Towards healthy doctoral ecosystems

doctoral ecosystems

During the 2021 EFMD Doctoral Programmes Conference (DPC), we focused on responsible doctoral programmes for a responsible future (blog). A learning point throughout the conference was the importance of networks and networking for doctoral graduates and programmes. Successful doctoral education clearly does not take place in a vacuum. Next, the specific institutional, regional and national context of the doctoral education provider plays an important role in how such networks might look like. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Introduction to doctoral ecosystems by Arnoud De Meyer

As a consequence, we chose to focus on healthy doctoral ecosystems as the overall conference theme for the 2022 DPC. According to the dictionary, an ecosystem (in biological terms) refers to “a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment”. In more general terms, an ecosystem is “a complex network or interconnected system”. Referring to Moore (1993), Arnoud De Meyer defines a business ecosystem as “a network of organisations and individuals that co-evolve their capabilities and roles and align their investments to create additional value and/or improve efficiency” (Global Focus). According to De Meyer, business schools can borrow from the business ecosystem concept to enable faster joint learning, to be flexible in times of change and disruption and to accelerate innovation. Extending this to doctoral programmes, we look forward to discussing how ecosystem thinking might disrupt and innovate the doctoral education landscape, and how both organisations and individuals can work towards a successful implementation.

An analogy we like to put forward is the one of a microchip. Just like an ecosystem, there are different key components in a microchip that are linked via conductors. The chip will only function well when all necessary parts are defined, present, connected and aligned. During the conference, we will give attention to both the parts that are or can be part of the doctoral ecosystem and to the connections that are needed to have alignment across the system.

As a teaser to the conference and to enhance our understanding of ecosystems and their potential for doctoral education, Arnoud De Meyer set the scene in an introductory webinar (videoslides).

The 2022 Doctoral Programmes Conference

Before we dig into the success factors for building and maintaining healthy doctoral ecosystems at the 2022 DPC conference, it is crucial to get a good view of the partners within and the requirements of a (doctoral) ecosystem. Inspired by successful loosely coupled business ecosystems, he challenged doctoral students, supervisors as well as people responsible for doctoral programmes to consciously draw their doctoral ecosystems and think about missing pieces to further optimise the learning. A well-orchestrated ecosystem differs substantially from a hub-and-spoke model, and trust among its partners is key. So next to its structure, sufficient attention needs to be directed to appropriate leadership.

During the conference in May 2022, we will take two main angles. Firstly, by providing different examples of how a doctoral or knowledge production ecosystem can be shaped, we aim to show that there is no single best configuration. Depending on your institutional strategy and the surrounding regional and national context, your doctoral “microchip” might look completely different. In the opening keynote, Filip Roodhooft (research dean of Vlerick Business School) will present the Vlerick ecosystem. The first panel of the second day will continue this conversation with panellists of radically different doctoral programmes (John Molson School of Business, Henley Business School, and Copenhagen Business School). In the afternoon, an outside-in perspective is added by Guido Groeseneken (director of the doctoral programme and academic relations of imec), who will present a successful case of an industrial and academic ecosystem in nano and digital technology. Finally, in the closing keynote Karol Vieker (DEI manager of Stockholm School of Economics) will extend the conversation by not only focusing on diverse but also inclusive doctoral ecosystems, as it is not enough to have the right components, but you also have to make them work together, feel welcome and aligned.

This brings us to the second main angle, the boundary conditions that make doctoral ecosystems healthy. We like to define healthy in a broad sense, e.g. (financially) viable, future-proof, inclusive, value-adding, sustainable, meaningful, responsible, well-being. In the ice-breaker activity, Ralf Wetzel (Professor at Vlerick Business School) will set the scene by making us “play” and think about our own roles and vulnerabilities within doctoral ecosystems. In the second panel of the second day, we zoom in on the challenges, boundaries and opportunities brought by digital transformations within the doctoral ecosystem from a student, faculty, and administrator perspective. During the afternoon world cafés, we focus on mental health and well-being across the system and on the trust in the supervisor/supervisee team, two crucial conditions for healthy doctoral ecosystems. In the final panel, we look again outside by focusing on broader societal and academic challenges and how doctoral ecosystems can contribute to these in a positive way. Challenges that will be touched upon are amongst others faculty assessment and reward systems, fostering interdisciplinary training, impact debates, funding of doctorates and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Taken together, we hope the conference will be able to shed a light on what a doctoral ecosystem might look like, which stakeholders are or should be involved in your specific context, how to set up and maintain such an ecosystem in a healthy way and why this is important for impactful doctoral education. As always, the conference will provide plenty of opportunities to interact, to bring your own challenges and to be inspired by other delegates in similar roles.

We are looking forward to the first physical EFMD conference since the pandemic with three days of inspiration, exchange, and networking on relevant topics in the context of doctoral education in diverse ecosystems. We hope to see you in Brussels in May 2022!

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch:

Dr Eva Cools, Conference co-chair,

Dr Brecht Cardoen, Conference co-chair,

Dr Jean-Alexis Spitz, EFMD,

* The conference will be taking place at the Brussels campus of Vlerick Business School from 18 to 20 May 2022. Further details and registration can be found here.