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Entries in women in science (30)


Research hall of fame

"Hey, whatever happened to that really good tech you had?"

"Sad story, really, she got married".

Getting married as a woman in the 1940s - literally equivalent to career death.


Congratulations to Dr Emanuela Pasciuto

Dr Emanuela Pasciuto was successful in obtaining a highly competitive FWO post-doctoral fellowship to continue her neuroimmunology research in our laboratory.

She is a wonderful role model as a young mother who is a highly successful scientist. Congratulations Manu!


Good luck to our Masters class of 2017!


Congratulations to Prof Schlenner!

Our very own Susan Schlenner was just announced as a winner of the BOF-ZAP competition for a prestigious research professorship at the University of Leuven!


International science

This is a time when the international nature of science is under threat - from Brexit, Trump and war, the movement of scientists is being restricted, and with it the scientific advantages of 'brain circulation'.

Just how international an endeavour is science? At the moment, our lab has 21 researchers: 12 are international (from 12 different countries) and 9 are Belgian. 

Over the past 8 years, our lab has trained 113 young scientists. 52 have been Belgian, 61 have been international (31 from the EU, 30 from outside the EU, from 32 nationalities). Belgium has benefited from this international talent, our researchers benefited from being trained here, and the country of origin benefits from the additional training they receive. Immigration is a win-win!

While I am discussing demographics, it is worth noting that 65% of my trainees have been women, so if any departments are struggling to hire female Professors just ask - there are lots of amazing women coming out of my lab. 



Interview with Science Minds

Recently I was interviewed by Vinoy Vijayan for his excellent Science Minds podcast. 

You can download the interview here, if you are interested in a discussion on science careers, different pathways to take in science, mentorship and diversity in science.


Congratulations to Erika Van Nieuwenhove

Congratulations to Erika Van Nieuwenhove for winning the Best Poster prize at the recent Leuven Regulatory T cell symposium!

Extra credit for managing to win with a poster that barely mentioned regulatory T cells.


Inbreeding in Flemish academia?

A newly released study of Flemish PhD graduates has found that fully 20% of Flemish PhD graduates go on to get a professorship in a Flemish university. This compares to perhaps 2% of American PhD graduates, so great news for the Flemish system, right?

I would argue the (unpopular) position that this is too high a rate of PhD to professorship transition. This is not to say that good PhD students shouldn't be given good jobs - just that most should find their niche outside academia. In my experience in the Flemish system, I would say perhaps half of PhD students really shine during their PhD (the system does not formally differentiate, but there are "good PhDs" and "average PhDs"). Many of these stars have talents that are not especially well aligned with remaining in academia - perhaps they are more interested in industry, law, journalism or the myriad of other jobs that a PhD is great training for. So the 20% figure is, to me, far to high. A 5-10% figure would be a good success rate based on my experience.

The other pertinent question is whether this system, with such a high success rate, produces the best outcome for Flemish science. Currently, 97% of all professors obtained their PhD in Belgium, and 75% even obtained their PhD at the same university! These are astronomical figures, especially for a tiny country with close neighbours that are also producing amazing PhD students. These numbers are not based on ancient history either, they are from the 2010 professorship appointments. 

My point is not that Flemish universities are producing sub-par PhD students that should be replaced by foreigners. Far from it - we are producing some outstanding PhDs that should be snapped up for prime positions around the world! My point is instead that an institution that is based almost entirely on internal hiring is going to have severe intellectual inbreeding. One great unique thinker is worth a fortune - clone them a 100-fold and have them work together and you get diminishing returns. It also shuts out the brain circulation that you get when externally recruiting. I'd love to see a hundred Flemish PhDs go out into the world and spread their exciting ideas, and (simultaneously) a hundred foreign PhDs come in and bring their exciting ideas with them. It can happen for people who post-doc abroad instead, and truly creative people can be generated in any system, but the numbers are an indication of openness.

Another staggering statistic from this report: 40-50% of professors (appointed 2001-2013) obtained their professorship within 1-3 years of finishing their PhD! This is mind-blowing. A PhD is the entry point to the academic pathway, and in most countries there is a good 5-10 years of further training before you get a professorship. Also keep in mind that in most countries there is a tenure-track process, so you then have 5-7 years to prove your ability as a Professor before you get tenure. In Flanders for all intents and purposes there is immediate tenure. So we are taking new graduates, who would still be considered junior post-docs in the American system, and instantly granting them tenure before we know if they are good at the job, and before they know if they even enjoy it!

So that's the system Flemish universities are operating under. Lots of professorships, given out at a very early career stage. And who does it favour? The internal hire (especially those who did an FWO PhD at the same universities) over the external hire, and men (19%) over women (16%). Top candidates are plucked out at the undergraduate stage and ushered through the system. Almost the definition of a boy's club, wouldn't you say?

This is not to say that the whole university sector in Flanders operates under these conditions. There are segments that are as merit-based and international as the very best American university. There are also segments where external hire is impractical (most notably, clinical appointments). But this is a clear sign that Flemish universities have a long way to go.

Congratulations to Dr Stephanie Humblet-Baron!

Earlier this year Dr Stephanie Humblet-Baron published a major study on the disease mechanism behind the lethal inflammatory disease Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).

Today she was awarded an FWO post-doctoral mandate to continue her ground-breaking work on HLH! The congratulations of the Translational Immunology Laboratory go out to Stephanie for this well-earned recognition!


Working moms have more successful daughters and more caring sons

Not necessarily restricted to women in science, but well worth a read. It is not a choice between career and family - being a successful career woman actually provides a wonderful role-model to your children. So don't feel guilty about hiring a baby-sitter or even (shock! horror!) asking the father to do some parenting.