In search of the ideal university

Doret de Ruyter and Joke van Saane have plenty to say about ‘the ideal university’. In their respective roles and with a deep sense of intrinsic motivation, they are committed to changing the recognition and rewards system for academic staff. They know that this is a long process, but they agree on one thing: it is worth continuing to strive for an ideal university.

(Read this interview in Dutch)

As chair of the Recognition and Rewards committee of the Dutch Denominational Universities (Nederlandse Levensbeschouwelijke Universiteiten, NLU), a position she shares with Prof. Bram de Muynck of the Theological University of Apeldoorn, Doret has been closely involved in drawing up the NLU’s vision for a new way of recognising and rewarding academic staff. ‘Developing a vision for the NLU was an interesting and inspiring process. We obviously had to deal with differences both within our university and between the four partner universities (University for Humanistic Studies, Theological University of Apeldoorn, Theological University of Kampen and Protestant Theological University), but we also shared a lot of similarities in terms of what characterises an ideal university.’

All four universities felt a strong sense of urgency. Joke says that having a well-organised recognition and rewards system is part of a university’s job: ‘I believe in science that has time to think and move forward, but I also believe in science that matters in society. The dissemination of such scientific knowledge really brings added value to society. If you reduce the quality of science and academic practice to the number of publications and the amount of funding acquired, then you are not doing justice to your duty as a university.’ Doret adds: ‘The Recognition and Rewards programme is desperately needed: we can see that the workload is disproportionate. On all fronts (research, education, valorisation), high demands are placed on staff. Everyone is working very hard, and many are working too hard.’

Doret: ‘I’ve been in academia for 30 years and I’m used to the fact that you usually work more hours than your official contract. You do this because, as an academic, you are intrinsically motivated: you love your job, so you just enjoy doing it. But what was once optional and voluntary has now become almost always required.’

Eight characteristics of an ideal university

The NLU’s vision describes eight characteristics of an ideal university. As stated in the vision, the ideal university obviously does not exist and will never be fully realised. But aiming for this ideal will bring us closer.

The ideal university:

  1. Forms a (learning) community;
  2. Connects education and research;
  3. Shares research results with others in an accessible manner;
  4. Encourages peer review and cooperation;
  5. Focuses on content and quality;
  6. Thinks in terms of what staff and students need to flourish;
  7. Appeals to the intrinsic motivation of staff by tapping into their talents;
  8. Is led by development-oriented leaders.

These characteristics are described in further detail in the NLU’s vision document.

Joke: ‘The idea of Recognition and Rewards is so good because it goes back to why we have universities in the first place. It shouldn’t just be about numbers, but about what we really value about academia.’ The eight characteristics are also discussed in meetings of the Executive Board of the University for Humanistic Studies (UvH) and in the joint discussions of all four executive boards within the NLU. ‘These characteristics are great, manageable topics to discuss, so we try to regularly reflect on them in meetings to keep our sights on where we want to go.’

The word ‘flourish’ and the concept of helping each other stand out in the characteristics from the vision. From the NLU’s perspective, however, these are very obvious aspects of an ideal university. Doret: ‘These characteristics fit perfectly with our type of universities. At the UvH, for example, our research (and education) is focused on a meaningful life and the humanisation of society.’ Joke adds: ‘If you also look at the theological universities, their aim is first and foremost to contribute to the community: in other words, helping others rather than pursuing personal gain. We see symptoms of unhealthy competition as well, of course, but at the core we are aware of the fact that we have to do it together.’ The small-scale nature of the universities plays a role in this. In a smaller organisation, it is important to openly discuss how positions are filled. Joke: ‘We don’t have the luxury of shifting positions and creating space for everyone, so we have to look for solutions together.’ Career differentiation is a core element within the Recognition and Rewards programme, but at the same time it is also a challenge for these universities. ‘Since we have limited opportunities for advancement, our staff must be able to continue their career elsewhere and still be evaluated in the same way. That is why it’s very important for all Dutch universities to make this major cultural change together,’ Joke explains.

The small-scale nature of the NLU member universities was also helpful in drawing up the characteristics and vision, however. ‘While developing the vision, we were able to ask everyone what they thought was important. And during discussions of the vision, all staff at each university had the opportunity to share their ideas,’ Doret says. Doret and Joke describe engaging in dialogue, eliminating obstacles and identifying directions for the future as a pleasant and open process at NLU.

‘As soon as you start getting close, things get exciting.’

The next step is to implement the vision and take the first steps towards change, but this daunting task is easier said than done. As soon as it starts getting concrete, things get exciting. The way a person is evaluated now might change, after all, and what does that mean for someone’s job? The tangible and visible steps will certainly raise justified questions and concerns. Joke: ‘What also makes it difficult for us is that we can’t try something out on a smaller scale, such as within an individual faculty, for example. We are too small for that, so for us it’s also a kind of “all or nothing” situation.’

