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What drives Lotte van Dillen, the new Psychology Director of Research?

Lotte van Dillen has every confidence in the new-style Executive Board of the Institute of Psychology. ‘If we work on the basis of everyone’s good intentions, we can make this work.’ If you lack trust, you wouldn’t jump on your bike and go off to Sicily. Want to find out more about what drives our new Director of Research?

Lotte van Dillen, Director of Research

‘When I was a student, I took a break to cycle from Amsterdam to Sicily on a tiny budget together with my then high school sweetheart,’  Lotte tells us. ‘That really shaped me. It taught me that you sometimes just have to make a start on something and see where it leads you. You have to have confidence that you’ll always find new pointers along the way to show you how to move forward. If you’re cycling through Pisa, Pompei and Sicily, where Etna erupted, the one thing you can be sure of is that you’ll come up against some unexpected situations. At one point, we were invited to go along with a geologist who had to do take some measurements of the erupting volcano. It was quite frightening, but also really interesting.’

‘I feel very much the rookie among the more experienced members of the Executive Board.'


‘Sometimes you just need to give something a try and see where it takes you. If I’m honest, that’s how I found myself here,’ she says with her typical Lotte-van-Dillen smile. I feel very much the rookie among the more experienced members of the Executive Board. That was actually the intention, because someone who doesn’t think too much in terms of the existing structures yet can have a refreshing effect. This new management model offers a lot of opportunities for self-development. Management now takes up a lot more of the scope of the job spec. It’s not a “must”, but if it interests you, you can try it out to see if it appeals to you. What motivated me was that I saw some problems and wanted to convert my frustration into a positive force for the good.’


As a member of the working group about the new model she became enthusiastic about the division into several portfolios. ‘It helps to play an active part in a new board if you’ve seen where the bottlenecks are. We discuss in the working group how we can make the management tasks more attractive, how we can achieve greater student and staff participation and make sure that there is less responsibility on a single person’s shoulders. In short, how we can structure our management better. This is a question that is currently being asked at several levels throughout academia. Slowly, the realisation is growing that the old hierarchical model is no longer the best way of keeping everyone motivated and engaged.’

'Learning new things is what motivates me.'

Something new

Early in her career in Leiden, some eight years ago, she was selected as psychology teacher of the year. ‘I hadn’t been there very long and wanted to try out different things, like making videos for ‘outreach’ with NWO Bessensap. Or I built a new fMRI set up to study taste experience and did eye-tracking research on police detectives. Learning new things is what motivates me. A former colleague once adviced me that focussing more would give me a clearer profile. That probably works well for the prototypical scientific expert who attracts subsidies. But you also need generalists who take a broader view, and who connect different fields of research. At least, that’s how I like to work and it matches well with the profile of Director of Research.’


As a student at the Academy of Arts, she was attracted by the Interaction design programme, but what she actually found most interesting was how people process information. ‘After a year I transferred to Psychology. In the foundation year I found organisational psychology the most boring subject ever and now I have a management job. I also teach decision-making behaviour in central government and to judges. How do those decisions come into being, what are the pitfalls and how do you reach a good solution together? Lawyers talk a different language from psychologists, and it is at that interface that interesting things take place. That’s why I wanted to look more deeply at their field of work and I took courses in Law at the Open University. This is also out of general interest, by the way, because I find a well-functioning legal system very important. So, interests can develop.’

Where do you need to go for what?

It took years before she understood how things are organised in Leiden. ‘I got my knowledge of the teaching organisation from working as a course coordinator, and my experience with the Ethics Committee gave me a broad perspective on our research. A lot of the knowledge here is implicit, so one of our goals is to make it easier to find out where you need to go for what, and who is responsible for what. I’m very much aware of how little we actually know about one another’s work. Academic staff and Support and Administrative staff need to be better integrated and communicate about their expectations and objectives. Within the units and the faculty, too, we have to collaborate more so we can be a source of strength for one another. With the expansion that is part of the new management model, once we have more people, that will broaden our scope and we will become better able to act. In a working group with Social and Behavioural Sciences you can already see the mutual knowledge and understanding improve.'

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Recharging my batteries in nature

‘I am able to be flexible in my work and private life thanks to my lovely partner who helps me keep all the balls in the air. I love being outdoors in nature, running and walking in the natural environment; that’s what recharges my batteries. We sometimes have to realise that we are just parts of a much bigger whole, and not take things too seriously. Awful things do happen and sometimes we have to take a step backwards to gain a helicopter view. In nature you become smaller; the seasons continue to roll around as they always have. Fantasy classics also help me to zoom out. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the author pokes fun at the human race. I’m rereading the book now with my son, who’s 10. With my daughter, who’s seven, it’s a re-run of Harry Potter.’ 


Her lecture on stereotypes coincides each year with International Women’s Day on 8 March. Does Lotte van Dillen herself fit the stereotypical image of a Director of Research? ‘That’s not how I would see myself but, then I’ve only been doing this for about a month,’ she says with a laugh.

Each month we hear the story of a Executive Board member: this is what my job is in the board, and these are my personal interests. 
Executive Board - Institute of Psychology


On Monday 28 March there will be another Q&A where the members of the Research Committee will introduce themselves and talk about their work.

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