Ghent University starts search for 21 top professors

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7th September 2018 During the next few years, the faculties at Ghent University will more closely collaborate with each other in the realisation of ten interdisciplinary projects of major social impact. Ghent University is creating 21 new professorships which they will begin to fill as of this autumn.

The announcement in 2017 that Ghent University intended to invest in a project of interdisciplinary research generated a great deal of interest within the institution. Consortiums wherein at least two faculties are collaborating could submit their candidacy for maximum three new professorships (ZAP-mandates). In total, 92 proposals were submitted. Ghent University had these proposals evaluated by an independent international jury panel.

That an international jury should be asked to pass judgement on interdisciplinary projects is, to put it mildly, an innovative proposition. In their selection of the successful candidacies, the jury paid attention to the scientific excellence as well as to the likely social and/or economic impact of the submitted proposals. Other evaluation criteria included the degree of engagement between and amongst the faculties, the focus on the educational aspect, research or provision of services (or a combination of these factors), and on the additional benefits to be derived from the new mandates by the projects in question.

Twenty-one new professorships

In the end, the jury panel selected ten proposals on the basis of the afore-mentioned criteria. Each project offered cogent reasons on how and why in its realisation it would be able to use the expertise of either one, two, or three professors. This resulted in the total number of 21 ZAP-mandates for the ten projects.

“By creating these ten projects and 21 professorial mandates, Ghent University emphasises the value of interdisciplinary collaboration”, thus declares Rector Rik Van de Walle. “Ghent University breaks through existing conventional barriers by embarking upon specific research questions that will provide solutions on how to resolve some very concrete needs that currently trouble our society. This offers both Ghent University and society at large true and concrete additional benefits. Unquestionably, mono-disciplinary research retains its importance, but to open up the boundaries existing between and amongst disciplines is, indeed, ground-breaking in its own distinctive way.”

Ten projects to benefit society

The ten selected projects treat social issues such as immigration, palliative care and euthanasia, or circular economy. In a nutshell, the ten projects are :

  • Refugee studies examines the multiple, complex, and deeply interwoven social consequences of forced migration and refugee issues.
  • Metamedica stands for research into health privacy, health law, and bio-ethics. Studies are conducted in collaboration with, and on behalf of, clinicians, jurists, ethicists, and ICT practitioners.
  • Urban waste and circular economy deals with the issues of sustainable chemistry and circular economy and aims at instructing chemists, engineers, and other newly developed areas of expertise by introducing methods of socio-technical systems of thinking, multi-perspectivism, and sustainability policy.
  • Econo-physics (economics, networks and data) intends to study economic and social issues using a novel data-driven approach and network methodologies inspired by insights from physics.
  • Public health, sociology, and ethics of the end focuses on palliative care, communication and decisions pertaining to palliative care and euthanasia, by complementing existing clinical and health service approaches with sociological, public health, and bio-ethical perspectives.
  • Leveraging biopharmaceutical R&D means the reinforcement of the existing R&D capacity in the bio-pharmaceutical domain. It pertains to research into egg-white drugs to be administered by ways other than injection, into computer-generated egg-white design, and production process/formulation science.
  • The ‘inflammatory gut-brain axis’ consortium examines how the composition of our gut bacteria and inflammation of the intestines influences the workings of the brain.
  • Auditory neuro-engineering concentrates on research into issues of hearing and hearing impairment and, in particular, in the touch point between technology and neurology in order to create the optimally effective tools towards hearing improvement.
  • Precision medicine for rare diseases is focused, by means of functional genomics, disease modelling through genome editing and novel therapies, on improving precision medicine for rare diseases.
  • Monitoring with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) examines ways in which the use of drones might identify and turn farming practices, eco-systems, land use, and infrastructure fully efficient, economically viable and profitable, and highly qualitative.

All additional information concerning these projects can be consulted on this website.

““It is not just a question of the faculties that are collaborating within these consortiums comparing their knowledge or approaches”, Ignace Lemahieu, director of Research, explains. “It is their aim to integrate knowledge and research in order to arrive at new knowledge. Furthermore, this is done by examining important social issues. It is precisely for that reason that we opted for a strict selection process that emphasises excellence, both in the scientific field and for what concerns its impact on our society.”

In May, the Board of Administration of Ghent University wholly approved the proposal of the external jury. In the meanwhile, Ghent University has started to advertise the initial vacancies and, in the course of the coming months, the university expects to attract top national and international talent to fill each of the advertised positions.