In our conversation with Doret and Joke, there is an important topic that cannot be ignored: leadership. What exactly is academic leadership?

Joke explains: ‘For me, this is related to two things: an organisational factor and a human factor. On the one hand, a leader takes responsibility for the greater whole and not just his or her own position. That means really looking after the whole university. At the same time, a leader takes active interest in others by coaching and encouraging them. Encouragement doesn’t mean pushing someone in a specific direction, but helping them to take developmental steps.’

Joke talks about ‘academic service’ and being aware of what is going on in society, what lies ahead and how this relates to the organisation. Doret mentions personal leadership as another important component. ‘To be a good leader, it’s also important to question yourself, reflect and be open to other ideas and perspectives.’ With Doret, who is also Director of Education at the UvH, the link between leadership and education is immediately clear. What does good leadership in education look like?

Doret: ‘Leadership in education primarily involves lecturers treating students in the way described above. In a sense, the lecturer is there to serve the students. Which does not mean blindly following the students’ wishes, of course: education is also fed by your own expertise and educational vision. But as a lecturer, you try to help students develop so that they can flourish.’

Once again, there is a natural link to Recognition and Rewards, as both Doret and Joke say it is important to acknowledge and appreciate teaching more. Teaching is still too often viewed as something that people want to get out of so that they’ll have more time for research. ‘We need good leaders in this area, too: people who really believe that teaching careers deserve appreciation. ’

Doret adds: ‘Education and research are both important social components of a university. It’s important that science makes a contribution to society. By the way, this doesn’t mean that every research project has to have an immediate impact on society. Slow science also needs space and time to develop and think through things that can deliver results in the longer term.’ Joke adds: ‘That’s why working in teams is so important. A team has people who are good at making the connection to society, but also people who can do research and think on a more conceptual and fundamental level. Each type complements the other, and that is a major advantage of working in teams.’

The hour flew by in our passionate conversation with Joke and Doret. Joke shares her final thoughts: ‘We realise that this is a huge cultural shift which is easier on paper than in reality, but it is so worth it. This change brings us back to the essence of academia.’

Doret de Ruyter has been professor of Education at the University of Humanistic Studies since 1 June 2018 and Director of Education since 1 September 2020. Prior to that, she spent fifteen years working as a professor of Theoretical Pedagogy at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Doret is one of the two chairs of the NLU’s Recognition and Rewards committee. Flourishing as a goal of upbringing and education is one of her research and teaching themes.

Prof. Joke van Saane is professor of Meaning and Leadership. Since 1 July 2019, she has served as rector and chair of the Executive Board of the University of Humanistic Studies. She previously worked at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. From 2014 to 2019, she was professor of Religious Psychology and Education Theology & Religion Studies and Education portfolio holder at the Faculty of Religion and Theology of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Reflections by: Pieter Duisenberg

On Friday June 4 all members of the Executive Boards of the universities met in the General Assembly. One of the topics discussed during this meeting was recognition and rewards. In this blog Pieter Duisenberg, President of the VSNU reflects on this discussion.


‘The big societal challenges of the moment call for more cooperation and for a multidisciplinary, impactful approach to science with fitting recognition and rewards. By way of the above-mentioned activities, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the Dutch Research Council (NWO), ZonMw, the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) are boosting the development of such an approach.’

At the VSNU’s General Assembly* of Friday 4 June, I briefly closed my eyes to think back to the beginnings of the movement for recognition and rewards – and yes, you can definitely call it a movement by now! The words in italics above were the closing sentences of the first Recognition & Rewards position paper of 2018. This was the forerunner of Room for Everyone’s Talent (Ruimte voor ieders talent).

 

That is when people started taking the first steps. Progress was also made during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is quite an achievement.

A few examples:

  • Several universities have written their own vision document.
  • Recognition and Rewards is being widely discussed.
  • The SEP has become the Strategy Evaluation Protocol and has incorporated elements of Recognition and Rewards.
  • NWO and ZonMw have switched to a ‘narrative CV’ with fewer hard metrics and more emphasis on impact.
  • The ‘Faculty of Impact’, offering a post-doc programme focusing on valorisation, was launched.
  • The example of the Recognition and Rewards movement is being followed in Europe: the European University Association has included the ‘diversification of research careers’ in its strategy, and the ‘attractiveness of researchers’ careers’ is a key component of the renewed European Research Area.

More and more, I am realising that the three pillars of the VSNU agenda, ‘Knowledge is our Future’ (Kennis is onze Toekomst), are closely interlinked. These pillars are:

1) working together to create social impact and earning capacity;

2) innovation towards an open and connected university;

3) room for talent.

