Doctoral dissertation

Ben De Meester

Here, you can find the afterword of the dissertation. A link to the preprint is available after that. Feel free to roam around on my main website as well!

Finishing of a doctoral dissertation is a nice moment to reflect on the time before and the time to come1. Not in the least, because you are kind of obliged to write a foreword 2, making it the single most important section of your dissertation: everyone wants to make sure they are being thanked personally. I hereby apologize for forgetting people. I will forget people.

To make it easy, this section will be split in three parts, a “how did I get here” part, a “thank you all for getting me here” part, and a (short) “where do I go now” part, divided by Friends-quotes: the series pulled me through every examination period since high school. They’ll range from slightly irrelevant but great to highly relevant and still great.

Ross: “I’m supposed to attach a brackety thing to the side things, using a bunch of these little whim guys. I have no brackety thing, I see no whim guys whatsoever and – I cannot feel my legs.”

Season 1, Episode 1: The First One

My academic path started when I pursued my university degree at Ghent University. I went from conservatory auditions – boy that didn’t work out well – to civil engineering, partly because the first year of the civil engineering studies are still general: I could postpone choosing my future for at least another year 3. Soon it became clear that I preferred anything involving software. I completed my university degree of Computer Science, clearing sufficient weekday evenings for my hobbies of music and theater, which both happened mostly in my beloved hometown Schellebelle, or very close by.

During my second Master, I fulfilled my Master thesis with Ruben Verborgh and Pieterjan De Potter, with Rik Van de Walle being my promoter. I picked Rik because I liked his courses, and Pieterjan I knew from a design project course. I got Ruben for free. I got the advice to pick a Master thesis based on the people guiding you, not the subject. As I’m not good with choices, this felt like a good strategy, and it turned out to be as such. The successful finishing of my Master thesis allowed me to start at IDLab (MMLab at that time), and started this journey. Well. Kind of.

As a newbie researcher named Ben De Meester, I did what I do best: say yes to everything. I helped in any project I could, with anyone that could use me. This gave me insights in a variety of subjects such as digital publishing, semantic reasoning, data exploration, and digital learning. Needless to say I was a DVD screensaver: all over the place.

In 2016, Greece took over. Anastasia Dimou, a “junior researcher” at the time, gave me direction, told me to say “no” if it was not in line with my research goals (advice I almost never followed), and helped me jump through the necessary hoops to get the right kind of academic publications. This resulted in the dissertation your are reading right now. The topics were suggested by Anastasia, executed by me, reviewed by Anastasia, submitted as papers within minutes of the deadline by me, celebrated by Anastasia, and bundled here. My dissertation in this form would not exist without her.

Rachel: “Yeah, you know what we should all do? We should play that game where everyone says one thing that they’re thankful for.”

Season 5, episode 8: The One With All The Thanksgivings

Which brings me seamlessly to the “thank you” part. Gratitude is an amazing thing that I don’t express nearly enough. It’s also a horrible thing to forget people, which brings me in this neat little situation. I will do a best effort 4 to thank everyone, in no particular order. Dear Filip, Steven, Erik, Juan, Heiko and Jose, thank you for being in my jury, asking the right questions – being, the ones I could answer – and in general helping me achieve my doctoral title. A special thanks to Erik: you leading this lab (and hiring me) gave a great environment to work and be. To Ruben and Anastasia: thank you for being my promotors. As said, I would not have done it without Anastasia for guiding me every step of the way, and not without Ruben for creating an open and constructive research environment, and for being a great example of how research can and should be done. To my other colleagues: together, you have made our office a great place to work for me 5. To me, it’s the perfect balance between everyone-working-with-earphones and telling-dad-jokes-for-the-entire-office. To Pieter, thanks for being my partner in crime so many times. I can say much more but I won’t, for both our sakes. To Sven, thanks for being you 6. To Dörthe, thanks for being with me for everything reasoning-related, it’s the kind of formalizing jibber jabber that I did not understand enough to respect in the beginning, but now respect a great deal, and still not understand fully. To Joachim, thanks. You’re the kind of glue this office needs. To all the other colleagues (both past and present, both in our lab as outside): a sincere thanks 7. Truly and really. You’re awesome.

Thanks to all the others outside of work: I have been very lucky to have such a diverse and large group of people I can call friends. I hope I never bored or annoyed you too much about work, only a little bit. To the Wetteren crew (Stefaan, Mechtild, Jens, Laura, Bart, Ayla, Mariska, Pieter, Jolien, Sander, Giles, Evelien, Dimi, Robbe): it’s a unique thing to still keep tight bonds with over 15 people from high school, fighting against geography and child-bearing. The longer I know you, the more I appreciate what we have. To the Schellebelle crew: whether I know you since I was born (Wouter), I see you almost daily (Arne, Arno, Jelle, Wouter, Bernard, Roald), or I see you barely every year, you shape my life and I’m sincerely grateful. To my family and girlfriend: thanks. I’m truly, truly lucky for the amount of support I get from you. To my sisters Leen en Nele, and their respective partners Dimi and Kristof: thanks. You make our family a whole, remember and help me to get birthday gifts, and make me want to be together as much a we can. We all live within a 200m radius and still have the urge the meet up almost weekly. That’s amazing and I love you. To Marlies: thanks for already understanding me, bearing with me, and making me laugh. It took some time before we got to meet, but it’s worth it.

To my parents: this, and all my small achievements before this, are because of you. I thank you the least, and you deserve it the most. You keep up with me (and my schedule) and support me for way longer and way more than I could have imagined. With this, I sincerely thank you for everything you have done, I hope you know that I’ve always appreciated you, and I love you.

Rachel: “Should we get some coffee?”

Chandler: “Where?”

Season 10, episode 17: The Last One

There’s one clear theme in my “how do I get here” part: I’m a sucker for strategic choices. I won’t pretend to have a master plan, however, I will do my best to not let these gifts I’ve been given be in vain, and pursue impact with my research, my extracurricular life, and my relationships. Thanks for being with me until here, you’ve been part of my journey, and I hope to continue seeing all of you the coming years. You wouldn’t be reading this far if you wouldn’t be worth holding on to.


The full phd book can be found (in PDF) on following link.

The presentation can be found on Slideshare

Public PhD Defense - Ben De Meester from Ben De Meester

The video of the presentation can be found below

  1. It’s a pity I only feel such urge at these kinds of moments, I’m pretty sure it would be better to have ’reflection’-Tuesdays or something.

  2. Muha, afterword! #rebel.

  3. In high school, I was so unnerved with making a study choice that I consistently picked “Opening a bakery” when someone asked. People never asked twice.

  4. Hereby, you agree to the terms and conditions.

  5. IDLab is the only place I have ever worked, so these words might not have much a weight for you. They do for me.

  6. Really, you’re hilarious and great.

  7. With the danger of forgetting someone, specifically, these, who I had the chance to work or laugh together: Pieterjan, Sam, Wesley, Peter, Tom, Laurens, Pieter (x3), Miel, Ruben (x20 at this point), Hajar, Brecht, Harm, Martin, Julian, Thomas, Gerald, Dylan, Femke, Gilles, Dieter (x2), Aza, Kristof, Laura, Joke.