Strategic investment in 21 new professorships

In 2017 Ghent University’s Board of Governors decided to allocate 21 new professorships (“21ZAP”, in which ZAP is the abbreviation for Independent Academic Staff at Flemish universities). Instead of simply distributing these new positions across the 11 faculties, they were to be allocated based on an open call identifying strategic opportunities in a collaborative environment. In 2018, 21 vacancies were advertised in order to recruit these new professors.

Policy ambitions with the new professorships

Ghent University recognizes the value of interdisciplinary collaboration, in particular when addressing research questions designed to generate a strong impact. While monodisciplinary research also has its merits, opening up the barriers between disciplines and collaborating with other scientists, push the boundaries of research in different ways. These new insights can enforce academic breakthroughs which may have otherwise been impossible, can address challenges in society which require a combination of scientific expertise, and can foster innovation that has stood the test of multiple methods.

Despite such promising outcomes, interdisciplinary research faces many stumbling blocks in terms of funding opportunities, internal organization, dissemination of research and individual career opportunities. Ghent University wants to remove some of these obstacles by providing organizational support, earmarking specific research funding and rewarding researchers for their interdisciplinary activities in the internal career appraisal system.

The expected outcome is research with a more significant and more relevant impact, academic, social or economic.

Selection process for the “21ZAP” initiative

In 2017, existing consortia could apply for up to three extra professorships to be embedded in their consortium, depending on their respective needs and opportunities. 92 proposals were submitted, involving a very broad range of departments and faculties. An independent external panel was appointed in order to rank the proposals and make a recommendation.

10 proposals were selected based on the following criteria:

  • the consortia must demonstrate earlier collaboration and a commitment to further intensify this, involving at least two faculties
  • the core of the proposal can be research-oriented, education-oriented, service-oriented or a combination of these
  • the research carried out by the consortium demonstrates high academic impact
  • the ambition in terms of research and/or education demonstrates clear potential for societal and/or economic value-creation
  • the new professorships should enrich the existing interdisciplinary environment, resulting in a strong, effective and sustainable team
  • the new professorships and corresponding new expertise to be developed should present an added value to Ghent University in general

In May 2018, the Board of Governors fully endorsed the panel’s proposal and approved the launch of these 21 professorships. From June 2018 onwards, the vacancies for these professorships are being advertised.

10 consortia for 21 new professorships

Against the backdrop of key scientific and ICT developments (biobanks, predictive genetic research, precision medicine, health wearables, AI, big data, interoperability of IT systems, public use files, data mining, …), related role-changes for patients and healthcare professionals, the proliferation of health-related data and new data protection and research data management frameworks, the Metamedica Platform conducts interdisciplinary, high-profile research in health privacy, health law and bioethics, involving and relevant for clinicians, lawyers, ethicists and ICT specialists. It also provides education and services to (future) clinicians and health care professionals.
Central to the project is the observation that there is an increasing degree of interconnectedness and of complexity in many societal systems. This poses challenges for governance, risk, robustness and resilience. Whereas traditional economics starts from a static world in equilibrium, data-driven complexity economics can deal with a dynamic and interconnected world. Novel interdisciplinary research approaches and educational lines are mandatory to cope with this new reality and address the challenges.
Studying the multiple, complex and interrelated social consequences of forced displacement and fleeing urges to adapt an interdisciplinary approach, whereby the innovate research findings also form the basis to build highly relevant educational initiatives and to create far-reaching impact in diverse societal contexts. The appointment of two new ZAP-members, embedded in the CESSMIR consortium, will therefore create unique opportunities to strengthen Ghent University as Centre of Excellence on the interdisciplinary study of the social aspects of forced displacement and refugee experiences.
Numerous medical and societal developments have led to increasingly steep challenges for health professionals in the care for patients at the end of life and their families. This program will complement clinical and health services paradigms with relevant sociological, public health and bioethical perspectives on issues relating to palliative and end-of-life care, communication and decision making. It will provide an interdisciplinary platform for the integration and spreading of knowledge in this increasingly important domain.
The term gut-brain axis refers to the communication between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the brain, linking intestinal functions including the microbiota composition, with emotional and cognitive functionality of the brain. While both human and rodent data support that the GI tract affects the health of the central nervous system, not much is known about the mechanisms of this gut-brain axis communication. Moreover, unravelling the disturbance of the gut-brain axis in gut inflammation associated neurological disorders, might result in the identification of innovative therapeutics for these diseases.
Biopharmaceuticals are pharmaceutical products of biological nature, most often proteins, and their use in medicine is rapidly expanding. Ghent University harbors vast expertise in the molecular biotechnological aspects of pharmaceutical protein research. The University now wants to further reinforce its R&D capabilities in the biopharmaceutical field by recruiting 3 new professors in important areas of long-term strategic interest, i.e. in research on protein drugs for delivery through non-injectable routes, in computational protein design and in production process/formulation science.
Age-related hearing deficits entail an important social, economic and health-related problem. The Ghent Auditory Science Platform (GASP) is a tight collaboration between half a dozen of research groups from the faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences, Engineering and Architecture, and Psychology and Educational Sciences conducting joint research in auditory science. The additional professorship should bridge the gap between machine listening and medical interventions at the auditory neurological level by boosting a new research field that results in personalised devices directly influencing neural processing of sound signals for perfect quality of hearing experience.
RARE-MED is a multidisciplinary consortium for basic and translational research on precision medicine for rare diseases, to address missing heritability using systems genetics and functional genomics, to facilitate disease modelling using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing of aquatic model organisms (zebrafish, Xenopus) and of cellular systems, to introduce new gene therapies based on antisense oligonucleotide- or CRISPR/Cas9-based genome editing. RARE-MED will bring UGent in a unique strategic position as an international reference center for rare diseases.
The newly founded UGent research center will focus on new technology for making UAV based monitoring more application-relevant, more economic, and of higher quality. One key aspect will be automation, which encompasses real-time flight planning based on image analysis and streamlining of the data processing chain. Another key aspect will be adapting and interpreting the imaging process to and for specific applications, based on state-of-the-art crop and ecosystem research.
With the Urban waste and circular economy initiative, we want to create an interdisciplinary setting, which will address sustainable chemistry and circular economy from a promising socio-technical perspective on 2 emerging upcoming chemical areas. Besides the inter- and transdisciplinary research, there will be also a focus on education innovation to train the ‘chemist or engineer of the future’ by the implementation of socio-technical imaginaries, multiperspectivism and sustainability politics.