Pillars one and two are dependent on pillar three. This third pillar is the basic prerequisite for our university, our future! But Recognition and Rewards is also mutually dependent on what happens in other tracks, such as open science, the acceleration agenda for innovation in education, the programme for ambitious valorisation and, notably, funding. The level of funding and the way in which funding instruments are used are crucial for creating room for talent. After all, allowing the talents of our academics to flourish requires more peace and continuity, so they can contribute successfully to scholarly research, academic teaching and social developments. Accordingly, we want there to be less emphasis on funding applications in careers. Greater differentiation in career paths means we want to create opportunities for academics with a variety of profiles. This requires funding, and we are committed to securing it. We advocate a funding model that matches social ambitions and the diversity of these ambitions, rather than the current distribution model based on numbers. We are aiming for ‘rolling grants’ for more independent research and sector plans for strengthening and deepening disciplines.

A productive discussion we had with Board members at the General Assembly of 4 June showed that they are keenly aware of the link between talent and funding. It would be great if the parameters for the distribution of funds at the national, university and faculty level were to help the transition in Recognition and Rewards along. How do we translate recognition and rewards priorities into financial decisions at institutions? If we attach so much importance to interdisciplinarity, how do we put it into practice when it comes to sector plans and institutional plans? If we can invest more in direct government funding, how do we simultaneously reduce high application rates and increase success rates?

In short, the recognition and rewards movement is crucial to our future. Both in the Netherlands and internationally, it has got off to a flying start. But the road is long, the contingencies are considerable and complex and the movement immediately gives rise to a slew of new questions. We will solve these issues together: with each other, with our partners NWO, ZonMw, NFU and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, with our international friends and with ministries and the political arena.

*General Assembly: two or three times a year, all members of the Executive Boards meet in the General Assembly. This is where the joint strategy is determined, aimed at increasing and anchoring the quality of research-oriented higher education, scholarly research and their impact on society.

The animation below shows the dilemmas as discussed during the General Assembly

VSNU contact: Kim Huijpen

 

Read article in Dutch

Team science for groundbreaking fundamental research receives boost of 12.5 million euros

Sixteen research teams will set up innovative collaborations that contribute to innovation in science and healthcare for the longer term. Each team has received a maximum of 750,000 euros from the programme ZonMw Open Competition. 

ZonMw is increasingly using the narrative CV in funding rounds, and it was now used for the first time to assess research teams. In a manner appropriate to the research question and design of the research project, researchers and research groups are assessed for research, education, and a good balance between individual talent and team science, scientific leadership, and contributions to Open Science. This form of assessment is part of the new Recognition and Rewards.

Interview: Een update over Erkennen en Waarderen

In dit (NL) interview door ScienceGuide vertellen Rianne Letschert en Jeroen Geurts over de voortgang van het Erkennen en Waarderen programma in Nederland. Ze vertellen over de waarde van onderzoek, de rol van het team en het individu daarin. Ook de onderzoeksfinanciering, de internationale aandacht voor het programma en de waardering voor onderwijs wordt besproken.

Lees het hele interview op de website van ScienceGuide:

More than ninety teams of scientists ‘appreciated’ for their commitment to science communication

22 April 2021

The submissions to the pilot fund ‘Science communication by scientists: Appreciated!’ illustrate the broad scope and diversity of science communication activities by researchers in the Netherlands.

Although interaction between science and society is of enormous importance, science communication is still far from being recognised as integral to the tasks of science. The pilot fund ‘Science communication by scientists: Appreciated!’ – set up by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and administered by the Academy – takes a step towards showcasing and rewarding the many scientists who have dedicated themselves to science communication.

Huge response
‘The submissions to Appreciated! make clear for the first time how much researchers are already achieving in science communication and public engagement,’ says the chair of the assessment committee, Academy member Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente). ‘This response implies that the total effort is many times greater, since only one or two teams could be nominated by each faculty and, on top of that, many scientists work on science communication individually.’

The projects cover a wide range of topics, from women’s history and Dutch literature to artificial intelligence and astronomy. The science communication activities are also very diverse, from books and comics to blogs, videos and podcasts.

Networking and knowledge-sharing
To maximise the response to the fund’s one-off incentive, apply the lessons learned through the fund directly, and draw on the experience that the various faculties around the country have gained with many different forms of science communication, a supplementary programme is being organised on the theme ‘Science communication by scientists’. An extensive programme of activities will follow in 2021 and 2022 that will focus on knowledge-sharing, training in public engagement, an impact study by the Athena Institute (VU Amsterdam), a closing conference, and a final report offering guidelines to help knowledge institutions appreciate and facilitate science communication by scientists. The Academy is developing and will carry out the programme in cooperation with Samenweten.

