The position researchers find themselves in is one of incredible privilege. We are offered time and space to ponder on fundamental and sometimes practical issues, and that is only possible because society provides us with both the mandate and financial means to do so.
For me, it is therefore only natural that we give something back for that privilege to society.
Personal interaction between lecturer and student
As a teacher you have to encourage your students to formulate their own opinions and shape their own worldviews, rather than let them menially reproduce your own ideas.
In an early stage of life, nothing is as detrimental as holding on to one philosophy, theory or ideology, and like a mountain goat tied to a post, run in circles around those same ideas, without giving counter arguments a fair chance.
Those four years of education should in fact be one long exploration that leads students past all aspects of society, where we allow them to be doubtful and challenge them to review their opinions. This requires that students obtain knowledge and possibly enhance their rhetorical flair.
The interaction between professor and student is essential in that process, which due to the scale of contemporary universities often comes under pressure. For that reason, I never teach in large auditoriums, rather in small group settings.
To remain critical as a researcher there are three requirements.
For starters you have to keep one important goal in mind and that is to make life better for yourself, your loved ones and society as a whole. For even if you are writing your own success story, when you find yourself on a sinking ship, you will drown too.
A second requirement is autonomy vis- a-vis your employer: to be able to determine for yourself what to spend your time on and not to be numbed by administrative burdens or meetings.
And finally I like to include the importance of financial self-sufficiency. At Flemish universities young researchers are often underpaid in comparison to their peers in the public and private sectors, resulting in significant financial stressors – a mortgage on a house, etc.
For fear of missing out on a position in the next appointment round, they become a sort of brain slaves to their employers. The rat race researchers are forced into nowadays is by no means conductive to critical thinking.