Beneath the surface

Silvia Lenaerts: 'I am very competitive'

4 min
Text Alexander Delport
Image Bernd Hendrickx, Video: Alexander Delport

In 'Beneath the surface', we deep dive into the mind of a UAntwerp researcher. Stroom digs for experiences, interests and motivations, in order to discover: what makes a scientist tick? This time, we put Silvia Lenaerts in the spotlight. Lenaerts used to be the Vice-Rector for Valorisation & Development at UAntwerp. As of 15 May 2023, she is the rector magnificus at Eindhoven University of Technology. 



When projects are close to my heart, a flame ignites in me. I sink my teeth into it and don’t let go. I am entrepreneurially minded and believe that you shouldn’t let yourself be deterred by the obstacles you encounter in your path. That drive also ensures that I can keep going without getting exhausted. But you have to be careful that such passion doesn’t turn into obsession. It helps to do sports as an outlet. But also by always focusing on more than one project, I keep that boundary. In my career, I often combined two jobs at the same time. Among other things, I have worked as an expert at the European Commission. My family life also keeps me balanced in that regard. 

quote image

I only realised it in retrospect, but in my career I have often played a pioneering role.

Silvia Lenaerts


I only realised it in retrospect, but in my career I have often played a pioneering role. I was the first to do a PhD in chemistry at IMEC, a place where at the time only engineers worked. I then started my own business in gas sensors. I spearheaded the Bioengineering study programme at the University of Antwerp. At the same university, I was allowed to call myself the first Vice-Rector for Valorisation and Development for the past few years. Soon I will start my latest challenge: I will be the first woman to take up the position of rector magnificus at Eindhoven University of Technology. 



I always had a strong desire to have children, so I am immensely proud to call myself a mother of five. It makes me happy to see them growing up, finding their own way in life, etc. As a mum, I was on my own, but with the help of a wide network, I always managed to combine my family life with an ambitious career. At the time, to cope with everything, I put up an ad at the bakery to find childcare for my children. A few people from the neighbourhood applied, and as a result, my children are now lucky enough to have several grandmothers and grandfathers.




Life, inside and outside university, can sometimes feel overwhelming. Running allows me to set things in order in my head. Sports let me feel at peace first and foremost, although I must admit that I’m also a competitive person. That’s why I have run at least twenty marathons. My fastest time currently stands at 3:13:26. Running marathons is about more than performance. It is also a great way to get to know a new city. While running, I have explored the streets of Athens, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Rome. The highlight – literally and figuratively – for me remains the Jungfrau Marathon. A breath-taking course, of almost 2,000 altitude metres, right through the Swiss Alps. 



My father was a big music lover. While in the car, the speakers were always playing music: Neil Diamond, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, and more. Artists I still enjoy years later. Although these days I mostly listen to jazz and bands or composers like Taxiwars, Aviishai Cohen, Manu Dibango, Ludovico Einaudi, Anouar Brahem, etc. While running, there’s always music in my ears. The playlists, which I compile myself, are hugely varied. At the start of a marathon, I am usually put on quiet songs. As the finish line approaches and the last mile becomes tougher, I sometimes enlist the help of Rammstein.  

Share this article