About the fund
Appreciated! is meant for ongoing science communication projects being carried out by teams of scientists. A total of 96 applications have been submitted by 62 faculties, with all Dutch universities participating. Of these, 91 have been awarded funding. Each team has received € 10,000. See the list of the award recipients. The Appreciated! fund is in line with the new approach to recognising and rewarding scientists that was recently introduced in the Dutch knowledge sector. The fund was set up by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and is being administered by the Academy.

Open the overview of the submissions.

 

Meer dan 90 teams van wetenschappers ‘Gewaardeerd’ voor wetenschapcommunicatie

Uit de inzendingen voor het Pilotfonds Wetenschapscommunicatie door Wetenschappers Gewaardeerd! blijkt de grote omvang en diversiteit van wetenschapscommunicatie-activiteiten door wetenschappers in Nederland.

Ondanks het grote belang van interactie tussen wetenschap en samenleving wordt wetenschapscommunicatie nog lang niet altijd erkend als een volwaardig onderdeel van een wetenschappelijk takenpakket. Het Pilotfonds Wetenschapscommunicatie door wetenschappers: Gewaardeerd! – ingesteld door het ministerie van OCW en uitgevoerd door de KNAW– zet een stap in de richting van het zichtbaar maken en belonen van de grote groep wetenschappers die zich structureel voor wetenschapscommunicatie inzet.

Grote opbrengst

“De inzendingen voor Gewaardeerd! maken voor het eerst concreet hoeveel er al door onderzoekers wordt gerealiseerd op het gebied van wetenschapscommunicatie en public engagement.” aldus de voorzitter van de beoordelingscommissie, KNAW-lid Peter-Paul Verbeek (Universiteit Twente). “Deze opbrengst impliceert dat de totale inzet nog vele malen groter is, aangezien per faculteit maar een of twee groepen voorgedragen konden worden en daarnaast een groot aantal wetenschappers individueel met wetenschapscommunicatie aan de slag gaat.”
De projecten hebben uiteenlopende onderwerpen: van vrouwengeschiedenis en neerlandistiek, tot Artificial Intelligence en sterrenkunde. Ook het type activiteiten is zeer divers: van (strip)boeken en blogs tot video’s en podcasts.

Netwerk en kennisdeling

Om de opbrengst van de eenmalige impuls uit het fonds te optimaliseren, de inzichten uit het fonds direct toe te kunnen passen en gebruik te maken van ervaring die op de verschillende faculteiten in het land met allerlei vormen van wetenschapscommunicatie wordt opgedaan, wordt er een aanvullend programma georganiseerd rondom het thema ‘wetenschapscommunicatie door wetenschappers’. In 2021 en 2022 volgt een uitgebreid programma van activiteiten op het gebied van kennisdeling, training in public engagement, een impactonderzoek door het Athena Instituut (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), een slotbijeenkomst en een eindrapportage met handreiking aan kennisinstellingen om wetenschapscommunicatie door wetenschappers te waarderen en te faciliteren. Dit programma wordt ontwikkeld en uitgevoerd door de KNAW in samenwerking met Samenweten.

Over het fonds

Gewaardeerd! is bedoeld voor lopende wetenschapscommunicatieprojecten uitgevoerd door een groep wetenschappers. Er zijn 96 aanvragen ingediend, afkomstig van 62 faculteiten vanuit alle universiteiten in Nederland. Hiervan zijn er 91 gehonoreerd. Elk team ontvangt € 10.000. Op de website van de KNAW is een overzicht te vinden van alle toekenningen. Het fonds Gewaardeerd! past in de nieuwe wijze van erkennen en waarderen van wetenschappers, die recent is ingezet binnen het Nederlandse kennisveld. Het fonds is ingesteld door het ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap en wordt uitgevoerd door de KNAW.

We all benefit from working together

‘Academic structures do not promote collaboration; you enter a funnel only intended for climbing the academic ladder.’

Jasper Sluijs is assistant professor with the Public Economic Law chair group at Utrecht University School of Law. In 2012, Jasper was awarded his PhD cum laude by Tilburg Law School, subsequent to being a Fulbright Scholar at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. At the Recognition & Rewards Festival in January 2021, Jasper felt himself to be among likeminded academics, and during the speed dating session with Rianne Letschert, he shared his experiences transitioning from practice to academia. The question is what the supposed ‘gap in his CV’ yielded him after five years’ worth of practical experience. We met with Jasper to interview him about his experiences.

Looking back on his time as a PhD candidate, Jaspers views it in a positive light. ‘I really loved delving deeply into a subject. Since my research topic (on the necessity of European broadband regulation) was highly relevant to policymaking as well as being untouched in an academic sense, I really had the chance to be part of the debate in society and fully engage with policymaking. I didn’t have to stick to my desk but was invited to speak at conferences and expert meetings. I was able to break new ground and really have an impact. At the time, I thought that this was something every PhD candidate could do.’

