You have an impressive list of jobs and ancillary positions. What made you choose the rectorship as the next step in your career?
“For me, this last year of the pandemic has underlined the importance of science. From offering insight into human behaviour to the medical side – that triggered me. The university is an institute that produces the future leaders and where major societal issues are studied.
“Also recent developments like impact management and ensuring that a university is a diverse and safe workplace. These are things that intrinsically motivate me for this job. All these lines come together in the position of rector.”
You are currently a member of various boards, including the board of Amsterdam UMC and ZonMw, and you are the chairperson of D66 in the Senate. What will happen to these positions?
“I will resign from all the committees and board positions, as well as my professorship in Utrecht. I will only continue to be involved in ongoing doctorates, although less hands on. I will continue my membership of the Senate. That is an elected position, and we are also at an important stage in the cabinet formation, and I have a good team. It’s another eighteen months until the next elections, and then I’ll see.
“I don’t expect a conflict of interest with my new duties as rector. Obviously, there may be some friction, but I am always very transparent about that. In fact, the strength of the Senate is that people from the field study legislation. Of course, I won’t comment on higher education issues.
“I have often used my work in the Senate in my teaching, to discuss certain issues with my students. I really enjoy that connecting of different worlds, not staying in your own box.”
What made you choose Erasmus University?
“As a researcher, I regularly worked with researchers from Erasmus MC, among others. For example, on the interface of medical science and technology, in which I was involved as a medical ethicist. I have always felt that the DNA of Erasmus University suited me: the thinking doer. The partnership with TU Delft and Leiden also offers good prospects. When I was approached to apply for the position, it felt as if many lines from my work and interests came together here, very intuitive actually.”
You are on the board of ZonMw with Huib Pols (rector between 2013 and 2018). Did he advise you?
“I obviously talked to several people beforehand, including Huib. He encouraged me and told me that this position would suit me. But the present rector (and future president, ed.) of Maastricht University, Rianne Letschert, is also a friend I could ask for advice.”
For a long time, rector magnificus was a position for professors at the end of their career, but that certainly doesn’t apply to you. Does that matter, do you think?
“It has advantages that I’m still in the middle of my career. I know what it’s like to do research; the struggle for funding, defending your proposal to a committee, the rejections. I know what it’s like to combine an academic career with a young family. As rector, I also hope to encourage young academics and do something about the workload.”
How did you experience the last pandemic year?
“Very hard. As head of a department in Utrecht, I saw and experienced how difficult it is to combine your work and your private life. I was at home too with our two-and-a-half-year-old son.
“But in particular, I experienced the loss of real contact as a huge energy drain. So I look forward to being able to organise physical meetings again as soon as possible. Without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, of course, when it comes to everything we’ve learned recently with respect to digitalisation. There are real opportunities there, certainly for an internationally oriented university like Erasmus University.”
EUR wants to become a more diverse and inclusive institution. What can we expect from you in that respect?
“I totally support that, and I am personally motivated too – as a woman married to a woman – to promote that. Students at the university must develop in a safe environment, to become the best version of themselves.
“But also when it comes to combining work and private life, I want to give a good example. During the week and at the weekend, I always make time for my family. I enjoy visiting family and friends and I enjoy reading, particularly newspapers and non-fiction books. Currently the new Erasmus biography of course.”