Universiteit Leiden

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Jasper's day

Dean of the Faculty of Science Jasper Knoester gives a glimpse into his life every two weeks. This time he takes a tour with the Executive Board and visits two institutes of our Faculty. ‘For administrators, these are informative and stimulating opportunities, which unfortunately don't happen often enough because of our overcrowded schedules.’

Friday 9 September

What do individual students run into and how do you enthuse young scholars about science?

'Friday, a day I would normally spend in Groningen to have progress meetings with the PhD students there. Today, however, these meetings will not happen in person. The reason is a nice one: the Executive Board (CvB) is visiting our institutes this fall, and today I am joining them as representative of the Faculty Board. An excellent opportunity to spend some time in the institutes and participate in discussions about the strengths and challenges of our institutes. It is actually quite convenient that I am not going to Groningen today, because there is a train strike in the Randstad.

At 9.00 hrs. we start at the Observatory. On behalf of the Executive Board, Annetje Ottow and Hester Bijl are present. There are presentations on all facets of the institute: research, education, organization and outreach. It is truly enjoyable! For administrators, these are informative and stimulating opportunities which unfortunately do not happen often enough because of our overcrowded schedules. It strengthens the sense of community and creates a greater understanding of each other's positions.

The major international connections in which the Observatory operates with such success are amply discussed. And we talk about the challenge of often having to plan more than 15 years ahead to determine which international instrumentation programs to commit to. But achievements and problems on a smaller scale are also discussed: what do individual students encounter and how do you enthuse young scholars about science?

After the presentations and discussion, we make a quick visit to the lab of Harold Linnartz's group. Two PhD students explain how they do experiments to distinguish types of ice in the universe with optical spectroscopy.

 This is followed by a visit to the LION. Again, a nice mix of power and challenges presents itself. An open discussion unfolds. The institute's rock-solid scientific tradition is discussed of course, but also the challenges of attracting talent in today's global competition. The current tension between fundamental research and the opportunities offered by the more thematically driven research is discussed. But also the breadth of the program and university minors.

The institute would like to be meaningful to other faculties and is looking for ways to do so. For that purpose, LION also values a lot of freedom of choice for students, allowing them to immerse themselves in courses outside of FWN, a stance with which I wholeheartedly agree. The discussion is so lively that we go way over time and have to save the lab visits for next time.

After this I go to my office to take care of some ongoing business, after which I have the meetings with the PhD students in Groningen via Teams. One of the projects we are participating in is a double-degree program with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In this, two PhD students are paired together, one from the Netherlands, the other from Singapore. The program provides for long-term stays in each other's groups and since the summer PhD student Long has been with us from Singapore. It is nice to see how well this works and the progress the research is making as a result. I am a big fan of this kind of collaboration and hope we can set up similar programs in Leiden as well.

I end the Friday at Museum Boerhaave and visit the BrAInpower exhibition on AI. Due to the train strike, the number of visitors is unfortunately small, but - every cloud has a silver lining - this results in an almost individual tour of the exhibition by curator Ad Maas. I think it is an enjoyable and educational exhibition and recommend everyone to take a visit.

Afterwards there are drinks, during which I get to talk to a young LIACS employee about the importance of university rankings. I deeply regret that Leiden recently fell out of the top 100 in the leading ARWU ranking. Rankings are not beatific, but they do to some extent determine how the outside world sees us as a potential partner, as a possible employer or as a place to pursue a study. In summary, there is work to be done!’

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