Jasper did experience his PhD track to be a solitary affair. ‘You’re only responsible for the work you publish and the courses you teach. I never really learned to collaborate and carry professional responsibility. Working on a PhD is like entering a funnel, and it gets even lonelier when you proceed to a post-doc.’ Jasper chose to forego post-doc opportunities and leave academia for private practice.

‘I still don’t understand why they hired me’ Jasper confesses. ‘As far as professional skills were concerned I was a novice. You might be pretty smart if you hold a PhD, but in a professional sense I didn’t have a clue. Project management, billable hours and working efficiently – these things were all completely new to me, I was slow as a snail.’

Jasper worked in consultancy, where has was expected to finish projects and draft reports on a monthly basis that he was used to spending a year on as an academic.  He learned to deal with the major financial interests of clients. ‘I learned things that I never would have in the academic world, such as collaborating with others. Only as a team will it be possible to meet your client’s demands. Academia is less focused on collaboration: you need to distinguish yourself from your peers to land that research grant or postdoc position.’

‘Consultancy showed me that if you work together, you can do much more interesting things. It improves the quality of your output, you work faster, and you engage more perspectives in your work.’

Despite a somewhat rocky start, Jasper was able to forge a career in consultancy. But this meant that he became increasingly less involved with substance, which is a primary interest to him. ‘That got me thinking. Management may be rewarding, but not without the opportunity to work on substantive issues too.’ Jasper began considering a transition back to academia and eventually ended up at Utrecht University.

‘They were willing to take gamble on me in Utrecht, that’s truly what it felt like.’

By then, Jasper had worked in private practice for five years. He found out that in academia this is referred to as ‘a gap in your CV’. ‘I gave up a permanent, well-paid position for a one-year contract. But it was what I wanted: I was in search of more substance and autonomy, and now I have the opportunity to voice an opinion without being tied to a client.’ Jasper has been with Utrecht University for nearly three years now, yet he still regularly has to explain ‘that gap in his CV’. ‘I gained a lot of relevant project management experience, so I know my stuff. Still, not having published for five years is considered more important in determining whether I can lead a major research project by external funders.’

Jasper does feel truly at home at Utrecht University. Throughout the interview he emphasises that this is not a negative tale, but one of opportunity. ‘I enjoy working here and feel appreciated for what I do. But of course I still want to move up the chain to have more meaningful impact. For now I’m trying to set a good example organically by seeking out collaboration and working in a more project-based fashion. I would love to foster sustainable change at my university, so that collaboration becomes the norm, not the exception.’

‘One of the greatest things there is, is to see the penny drop in students.’

Working solo on research only yields Jasper a modicum of satisfaction. ‘You work on something for quite some time, but the satisfaction is a lot slower in coming. A year down the line, your article is published and then that’s it.’ Jasper gains more satisfaction from collaborating during research, linking research to teaching practice and attempting to achieve societal impact in research projects. ‘One of the greatest things there is, is to see the penny drop in students. And we are doing pretty well for our students. We give a lot of assignments that they have to collaborate on, both during tutorials and as an alternative to a classic exam. But then there comes the thesis, followed by the solitary funnel taking you from PhD to postdoc to research grant and ultimately professor.’

The funnel means that many people (re-)entering academia with a non-standard CV are unable to adjust and end up leaving. ‘This leaves the group of solitary career academics over-represented, which leads to a kind of monoculture.’

When Jasper heard about the Recognition and Rewards programme, he felt acknowledged. At the Recognition & Rewards Festival he spoke with others who find it important that meaningful change take place in academia, which left Jasper feeling he was on a bandwagon. ‘I really think it’s a good development that the MERIT model is receiving attention in Utrecht at various levels, and that it is leading to action.’ It comes as no surprise to Jasper that this is only happening one step at a time. According to him, this is an organisational change that should be expected to take five to ten years. The Utrecht University website has all the latest developments concerning the Recognition and Rewards programme, including the new vision on it.

Where does Jasper see himself a decade down the line?

‘By then there should no longer be a two-track system with research on the one hand and teaching on the other, and the prevalent academic culture will prioritise collaboration. Fundamental research will still be very important, but ideally no longer in isolation. Of course you need to be able to do things on your own, but if the premise is intense collaboration, you can enrich each other as researchers.’

This also means putting other policies in place, with the incentives organised differently than now. ‘Currently people are being trained who don’t really know how wonderful it can be to work together. They distinguish themselves with solitary work. And this is not in keeping with the diversity in qualities that the modern academic truly requires.’

