Jacques Kets Award

Are you a master’s student with an innovative dissertation on zoology? Are you keen on an academic career? Take part in the Jacques Kets Award for Zoology to sharpen your academic skills and expand your professional horizons. The award scheme gives you the chance to win a travel grant or an invitation to speak at the ZOOLOGY conference. Finalists in the Jacques Kets Award also get additional training. The research coordinator at ZOO Antwerp and ZOO Planckendael, Philippe Helsen, explains, “The selected students are offered a session of scientific communication training, in which they learn to explain their work in a simple and attractive way”.

Historical background

The roots of the Jacques Kets Award go back to the very first years of the Zoo. Ever since the earliest days, when ZOO Antwerp was established in 1843, the stimulation of scientific research and the promotion of interest in the natural world has been of the greatest importance. The best proof of this can be found in the founding charter of ZOO Antwerp, where this object was put into words by Jacques Kets, the first Director of ZOO Antwerp. Dries Herpoelaert, the tenth Director of ZOO Antwerp, comments, “We have never let this ambition go. The Jacques Kets Award was established in 1953 as a sort of homage to our first Director. The idea was to foster a love of nature in the younger generation. I too, the tenth director, think that this prize is extremely relevant. We still think it’s important that young people should study nature”.“It’s still a highly relevant subject”, continues Herpoelaert, “The natural world is being challenged as never before: global warming, dozens and dozens of species dying out as a result of demographic pressure ... For these reasons alone ZOO Antwerp considers that getting young people to think about nature is a key mission.

Winning is a tremendous boost

For a young scientist at the start of a career, winning the Jacques Kets Award gives your resumé or CV a tremendous boost and helps you to continue your project or get started on an academic career in zoology. “It shows that you have drive, are competitive, and that you are prepared to show your work to others”, explains Philippe Helsen. “Together with my fellow scientists we assess the quality of the submitted master dissertations. The prize is becoming increasingly international. Students who have taken part go all over the world, and the subjects are more international too”.

The Jacques Kets Award has itself undergone a transformation. “In the past we aimed at secondary school pupils who had written an essay on a biologically interesting subject” recalls Helsen, “But since 2007 we have concentrated on the universities and master dissertations. This has meant an immense improvement in the quality of the submitted work. What we now see are fundamental scientific questions that are properly formulated and interrogated, and as students have to score at least 14 out of 20 on their dissertations, the preselection is also rigorous”.


ZOO Antwerp has been conferring the annual Jacques Kets Award ever since 1953. To quote Philippe Helsen again, “The abstracts of the submitted dissertations are first examined by us and then assessed by academics in universities all over Belgium. We want to have a representative idea of the quality and relevance of the research. Everybody gives the dissertations a score and the five best are then selected to take part in the next round”. Subsequently the top five are invited to make an oral presentation of their work (in English) during the finals of the Jacques Kets Award. “The Jury Award is conferred by ZOO Antwerp and is worth € 1,000. This is the main prize and goes to the student with the substantively best dissertation and who is best able to present and defend the dissertation viva voce before the judges”, explains Helsen. “The money enables the winner to take part in an international congress. It is here, at the congress, that the laureate can reap the benefits. This is where you can meet other scientists active in the same or a related field – a tremendous opportunity to establish contacts and develop your career”.

The People’s Prize is awarded by the Royal Belgian Zoological Society. This prize gives the laureate the chance to present his/her dissertation as a guest speaker at an international conference of zoologists at the Benelux Congress of Zoology. The conference is organized every year by the Royal Belgian Zoological Society and the Royal Dutch Zoological Society.


Before the Kets Award Finals, the five selected students attend a workshop organized by Toon Verlinden of The Floor is Yours about how you can quickly learn to give a clear and convincing presentation about your research. “This is for us one of the most important aspects”, says Helsen, “ We do fundamental scientific research as well as applied research. Of course this brings us into contact with other scientists, but also with the people who work in the field. It’s vital that we can communicate well with both of them”.


Every master’s student in biology, molecular biology, bio-engineering sciences, or a related scientific discipline who has written a master’s dissertation at Belgian university or research institute in the 18 months prior to the call for papers can take part. Take note though that your dissertation must have got a mark of at least 14 out of 20. The subject must also fall in the field of zoology in the widest possible sense. This includes fundamental and applied studies of the conservation of biodiversity, ecology, population and conservation genetics, behavioural ecology and ethology, animal physiology, endocrinology, evolutionary biology, comparative anatomy and morphology, taxonomy and phylogeny, neurobiology and related disciplines.

How do I take part?

Taking part in the Kets Award selection coincides with graduation and the start of your academic career, taking your master’s degree. For the rest there are few barriers to entry. If you got good marks, send in an abstract of your dissertation so that we can assess it. The deadline for this year’s submissions has already passed. Keep an eye on ZOOscience.be if you want to take part next year. Next year applications may be submitted between 1 June and 30 September.