Becoming a member of a “Young Academy”. What’s the deal?

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Violet Soen

Violet Soen

Becoming a member of a “Young Academy”. What’s the deal?

By Violet Soen, Max Weber Fellow, HEC, 2008-2009

The Young Academy of Belgium (Flanders) was officially inaugurated on 29 March 2013, and I felt very honoured to form part of its first cohort. It brings together 40 academics, between three and ten years since achieving a PhD: some postdocs, others tenure-tracks, and some professors. It was the twentieth Young Academy to be founded! Considering the rapid spread of Young Academies worldwide, this might be an ideal moment to reflect upon what a ‘young academy’ could offer as an added value in the career of a young researcher.

For most of us, it has above all been an opportunity to escape our day-to-day work, for me this means the history department in Leuven, and to meet new colleagues at similar career stages, but with very (if not completely) different research interests and affiliations. Very much like the Max Weber Programme, a Young Academy offers interdisciplinary meetings (and coffee breaks!), broadening the scope of your own discipline and university. It is exactly this mix in institutional and disciplinary backgrounds that provides the necessary background for our mission in the academic field of Flanders: enhancing the possibilities of young PhDs at the very start of their academic careers.

Since our inauguration, we have given presentations to several stakeholders in Flanders, paving the way for policy work later on. Watching them listening to us, taking notes of our suggestions, asking us to send them reports on what we discuss and conclude, is enormously encouraging; it was in fact exactly what we were hoping for! In many academic councils and bureaucracies, the voices heard (or represented) are quite often those of more senior researchers, so a Young Academy can certainly function as a necessary (and hitherto absent) think-thank for science and education policy.

Equally, the Young Academy of Belgium (Flanders) will work on interdisciplinary research; a topic for which my stay at the MWP certainly proved to be fertile ground. Through the multidisciplinary workshops in the old Villa La Fonte, we all learned to recognize, and in some cases even to overcome, the bias of our own discipline when discussing topics from the social sciences. The Young Academy is even more interdisciplinary, through its inclusions of social, exact and applied sciences. Again here, the contacts provided by the Young Academy can pave the way for interdisciplinary research.

Finally, we consider communication to be an important means to inform a wider audience (and to respond to the support we get from the government). We recognize that our universities do not necessarily create favourable conditions for science communication at early career stages (all that time lost for writing our necessary top-ranked-publications!). Nevertheless, we are convinced that professional training in science communication is a necessary first step towards breaking down the barriers between academia and audience. Personally, midway in a tenure-track position, I thought that science communication was the field in which young academics received almost no stimulus at all, whereas my own initiatives always felt very rewarding. So I decided to chair this working group to get some things moving here (watch out for our new website from October onwards).

Apart from the above-mentioned goals, the Young Academy of Belgium (Flanders) aims to follow international interests, and to keep track of what is happening in the areas of researcher mobility and Open Access. One of our members is also present at the General Assembly and the Working Groups of the Global Young Academy. From all members there is hope and enthusiasm to make a difference in the academic field; now, it is up to us to make it happen.

 

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