Shaping the future – VIB’s second postdoc event

​Are there too many PhDs and postdocs? Are funding possibilities for young Principal Investigators (PIs) dwindling? And what about mobility, not to mention gender balance in the scientific community? These big questions and more were pondered, discussed, mulled over and investigated with excellent results at “Shape the Future”, a VIB postdoc event held in Brussels.

Based on a whitepaper written by the VIB postdoc committee, the second postdoc event organized by VIB centered around 3 hot topics: career opportunities and restraints for young researchers, the current and future funding situation and gender balance. These foci inspired the event’s title, “Shape Your Future”, and were addressed during both a panel debate and an alumni networking event. The debate sparked many interesting discussions and provided new inspiration for further reflection. Even after the event was over, postdocs from many different departments continued the conversation at a bar in Brussels – that’s what we’d call a lively debate! Thanks again to our great panel members, alumni speakers and engaged postdoc audience for your dedication and participation – we’re looking forward to seeing you in 2017!

Some key insights we can take away from this fruitful event:

1. PhDs and postdocs: an overpopulation problem?
The verdict: a resounding ‘no!’. Everybody at the panel discussion agreed that the number of students is rising, and that the number of postdocs should increase as well to support the growing number of PhDs. According to the participants, the bottleneck is the shortage in professorships, and the shortage of jobs for highly-educated people outside the bounds of academia – which is partially fueled by the fact that there is little funding available for postdocs working in industry.

How can we address these issues? In addition to increasing the number of research-based professorships,
professors should be encouraged to mix academic with industrial experience and enable their younger
counterparts to do the same, giving them the opportunity to consider other career paths that also make
the most of their skills. Postdocs who take up support functions vs. PI positions are also crucial to maintaining research expertise in labs and research groups, and should be given more credit.

2. Funding: who is actually getting it, and why?
It’s a fact that most funding is spent on attracting top scientists from around the world. In addition to creating more research positions, participants highlighted the importance of giving young PIs the opportunity to focus on their research to protect them from administrative and teaching duties. As a whole, VIB employs nearly 20% young PIs. Mobility is also important in giving researchers independence, especially during the postdoc phase, and in creating new opportunities for other people.

3. Gender balance: rules are still needed
The members of the panel also agreed that it is still important to implement rules centering around gender balance in terms of faculty or board composition. Women should also be stimulated to seize opportunities that they would otherwise not take, since the success rates for female vs. male FWO (Research Fund Flanders)
applications is equally high while the number of female applications is a lot lower. Supporting structures
such as daycare could help give women (and men!) the opportunity to build careers in this highlydemanding field.