additional contact hours, for both theory and exercises, a mentoring programme, where each professor has a group of students under his or her care and the presence of a student counsellor, who helps the students to improve their study techniques and their study planning.

In addition, a number of difficult subjects were transformed in the first year from semester courses to annual courses, which allows us to spend a little more time on difficult topics. "


Are your research topics related to the specific Asian context?

"It is not our intention to conduct research in isolation. We are actively looking for collaborations with other knowledge institutions and companies in South Korea. I myself supervise four PhD students in South Korea who are conducting research into the use of artificial intelligence in the field of biotechnology such as annotating DNA sequences and analysing medical images. Artificial intelligence is a subject that is very important in South Korea, as well as in neighbouring China."


Industry 4.0

"I also try to respond to Industry 4.0 trend that is also getting a lot of attention in South Korea. For example, we are currently working on a research project funded by the South Korean government that aims to build intelligent packaging machines by integrating techniques from computer vision and machine learning. "


Would you like more exchange between Belgian and Korean doctoral students?

Ghent University Global Campus © Tineke De Backer"The strategic objective is to coordinate the teaching and research activities of the GUGC in South Korea as much as possible with the teaching and research activities of the home campus. Many PhD students from our campus in South Korea spend the intersemestrial holidays in Belgium. For example, the four PhD students, who I am currently supervising in South Korea, have spent the past two weeks in Ghent. They were involved in numerous consultation moments, with colleagues from both inside and outside the research group, to discuss joint research activities.

But we also support the exchange the other way around. Recently two PhD students from the Ghent research group visited the Ghent University campus in South Korea. There they helped, among other things, to set up a seminar series on deep machine learning."


Knowledge exchange is important

" The exchange of researchers, knowledge and expertise increases the impact of your work on a global level.  Therefore it is really important.  PhD students from the home campus can use of the modern laboratories of the GUGC in South Korea, while at the same time becoming acquainted with one of the world's most dynamic and strongest growing regions. Moreover, their presence also strengthens the identity of Ghent University in South Korea.  Additionally, PhD students from South Korea can visit the Ghent University home campus and experience that they are actually part of a very large and diverse organisation. This also offers the opportunity to easily meet many other colleagues who work on similar topics, and this is an enriching experience for all parties involved."


What could Ghent University do to further strengthen the ties with Korea?

"More support for the exchange of people (and therefore ideas and experiences): students, AAP, ATP, and ZAP. The same for setting up joint educational and research projects. For example, it would be great to also be able to teach Belgian students in South Korea. This would be a clear added value for the international character of our program. This strategy, for example, is already successfully applied by the US partner universities in South Korea. "


What is the first thing you do when you return to Belgium?

"One of the first things I do when I am back in Belgium is eating a sandwich with ‘Filet Americain’. Since, besides my family and my friends, I also miss the typical Belgian cuisine. "


What is currently the biggest challenge for yourself?

"For me, the biggest challenge today is finding a good work-life balance, on the one hand because I recently became a father of two daughters, and on the other hand because of the fact that I am also passionate about my research on artificial intelligence, and this domain is currently gaining momentum."


Ghent University Global Campus © Tineke De Backer