Mohamed Fathi Abdallah

From PhD to SME, a one-year leadership program


This week, I have completed a one-year leadership program offered by Ghent University (Doctoral Schools Office and Postdoc Talent Management) in collaboration with Voka Oost-Vlaanderen (Flanders’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry).

This program aimed at introducing PhD and PostDoc researchers to the small and medium-sized enterprises world. Together with my teammates (Paulien and Chenxi), we have been visiting Bureau 9000 Studie & Energieadviesbureau, as an existing successful example, to apply all the theoretical knowledge in practice.

Thanks to Frank De Craecker for the efforts and the valuable information and to Jolyn De Baets for the guidance and communication during the course. Thank you Bureau 9000 for the warm welcome we had during every visit.


Picture Location: VOKA centre, Gent 9000 Belgium.

Content of “From PhD to SME, a one-year leadership program”

Around 80% of Ghent University (post)doctoral researchers continue their careers beyond academia. Business careers differ from academic ones: in business, people typically work in rapidly changing contexts, take considerable risks, focus on attitude rather than on knowledge, and work together with different kinds of profiles.

Ghent University and VOKA East Flanders join forces for the exclusive ‘From PhD to SME’ programme, the aim of which is to build bridges between the world of research and small and medium-sized enterprises. 16 (post)doctoral researchers were given the unique opportunity to learn more about how SMEs are run and to put this knowledge into practice.

Participants were given a chance to gain first-hand (leadership) experience in a Flemish SME in order to increase their hiring potential and smoothen their transition into the non-academic labour market. In addition, participants were able to build formal as well as informal networks, and to learn to identify and name their own strengths, their skills and interests that match better with business life.

Programme (English) consisted of 12 sessions

These sessions covered 6 modules consisting each of a half-day theoretical session, a practical assignment in an SME, combined with a half-day intervision session

Throughout the programme, the participants were supervised by a coach, VOKA East Flanders, as well as the SME they collaborate with. The focus was on an integral approach of thinking and acting.

Integral approach

A. Theoretical sessions

Participants got acquainted with all strategic and tactical dimensions of running a business (strategy, processes, people, etc.)

B. Practical assignment in an SME

After each module theory, there was a practice in fixed groups of 4 participants. Each group was matched with an SME. Based on discussions with the CEO and others within the company, participants was advice and draft an action plan to overcome the SME’s strategic and operational challenges. The 4 SMEs, selected by VOKA East Flanders, were Flemish companies which were facing a strategic review, or find themselves in the midst of a reorganisation as a result of rapid growth. The 4 groups of (post)doctoral researchers were formed beforehand in order to ensure optimal heterogeneity and complementarity.

C. Intervision: feedback & reporting on the practical experience

During the half-day intervision sessions, the 4 groups were discusseing their case with each other and with their coach: in this way participants were broaden their horizons and learn from the experiences collected in other SMEs.

Added value

Co-organised by a non-academic patron, ‘From PhD to SME’ was a high-yield opportunity for (post)doctoral researchers who were keen to gain valuable professional work experience, much sought-after by their future employers.