After almost fifty years at the EUR, Hans van de Braak, associate professor of evolutionary psychology, said his farewell to the university and the Faculty of Social Sciences a few weeks ago. “It wasn’t hard to say goodbye. I just have to get used to not seeing everyone on a daily basis anymore. I would be on campus everyday of the week. From now on, I will be working from home, where my schedule is clearly different”, said Van de Braak.

Ever since 1969, Hans van de Braak has been active at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, as a scientific researcher, associate professor of sociology and associate professor of evolutionary psychology. Van de Braak had three questions that kept him busy on a daily basis: what brings society together; how do social groups relate to each other; and how is society changing?
Together with EM, Van de Braak looked back at his Rotterdam university career that lasted almost half a century.

What brought you to Rotterdam?

“As I was a student in Tilburg and had to pay for all my courses, I was looking for opportunities. From a very young age, I’ve always had an open mind and learnt that it is impossible to succeed if we stay within our comfort zone.”
“I fell in love with the dynamic city of Rotterdam in the summer of 1963, when they had just started constructing the metro lines. After a friend of mine had told me about the city and about the ‘Holland-Amerika Lijn’, I packed my bags. I was immediately hired as a steward on the ‘Nieuw Amsterdam’ cruise ship. Never did I think Rotterdam would be my city for the next fifty years of my life.”

Who is Hans van de Braak?

Hans van de Braak, not a big name to many students, yet an important person to the Erasmus University. Van de Braak started working here as a professor in 1969, when there was nothing but the H building, a few grass fields and a handful of grazing sheep. He is known for his interest in evolutionary psychology and for books he has published, such as The Evolution of Sociality and Man’s Obsession with Superior Technology.

Since 1969, the Erasmus University Rotterdam has been innovating and changing a lot, but what has always stayed the same for you?

“The process of teaching and learning. Just like in 1969, research is still being done, of course, with different methods and new technologies, but the idea that research needs to be done is still here. The university stands on two pillars; research and education, and those will remain for as long as this university exists. Just the way in which they are carried out are different.
Another thing that has always stayed the same for me is the H building. I started there in 1969, and it has not changed much ever since”, Van de Braak smiled.

After all those years, what is your greatest memory?

“Becoming Associate Professor of Evolutionary Psychology. There is nothing that beats that, as it was such a big and important change in my career. To change from sociology to psychology means to switch from one type of research to another. That is definitely something. I put a lot of energy into psychology, even when I was still a sociology professor. When I made that step, I learned the benefits of an open mind and the advantages of engaging in more than just your discipline.

Can you elaborate on the idea of an open mind?

“We need to live with an open mind and stay curious. We must exceed borders and not limit ourselves to just one discipline. If you do so, that one discipline becomes a prison where you’ve locked yourself in. It’s important not to spend your entire life on one problem, but as Picasso used to say, innovation is only hard once you start innovating yourself. I encourage students to become richer in terms of knowledge, to leave their laptops and phones in their bags, and to pay attention in lectures”

What is the difference between students of forty years ago and students today?

“Forty years ago, students really came to lectures to solve problems, to encounter any issues they had with course material. In my opinion, that has changed quite a bit, as I get the impression that students attend lectures to socialize and they continuously get distracted by their mobile phones or laptops. In terms of open minds, that has definitely increased over the years and it’s only good for the university.”

Now that you have retired, what are your plans for the future?

“Passion does not retire. That’s not who I am or how I work. For a lot of people, their life starts when they retire, but I can’t seem to understand why people believe life only starts then. That’s why it is so important that we all do something we love, something we have passion for. Passion is something that occupies you on a daily basis, it means you are prepared to put your free time into it. Students and professors with passion is what this university needs to grow even faster”

If one of the buildings on campus was to be named after you, which one would it be?

“I still don’t understand that system, but I know I’m not the only one. Just give the buildings a number and keep it simple for everyone. If the university wants to pay a tribute to someone then they can do that by the means of a nice story or article on their website of in a magazine.”