HR management and strategy

In 2015 the number of VIB employees remained more or less unchanged, with 1.339  FTEs (full time equivalents), of which 346 postdoctoral researchers and staff scientists, 426 PhD students and 401 lab technicians, technology experts and support staff, headed by 75 group leaders and expert researchers. 

A diverse and multicultural workforce

Our research community is highly international; especially among doctoral students (47%) and postdocs (61%). These high percentages are mainly due to VIB’s international recruiting policy, which includes advertising vacancies for scientific positions on international websites and in international scientific journals. Networking and participation in conventions and activities of international grant organizations (such as the European Commission) are other important channels for meeting potential recruits from outside Flanders.

PhD graduates and postdocs who leave after a few years for other countries are also key links in the development of our network and can help other foreign researchers to find their way to VIB.

Investing in people

Over the years, VIB has become “the” place to be for young scientists in life sciences. PhD students, postdocs, experts and group leaders come from all over the world to embark on scientific careers in our research groups. People are attracted to VIB because they know they will find a highly inspirational and creative working environment, state-of-the-art facilities and ample training and coaching opportunities.

Lifelong learning
The “Training at VIB” program offers training courses in the fields of science & technology, bioinformatics, various skills and leadership & coaching. We strongly believe that continuous learning will stimulate people to think beyond borders and to engage in interdisciplinary collaborations. In 2015, we recorded a total of 1,704 participants in our training courses. The leadership & coaching program was changed into a series of individual coaching sessions which are tailored to the specific needs of the group leaders and experts. 

In 2015, FTNLS (the Flemish Training Network Life Sciences), the joint training initiative between the doctoral schools of the 5 Flemish universities and the training unit of VIB, offers first-rate thematic workshops, open to doctoral (and postdoctoral) researchers from all Flemish universities.  For the fourth consecutive year, the program provided well attended and interesting workshops.  Below is an overview of the 5 workshops that took place in 2015:

  • Molecular Epidemiology of infectious diseases - 23-24 April, Universiteit Antwerpen - 83 registrations
  • Microbial evolution: Theory, simulation and experiment - 6-7 May, KU Leuven - 128 registrations
  • Gene Therapy: from state-of-the-art technologies to clinical translation - 4-5 June Vrije Universiteit Brussel - 87 registrations
  • How to reach excellence in the Life Sciences? - 3 September, Universiteit Hasselt - 83 registrations
  • Chemical and Biological Tools for Crop Improvement  - 10-11 September, Universiteit Gent - 97 registrations

The majority of the participants, attending the FTNLS workshops are PhD students, but also a considerable number of postdocs attended, which means that the program succeeded to attract the target audience aimed for by FTNLS.

International Schools
VIB and biotech companies attract talent from all over the world.  To make this successful in the long term we need to create an attractive environment for foreign young families to move to Belgium. With the growing internationalization of both VIB and the biotech companies, developing in Flanders, there is a growing demand for international schools in the neighborhood of the VIB centers of excellence and Technology parks, where the biotech companies are located. VIB has been instrumental in the establishment of such international schools in Ghent and Leuven.
International School Ghent
The International School of Ghent (ISG) was established in 2012 and started with 8 pupils. Currently (4th school year), the school hosts 50 pupils from 16 different countries.

International School Leuven
The International School of Leuven (ISL) started its activities in 2013 with 11 pupils. The third school year 2015- 2016 started with 42 pupils from 15 different countries.

Our people are the foundation of our success

Our scientists and technicians largely set the standard in terms of VIB research. There are also many people who contribute one way or the other to the success of our organization. Colleagues in many support roles ensure that our researchers are able to work in the best possible conditions. We would therefore like to let a few colleagues speak for themselves:
Evelien Mylle – Expert Technician – Plant Systems Biology, VIB-UGent
What I like the most at VIB is the flexibility and variety of the job; you never get bored and it is never routine. There are always new tasks to do and techniques to develop. This kind of constant evolution in your job is very exciting. An example that illustrates this is the number of confocal microscopes available in the department: when I started in 2004, we only had one confocal, and now we have 6. Even after 11 years at VIB, I still have the feeling that I've only worked here for 2 or 3 years.

Jens Staal – Senior Postdoc – Inflammation Research Center, VIB-UGent
Technology support at VIB is very important. I’ve had three Tech Watch projects approved so far: UB Scan, the generation of specific monoclonal antibodies and the use of the CRISPR-Cas9 system to make specific knock-in mouse mutants. A couple of these projects are very promising, and we would not have been able to do them without this grant. The Tech Watch grant is very generous and fairly easy to get compared to external grants. This, coupled with the expertise offered by the Core Facilities, means you can actually produce a lot of high quality data as a single scientist, which would be very difficult anywhere else.

Jan Steyaert – Acting Director Structural Biology Research Center, VIB-Vrije Universiteit Brussels
Working at VIB gives 4 major advantages to group leaders. First of all, there is the multidisciplinary nature of the whole institute, which helps us to perform at the highest level internationally. Then, there is the reputation of VIB; it opens doors when you use the VIB label. A third very important aspect, especially for our department, is that VIB has an excellent Tech Transfer department. And last but not least is the fact that VIB guarantees long-term funding, which makes our lives as scientists easier.

Carmen Adriaens – PhD student – Molecular Cancer Biology, VIB-KU Leuven
The courses that VIB organizes are generally well-conceived and very relevant to many different fields of research. They are hands-on: you can actually try to solve your own specific research question. They range from introductory to advanced and represent almost every stage of a research project. Moreover, the training program creates opportunities to meet other people and learn from each other. Regardless of the project and even of the field, the courses provide a platform with the ability to intersect your data and research questions with those of other investigators and help you solve your difficulties in an informal setting. It is very rewarding.

Heather Rice – Postdoc – Center for the Biology of Disease, VIB-KU Leuven
I came to VIB because this is one of the top places in the world to research neurodegenerative diseases. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to come and to build on good science. I had several opportunities to go to other top places, but the research here is very solid and has a great reputation.  I receive excellent mentoring and training, and just being surrounded by your peers, who are some of the best, brightest and most motivated, is enormously motivating and encouraging. What surprised me most is that it was actually an easier transition for me than I had expected thanks to the support of VIB Human Resources and my colleagues.

Surya Gupta – PhD student – Medical Biotechnology Center, VIB-UGent
When I was looking for a PhD position in bio-informatics, my colleague at Max Planck recommended VIB because of the very good bio-informatics group here. I am happy to be a part of a unit in which we have a lot of international people and good gender equality.
I will go back to India to utilize the knowledge and experience that I will gain during my scientific career in Europe in order to be a strong pillar in developing the proteomics community in India.

Jan Staelens – Business Development Manager – VIB headquarters
Getting our research translated into applications is what drives us. The main objective of technology transfer is creating something of value to society and the local economy. In these efforts, we need to make sure we maintain a healthy balance between doing sufficient basic research and translating this into products. Both are essential. We see over the years that projects that are very successful on the translational side are also being published in high-impact journals.

Mojca Strazisar – Staff Scientist – Genetic Service Facility
It took quite a while for me to figure out how VIB is organized; it is a complex institution with a complex organization. I'm convinced that the thematic focus which will be introduced next year, will help make the nature of VIB more apparent to other scientists, investors, and job seekers. I'm looking forward to it. I think the new structure will make it easier for laypeople and professionals who are searching for jobs to understand just what it means to work for VIB.