In the meantime, Jasper is continuing to foster cooperation and share his experiences with anyone willing to lend an ear.


This article was published in Dutch as well, see here.

Van samenwerken profiteren we allemaal

“Structuren in de academie werken samenwerken niet in de hand; je gaat een trechter in om alleen de academische ladder op te gaan.“

Jasper Sluijs is universitair docent binnen de leerstoelgroep economisch publiekrecht van het departement rechtsgeleerdheid bij de Universiteit Utrecht. Jasper behaalde in 2012 zijn PhD cum laude aan Tilburg Law School, en was hiervoor als Fulbright Scholar verbonden aan the Georgia Institute of Technology en the University of Pennsylvania. Tijdens het Recognition & Rewards Festival in januari 2021 voelde Jasper zich omringd door gelijkgestemden en in de speeddate met Rianne Letschert deelde hij zijn ervaringen als ‘herintreder’ in academische wereld. Want wat heeft ‘dat gat op zijn CV’ na 5 jaar praktijkervaring opgeleverd? We spraken af met Jasper en interviewden hem over zijn ervaringen.

Jasper kijkt positief terug op de periode van zijn promotie. “Ik vond het heerlijk om een onderwerp helemaal uit te wonen. Doordat mijn onderzoeksgebied (het al dan niet reguleren van breedband-netwerken) heel beleidsrelevant én wetenschappelijk onontgonnen terrein was, kon ik echt onderdeel zijn van een maatschappelijke discussie en breed meedoen aan beleid. Ik hoefde dus niet op mijn kamertje te blijven maar kon spreken op congressen en expert meetings. Ik mocht echt pionieren en ik kon impact hebben. Op dat moment dacht ik dat elke promovendus dat had.”

Wel ervoer Jasper zijn PhD-tijd als een periode waarin hij veelal solitair te werk ging. “Je bent alleen verantwoordelijk voor je eigen publicaties en voor je vakken. Ik heb nooit echt geleerd om samen te werken en professionele verantwoordelijkheid te dragen. Een promotie is een trechter, net als een postdoc, dus het wordt steeds eenzamer.” Jasper koos ervoor de academie te verlaten om te gaan solliciteren in de private sector.

“Ik snap niet dat ik ben aangenomen”

… bekent Jasper eerlijk. “Wat betreft mijn professionele vaardigheden was ik echt een starter. Als PhD ben je misschien best slim, maar als professional kon ik echt niks. Projectmanagement, declarabele uren schrijven en dus efficiënt zijn, dat kon ik niet, ik was mega langzaam.”

In de consulting schreef Jasper maandelijks adviezen en rapporten die van even grote omvang waren als waar hij als PhD een jaar mee bezig zou zijn. Hij leerde om te gaan met de grote financiële belangen van cliënten. “Ik heb dingen geleerd die ik nooit binnen de academie had geleerd, bijvoorbeeld samenwerken. De academie is in mindere mate op samenwerken gericht: je moet je individueel onderscheiden ten opzichte van je collega’s om die onderzoeksbeurs of die post-doc te krijgen.”

“Ik zag in de consultancy dat als je samenwerkt, je veel gavere dingen kan doen. Je kwaliteit wordt beter, je werkt sneller en je betrekt veel meer perspectieven in je werk.”

Met vallen en opstaan kon Jasper doorgroeien binnen de consultancy. Hierdoor kreeg hij steeds minder met de inhoud te maken, iets wat voor hem juist ontzettend belangrijk is. “Ik ben toen gaan nadenken: Management is leuk, maar niet zonder inhoud.” Jasper ging toch weer solliciteren in de academische sector, en kwam bij de Universiteit Utrecht uit.

“In Utrecht waren ze bereid om een gokje met mij te nemen, zo voelde dat echt.”

Jasper had ondertussen bijna vijf jaar gewerkt in de private sector als consultant. ‘Een gat op zijn CV’ werd dat genoemd binnen de academie. ”Ik heb toen een riant vast contract opgegeven voor een jaarcontract. Maar het was wel wat ik wilde, ik zocht meer inhoud en autonomie en nu heb ik de gelegenheid om ergens wat van te vinden zonder gebonden te zijn aan een cliënt.” Nu werkt Jasper ongeveer drie jaar bij de Universiteit Utrecht en toch moet hij zich nog regelmatig verantwoorden voor ‘dat gat op zijn CV’. “Ik heb ontzettend relevante projectmanagement ervaring opgedaan, dus ik weet echt wel wat ik doe, maar vijf jaar geen publicaties wordt toch belangrijker gevonden in de afweging of ik een groot onderzoeksproject kan leiden.”

