Universiteit Leiden

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Jasper's Day

Jasper Knoester is the dean of the Faculty of Science. How is he doing? What kinds of things is he doing and what does his day look like? In each newsletter Jasper gives a peek into his life as dean.

Thursday, 8 February

'I wake up expecting it to be a beautiful day of celebration. Today, the university is celebrating its 449th dies natalis. For our faculty, this dies is special. Because on our recommendation, Sara Seager, professor of astronomy at MIT, will receive an honorary doctorate in the Pieterskerk. It is the third dies I experience in Leiden and the first time I have a role on stage as dean.

Before I came to Leiden, I was able to hang the kappa on an honorary doctor in Groningen several times. The most impressive was with Desmond Tutu in 2012. Drawing on his monumental work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, he spoke about the ability to forgive people. I have never seen an audience of over 800 listen with such gusto and respect as on that day.

Today's honorary doctorate is not based on a special social role, but on exceptional scholarly merit, and I look forward with pleasure to the speech Sara Seager will deliver. But before that happens, we need to practice on how the whole dies celebration will go. I am at the Pieterskerk at 9.30am, where we all walk through the entire session under the guidance of Roomsha Bansie, chief cabinet officer of the university.

After an hour, we are sufficiently prepared and I walk to the academy building with honorary supervisor Ignas Snellen, scientific director of the Observatory. Here I have a few online consultations and read some e-mails for the rest of the morning, before having lunch with Ignas, Sara Seager and her guest Melissa Koester. We have an animated conversation. What a privilege it is as a dean to meet so many interesting people!

After lunch, I work for a while before getting ready for the celebration. I put on a dress suit and patent leather shoes, according to protocol the attire of male deans during the dies. I am not very adept at this and take plenty of time for all the buttons and the bow. The latter only succeeds with the help of one of the beadles, but then it also looks tight. Pity that a gown has to be put over all that as the final piece.

The cort├Ęge to the Pieterskerk goes through the pouring rain and I am glad I brought an umbrella. I find the afternoon very successful. From head to tail, the celebration is captivating and everything runs like clockwork. The same certainly applies to the awarding of the honorary doctorate. Ignas does an excellent job of pronouncing the accompanying Latin text. Sara then delivers a beautiful word of thanks and a fascinating speech on the search for signs of life on exoplanets. I hear many positive comments about it afterwards and note with pleasure that the faculty has made an excellent impression with this honorary doctorate. It was nice anyway that the theme of this dies is "curiosity". That, along with "connecting", is the key word of our faculty strategy published last year.

In the evening is the traditional professors' dinner, also in the Pieterskerk. I bring the toga to the Academy Building for this and change from black to white vest under the dress suit - a Leiden tradition probably not understood anywhere else. It will be a fun evening with delicious food and many conversations with colleagues from across the university. Around 11pm it's nice and I leave for The Hague. Still pouring rain and unfortunately no umbrella this time, as someone else apparently found it handy too. But that should not spoil the fun: when I go to bed around 1.30 am, the simple conclusion is that the day was even more festive than expected. And made my connection with the university grow further.'

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