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Paula van den Bergh: ‘You shouldn’t underestimate the strength of a team’

The Executive Board of the Institute of Psychology has a new Director of Operational Management. It’s the perfect role for Paula van den Bergh. ‘For me, “connection” is a nice word. If you see the connections between things, you immediately see the logic behind the processes.’ Her career has taken her from Leiden to Delft and back to Leiden again.

The Jelgersma Clinic in Leiden was Paula van den Bergh's first introduction to Psychology. ‘When I was twenty, I came here to work for Henk van der Ploeg, a psychologist with great ambitions. It was overwhelming. You could hear people screaming, traumatised patients being treated by Professor Bastiaans. Research on stress and anxiety was increasing at that time. In the beginning I thought: ‘I’m the only normal person here; I have to get away.’

Hands-on experience

Van den Bergh did get away from the Jelgersma Clinic in 1985, but her interest in Psychology had been awakened. She started in the first cohort of students in the part-time Psychology programme, and studying and student life were a great success. She combined evening study with a family and a new job at Delft University of Technology. ‘I’m from a generation that started with the typewriter. It was a real hands-on experience: we had a stencil machine located in a shed; today, that would be the printer. I had an Atari, one of the first computers; fax became email. Talk about change!’   

If you do judo well, it’s a very graceful sport.

Brick wall

‘I had learned to be strong from a young age. Sometimes I do think “a bit less would also be good.” When I did Reiki, I felt I had to become a master. At judo, I had to be a black belt. By the way, if you do judo well, it’s a very graceful sport. It teaches you to move with your opponent and how to be flexible. I think sport is important in any event; it lets you empty your head and gives you energy. I realised that with students too when I was a student counsellor. If they took up a sport, their problems got less. You also learn to develop stamina, because no matter what sport you do there will be times when you come up against a brick wall. What’s important is to keep on going and not give up.’

Valuable experiences

‘I ended up working in Delft for 35 years, at three different faculties, in different departments and units, in a lot of different roles and positions. I said my piece in the Faculty Council, and later in the Works Council because I wanted to make a difference for the organisation, the students, the lecturers, the researchers, and the PhD candidates. Looking back, these were all valuable experiences. Now, being responsible for operational management, I know pretty well what goes on behind all those doors.’ 

Good rapport

‘I’m back at Psychology in Leiden, so things have come full circle. From the start I got on well with scientific director Michiel Westenberg, a highly experienced director, who brought me into the institute. He made sure I was involved in everything. It’s unbelievable what such a small board has experienced in such a short time; we found ourselves on a roller coaster because of corona and suddenly everyone was working from home on a new laptop. We really put our shoulders to the wheel, later with Philip. And now with Andrea we try to involve staff in what we are doing and what we want to achieve. I really like that open attitude in regular Q&A sessions.’   

Logical processes

‘What I really like is looking for connections. Once you see how things connect, you understand the logic behind the processes. What is your team like, who would you like to promote and based on what kind of HR policy? That’s what I want to work on in my role as operations director. We should ask ourselves: If we want to perform well on research projects, who do you need, what’s missing and what does it mean for the finances? It’s a process that’s the same everywhere.’

We’re all the same people.

Open discussion

‘I feel at home in this kind of world, working together on the future, bringing people together, talking the same language and seeing what the other person is doing. If you have an open culture, you can ask each other: “How do you do this and why do you do it this way?”  If we don’t see things the same way, we can talk about it. “Oh, is that how you see it?”  I can learn from that and go along with it, and it’s all very harmonious. We’re all the same people. Those of us who work at an institute are no different from people at the faculty or at the central departments.’

Independent team

‘As Head of the Institute Office, I couldn’t have imagined a better team. The professionalism of the people who work here is impressive. Together we are working to support the primary process and we try to do that as well as we can. Anna Zandvliet has put together a good and independent team. And it’s a friendly team too.  You don’t need ‘a sheep with five legs’, as we say in Dutch, if your colleagues are skilled and flexible enough. It’s more important to keep on developing and remain flexible, which is what an organisation has to do too.’

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 25 April there will be another Q&A session where the transition managers Kim Grinwis and Rinske Verheggen (Ten Have Change Managementwill introduce themselves and talk about their work. Han de Winde (Institute of Biology) reports on the results of Working Group 2.

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