Ondertussen zit Jasper bij de Universiteit Utrecht wel zeer goed op zijn plek. Hij benadrukt tijdens het gesprek dan ook dat het geen negatief verhaal moet zijn, maar juist een verhaal waar kansen en mogelijkheden in te zien zijn. “Ik werk hier met plezier en ik krijg waardering op wat ik doe. Tegelijkertijd wil ik natuurlijk ook groeien. Hoger op de ladder kan je ook dingen veranderen, nu probeer ik in mijn eentje het goede voorbeeld te geven door de samenwerking op te zoeken en projectmatiger te werken. Ik zou graag duurzame verandering binnen mijn universiteit willen bewerkstelligen, zodat samenwerken het uitgangspunt wordt in plaats van de uitzondering.”

“Een kwartje zien vallen bij studenten is echt het gaafste wat er is.”

Het solistisch werken aan onderzoek levert voor Jasper beperkt voldoening op. “Je werkt heel lang aan iets, maar de voldoening loopt best wel achter op het werk. Je artikel dat je geschreven hebt komt een jaar later uit, en dat is het dan.” Jasper haalt meer voldoening uit samenwerken in onderzoek, het koppelen van onderzoek aan onderwijswerkzaamheden, en het nastreven van maatschappelijke  impact in onderzoeksprojecten. “Een kwartje zien vallen bij studenten is echt het gaafste wat er is. En voor studenten doen we het best goed. We geven veel opdrachten waarbij ze samen moeten werken, tijdens werkgroepen en als alternatief voor het klassieke tentamen. Alleen dan komt de scriptie en begint de solitaire trechter van PhD, naar postdoc, naar onderzoeksbeurs en uiteindelijk hoogleraar.”

Door die trechter kunnen veel instromers of mensen met een ander CV hun plek niet vinden en vertrekken. “Daardoor raakt de groep solitaire onderzoekers oververtegenwoordigd en ontstaat er een soort monocultuur.”

Toen Jasper het programma Erkennen en Waarderen tegenkwam, voelde hij zich gehoord. Hij sprak tijdens het Recognition & Rewards Festival anderen die een verandering binnen de academie belangrijk vinden en dat voelde als wind in de rug voor Jasper. “Ik vind het goed dat het MERIT model nu bijvoorbeeld in Utrecht echt op verschillende niveaus aandacht krijgt en ook naar gehandeld wordt.” Dat dit stapje voor stapje gaat vindt Jasper logisch. Hij spreekt over een organisatieverandering waar je 5 tot 10 jaar voor moet uittrekken. Op de website van de Universiteit Utrecht zijn de laatste ontwikkelingen van het programma terug te vinden. Zo ook de nieuwe visie op Erkennen en Waarden.

Hoe Jasper het dan over 10 jaar voor zich ziet?
“Dat er geen tweesporenbeleid is van onderzoek enerzijds en onderwijs anderzijds, en dat er een cultuur heerst waar samenwerking het uitgangspunt is. Fundamenteel onderzoek blijft ontzettend belangrijk, maar ik zou graag de isolatie daaruit halen. Je moet uiteraard dingen alleen kunnen doen, maar als het uitgangspunt een breder geheel is, waarbij je veel meer samenwerkt dan kan je elkaar verrijken.”

Dit betekent aldus Jasper dat je ander beleid moet gaan voeren en de prikkels anders moet gaan organiseren dan hoe ze nu liggen. “Je leidt nu mensen op die eigenlijk niet weten hoe gaaf samenwerken kan zijn. Die onderscheiden zich in alleen werken. En dat sluit niet aan bij de diversiteit in kwaliteiten die je nodig hebt als moderne academicus.”

Jasper blijft ondertussen samenwerking ontplooien en hij deelt hij zijn ervaringen met iedereen die het wil horen.

COVID Radar: A good example of open science

The article below describes a recent citizen science project regarding Covid. It shows the usefulness of this open approach and demonstrates the societal impact science has.

This article has earlier been published on the website of Leiden University.


COVID Radar is a good predictor of increasing infections

18 March 2021

The COVID Radar app is citizen science at its best. More than 200,000 users in the Netherlands are answering questions about their health and behaviour to help predict the development of the pandemic. Niels Chavannes, Professor of General Practice at Leiden University Medical Center, explains how the app – a ‘Leiden’ invention – works.

How did the COVID Radar come about?

‘At the beginning of the first wave, the testing capacity was still very low, and we saw that behaviour, such as keeping a safe distance, was an important predictor of the number of infections. Researchers from the LUMC and the Population Health Management degree programme then invented the Covid Radar (in Dutch) app. In collaboration with the IT company Ortec, they built a very easy-to-use app that maps out both the symptoms of COVID-19 and the associated behaviour. We immediately attracted a lot of users and still have more than 200,000 across the country who collectively already have answered six million questionnaires.’

