Guest article by Bieke Henkens for our My Academic Role Model series.

Along my young and flourishing academic journey, I am thankful to have met inspiring individuals who each embody unique qualities and achievements that I admire. These remarkable scholars serve as beacons of knowledge, wisdom, and passion. In this blog post, I highlight a few of these scholars who have had a profound impact on me as a researcher, teacher and person.

First of all, I am utterly grateful to Katrien Verleye and Bart Larivière for their guidance along my PhD trajectory, my current postdoc and far beyond. In guiding me, they are not only supervisors, but also mentors and magnificent persons who are always available. As supervisors, they motivated and inspired me to pursue my own research interests. Combining my research passion for smart service systems with their insightful feedback and advise enabled me to develop my unique research profile. As mentors, their guidance truly surpasses all standards. They not only stayed up until 2 a.m. to submit my first paper together, but also continuously guide me in becoming an independent researcher and teacher as a postdoc and in my future career. They always go the extra mile for our team and lead by example. Each in their own way, they have shown me how to move along my pathway as a young academic who aspires to combine strong research and teaching ambitions with a wonderful family life. As persons, finally, Katrien and Bart are – above all – wonderful people who are passionate about everything they do. They genuinely personify admirable values including integrity, honesty and trust. It is inspiring to see how they employ these values as guiding compasses in the academic landscape.

Furthermore, I have the honor to engage in intensive collaborations with inspiring international scholars among whom Nicola Bilstein and Martin Mende. I met Nicola Bilstein rather early in my academic career at Let’s Talk About Service 2018 in Ghent. As one of my coaches – together with Katrien Verleye – she inspired and motivated me to pursue novel and impactful research. This collaboration has blossomed into a longstanding academic friendship and mentorship. I am thankful for the manner in which she openly shares her experiences as a female academic and provides a sympatric ear along my academic journey. Recently, I even visited Nicola at the University of Bayreuth to foster groundbreaking research projects on the verge of smart service systems and transformative services. These shared interests have sparked fascinating and intriguing discussions. Moreover, it is impressive to see first hand how she manages her team and guides her doctoral students along meaningful pathways, thereby paying special attention to their well-being. Over and over, I get to experience how Nicola is a perfect example of a strong academic role model with a loving family at her side. She sincerely motivates me to be ambitious as a young scholar. 

Martin Mende and I, in turn, got acquainted at the TCR conference at Florida State University in 2019. Our shared interest in novel technologies – like smart technologies – and employee perspectives sparked our joint research project. Excitedly, this was supposed to result in a semester abroad at FSU if the Covid-19 pandemic did not put an early stop to these plans. Notably, Martin was so kind to suggest to meet on a regular basis instead. For over more than one year, Martin’s enthusiasm for research during our weekly Friday meetings was absolutely infectious. It is phenomenal to experience how he collaborates on research projects in a warm and devoted manner. Moreover, Martin also generously provided me with tips and tricks to foster my academic career. His guidance – that mixes a US and a European perspective – has been of incredible value when making decisions along my academic career and positioning myself in our service community.

Finally, I am thankful to be able to share all these wonderful academic moments with the members of the Center for Service Intelligence (CSI) – Ghent University and the Belgian Service Research community. This magnificent community not only celebrates every academic achievement, but also puts the hard times of academia in perspective. It is a warm and safe community which has created many opportunities – such as the Belgian Service Research Day, the so-called Happy Friday with our CSI family to receive friendly feedback, and even short discussion in the Ghent University offices – during which we share knowledge and feedback in a constructive manner. As such, we stimulate each other to grow along each of our academic careers.

I am truly grateful to be inspired by my role models and to be part of this wonderful community! For the next blog, I nominate

Sara Leroi-Werelds (Hasselt University)
Nicola Bilstein (University of Bayreuth)
Dominik Mahr (Maastricht University)
Martina Čaić (Aalto University)

to go through the fascinating experience of reflecting upon your own academic role models.

Bieke Henkens
Postdoctoral Researcher,
Center for Service Intelligence,
Ghent University

Bieke Henkens received the 2023 SERVSIG Best Dissertation Award, read her post about her actor engagement and smart service systems here.