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    DSh - What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia?

    Thursday, 4 April, 2019 - 09:00 to Friday, 26 April, 2019 - 17:00
    Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering Campus
    Campus Etterbeek

    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.


    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.



    4 April, 25 April and 26 April 2019

    Venues: 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

    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)

    Speakers: 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)

    Speaker: Nellie Konijnendijk

    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 –women, ethnic minorities, disadvantaged economic classes– in university, failing to address existing intricate intersecting power relationships and inequalities. This session aims to dissect the basic assumptions underlying the term ‘diversity’ and the ways in which it neglects 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 feminist intersectional and interference thinking, as well as out of recent struggles against the Eurocentric foundations of global academia.


    7.30 pm - 9.30 pm: Debate ‘The future of the university’ (VUB, location and speakers to be announced)

    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 on the future of the university. In line with last year’s debate (https://www.deburen.eu/magazine/2269/een-oefening-in-opstand), we will co-organise the debate with a Brussels-based organisation and focus 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.


    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)

    Interlocutors: 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.


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

    In collaboration with Vredesactie


    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.



    Register here

    We kindly ask you to register only once and only when you can actually participate. In case you have already registered but are not able to participate, please be so kind as to notify us by sending an e-mail to doctoral.schools@vub.be so we can offer your place to one of your PhD colleagues on the waiting list.

    Please be aware of the fact that the cancellation and no-show policy of VUB applies. Cancellation of your participation is only allowed up to 48 hours before the start of the course. Otherwise, the policy as described on the doctoral school website will be followed.

    Registration Rules: https://student.vub.be/en/phd/doctoral-training#registration
    No Show Policyhttps://student.vub.be/en/regulations-and-forms#phd