Do research, teach, lead… Scientists must be familiar with all markets. Divide tasks better, so they can basically do what they’re really good at, says Marie-José van Tol, the new president of the youth academy.
As of this week, Van Tol was at the helm of the De Jonge Akademie, a group of relatively young scientists affiliated with the KNAW. She is originally a cognitive neuroscientist and likes to see things change in the Dutch academic world. “We need to shift the focus,” she says. “Science is simply more than sensational publications in prestigious journals.”
The Youth Academy has been involved in the debate for some time about the pursuit of ‘recognition and appreciation In science, would you continue to do so?
“Yes. Of course, scientific breakthroughs are important, but they do not fill your entire career. We also want to educate the next generation, create research infrastructures, and improve science, for example by contributing to open science. Let’s say you create software that can be used anywhere.” This is a very important and time consuming work that in turn provides a breakthrough for others. We have to do it together.”
Marcel Levy, President of the NWO comparison Learn recently with the best sports. Is this outdated?
“The comparison is valid when it comes to dedication, endurance and team sport. You see that in science too. But the great sport is about winning from each other and that doesn’t fit with science. We should focus on exceptional discoveries, not exceptional individuals. From a figure skating champion as a scientist: someone who appears well in the media, teaches and publishes great research.”
Who is left behind when such demands are made?
As a result, a good scientist with social anxiety disorder, for example, cannot be promoted because he has not yet given a keynote lecture to a thousand people. It’s a shame that you throw away talent by doing that.”
Is a lot of talent wasted in science?
“You can already see that in the student population. It is more diverse than the scientific world, while a variety of viewpoints is very important for innovation. There should be more space, for example, for women and people with immigrant backgrounds.”
Why don’t the students of these groups end up in science?
“If, like me, you are not from an academically literate family, then you are not thinking of working as a researcher so quickly. It is helpful to give students the idea that they can become researchers themselves. This is already starting in the classroom.”
How did you come up with the idea of starting a search?
“Science really caught my eye during my graduate research. Curiosity runs in my family, and that fits in with the scientific environment. After working as a psychiatrist in a nursing home, I got my Ph.D. But until then I wasn’t really sure what that meant in academia. And what the options are then. I was just doing it out of interest. As a motivational researcher, I now know that this works in your favor, because if you do something that you find really important and interesting, you also perform better.”
What psychological insights do you use as president of the youth academy?
“We need to take better care of our most important tool, the brain; I want to draw attention to that. A lot of potential is lost when people sit at home depressed or exhausted, due to excessive work pressure or insecurity about their work. This happens a lot in higher education.” It’s important to our psychological well-being that we can focus on the things we find important and not on the intense competition that currently exists in science. This ultimately benefits academic quality and creativity.”
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