The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Dirk Timmerman and Ben Van Calster

Dirk Timmerman and Ben Van Calster

Professor in Gynaecology and Obstetrics, KU Leuven (1964) / Psychologist and statistician, KU Leuven (1977)

Can you describe what you do?

We investigate how to diagnose ovarian cancer non-invasively in women with one or more ovarian tumours. Better diagnostic tools help to select the optimal management for a patient, which in turn improves morbidity and survival. We do this within the International Ovarian Tumor Analysis (IOTA) consortium, founded and co-ordinated by our team in Leuven. As a gynaecologist (Dirk) and statistician (Ben), we continuously join our daily experiences and expertise to improve methods. To do so, we collaborate with an international team of clinicians and methodologists, in order to set out new research goals, collect data, and use state-of-the art analytic techniques. We both grew up in Leuven, and still live here today.

How do you perceive Leuven? In your view, what kind of city is it? What would you say is its main appeal as a city?

We believe that Leuven is a rather unique city, thanks to its rich history and its relatively small size, submerged by an international academic flavour. The latter factor also causes the city to be young and vibrant; and to have a wide range of cultural, culinary, sports and entertainment facilities. The city is always very lively – both during the academic year when students organize many events and during summertime when the city and locals ensure that there is always something going on.

Leuven offered us a safe playground, provided our basic and higher education, and is still an ideal environment to develop our academic careers.

How would you say has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

Leuven offered us a safe playground, provided our basic and higher education, and is still an ideal environment to develop our academic careers. It’s a place where different disciplines such as medicine, statistics and engineering, and humanities meet. Moreover, with its wealth of international contacts and charisma, it’s our window to the world.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

A lot of investments have been made to create more and safer bicycle roads, but more efforts are needed from all parties involved to realise this dream of becoming a successful cycling city. Such a bicycle network could be further expanded by including a bicycle highway to Brussels and other cities, for example.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what/where would it be?

The Groot Begijnhof beguinage area combines history with academia, because both students and external researchers still live there. It’s surrounded by the Faculty Club and De Dijlemolens diner, which are equally nice places to eat. Obviously the central area – including de Grote Markt and the Oude Markt – have a similar combination. Further on, BarBóék is a superb example of a successful combination of a book-shop and coffee-bar.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

The story of the Boom van ‘t Groot Verdriet, or the Tree of Many Sorrows is pretty memorable: it refers to a Japanese pagoda tree at the entrance of the Atrecht College on Naamsestraat. This college was a girls-only residence with a curfew starting at 7pm. The girls would have to say goodbye to their boyfriends, which resulted in lots of sorrow and sobbing under the tree.