‘The fill-in rate increases a lot as another wave arrives because people suddenly see their neighbour being taken away in an ambulance.’

What is the difference between this app and the government’s CoronaMelder app?

‘CoronaMelder only registers if you have tested positive yourself and gives a warning if you have been in the vicinity of infected people. COVID Radar doesn’t do that. Users of our app complete a short questionnaire about twice a week about whether they have tested positive or have experienced coronavirus-related symptoms such as cold symptoms or a loss of smell and taste. In addition, they answer questions about their behaviour: have you been in crowded places? Have you spent time within a metre and a half of people? It takes about 30 seconds; the questions are already answered by default and you just have to click the slider. Answering the questions is not compulsory, but the app gives you a friendly reminder if you haven’t completed it yet.’

What does it deliver?

‘It’s a sample that is particularly reliable in the Randstad because there are many users of the app in that area. The information from all those people together has an important predictive value. A week before there is an increase in confirmed infections, we see an increase in symptoms and a change in behaviour. People indicate that they are less compliant with the rules, such as keeping their distance and wearing masks. We saw that very clearly in the summer. A few weeks later, the number of infections increased rapidly. For example, we saw that the areas with a lot of students turned red and, when there was more lax behaviour, the reported symptoms increased afterwards.’

Gebruikers kunnen zien hoe de situatie is in hun postcodebied en in de rest van Nederland.

What about privacy?

‘That’s not at risk; we looked at that carefully. COVID Radar collects data by postcode area. That means that as an individual user, you are part of a group of 3,000 people in the same postcode area and you are not identified personally. The only personal data the app collects are age, gender and whether people work in healthcare, because that carries a higher risk of infection. The Dutch Data Protection Authority, which keeps a very close eye on privacy risks, granted permission in April 2020 and the app has been up and running ever since.’ 

Do you have any idea whether the users actually answer the questionnaire honestly?

‘We realise that not all participants will answer everything truthfully, but we do think that the users are a bit more the benevolent citizens from the population: they are motivated to participate because they want to give researchers greater insight for fighting the pandemic. Users don’t get individual feedback about the questions, and they don’t have to worry about us checking to see whether they’re getting tested, for example, because we don’t do that kind of thing. By the way, the fill-in rate increases a lot as another wave arrives because people suddenly see their neighbour being taken away by ambulance or have an aunt in intensive care.’

What is being done with the findings?

‘It’s citizen science and open science. Users can look at a newsfeed in the app to see how the pandemic is developing and, for example, can view graphs about their own postcode area. Users appreciate being kept up to date by a scientific team. Older users in particular say that they feel less lost as a result, especially if they are isolated at home.’

‘We can look by neighbourhood to see where things are getting out of hand.’

‘We also make the data available to officials. For instance, the mayor of Leiden already has been pleased to use it because we can look by neighbourhood to see where things are getting out of hand. The results are also going to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, and we hope that they will make even better use of the information. A grant application is now pending to link this data to mobility data such as traffic flows. That will make it possible to predict more accurately where new hotspots will occur. European partners can also use the data to carry out comparative studies, and our first publications have now been submitted to scientific journals.’

The end of the pandemic is hopefully in sight as the number of vaccinated people increases. What does that mean for the future of the app?

‘It will still be needed, for this coronavirus pandemic and for other virus outbreaks. That’s why we want to recruit more new users. We already have participants from many different neighbourhoods, including those with lower socioeconomic status. But we are still looking for more young people and residents in rural areas. Together we can ensure that developments are more predictable so a new lockdown may not be necessary. There is also worldwide interest in COVID Radar. For instance, the WHO and Amref have expressed interest because they are looking for systems that can also provide early warning of other epidemics.’

The app is an initiative of the Public Health and Primary Care department, the Clinical Epidemiology department, and the Infectious Diseases department at the LUMC and the Population Health Management degree programme at Campus The Hague.

Text: Linda van Putten (Universiteit Leiden: https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/news/2021/03/covid-radar-is-a-good-predictor-of-increasing-infections)

Dutch: Essay Erkennen en Waarderen van heden en verleden

Onlangs verscheen er een uitgebreid artikel in De Psycholoog over Erkennen en Waarderen. Dit is een bewerkte versie van de afscheidsrede van Rector Klaas Sijtsma van Tilburg University waarin Erkennen & Waarderen centraal stond.

Klaas Sijtsma was van 2019 tot 2020 rector magnificus van Tilburg University en in die functie betrokken bij de implementatie van Ruimte voor Ieders Talent. Aan diezelfde universiteit is hij hoogleraar Methoden en Technieken van Psychologisch Onderzoek. Dit essay is een bewerkte
versie van de dies-rede die hij uitsprak op 19 november 2020.