'Periodically, I want to wander around the faculty and understand what people are doing’
On 1 January 2019, Paul Wouters started his role as the new dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. Time for a short introduction to the Professor of Scientometrics and former director of the Centre for Science and Technology (CWTS).
You have moved over from the Willem Einthoven Building across the road. Do you feel at home in the Pieter de la Court Building yet?
‘I feel perfectly at home. That is primarily because of the many enthusiastic responses from within the FSW to my appointment, from researchers, lecturers and support staff. I loved that, that people seemed to know me a little already. Of course, I have been around as director of the CWTS and because we – or rather, they, now – do research into research, I had already spent quite a bit of time with the social scientists here.’
Most students' experience of a dean is as someone who gives you careers advice at secondary school. Here at the university the dean has a very different role as 'director of the faculty'. How would you describe your role?
‘I want to inspire people and help them to develop ideas in order to strengthen the faculty. The faculty is in a very strong position at the moment. The previous deans, Hanna Swaab and Philip Spinhoven, are examples for me. A dean, together with the board, the scientific directors of the institutes and the heads of the various services, is responsible for the entire faculty. I see the primary role of the dean as one of support – someone who helps to organise and further develop the faculty in such a way that teaching and research get optimal support and the social sciences work through into society in different ways. At the same time, the dean is an explorer, who explores new roads and delineates paths for the socio-scientific research of the future.'
What are your plans for the faculty?
‘I want to develop a broadbased vision for the future of the social sciences and what that means for the strategy and the priorities of our faculty. In that process, we can draw new ideas from the faculty, especially at the intersection of the disciplines. I want to focus primarily on promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, creating a greater variety of career paths within the university, stimulating diversity within the university and of course creating a safe work and study environment.’
How are you planning to involve staff and students in your plans?
‘I want to involve the whole faculty in the vision project that will be running over the next 3 years. To know where the priorities and the possibilities lie. The students will also play a part in this project. I myself started studying in 1968. I took part in the student protests and was on the student council at the time. I still feel that students can play an incredibly important part in shaping ideas about the future of the university. That is why I think the meetings with the Faculty Council are so important. That debate can only benefit the quality of your faculty. I want to be accessible and transparent for individual members of staff, although that may get tricky with a diary full of meetings. But nevertheless I want to make sure I have the time to be available to talk to and walk around and understand what people are working on.'
What can colleagues and students talk to you about other than work? Trump, Wie is de Mol on TV, or music?
‘Jazz music is a real hobby of mine. I'm an amateur drummer in a band. It's no big deal but lots of fun. I also love playing chess, on my phone I'm involved in 2 or 3 different chess games with friends. And every month I go walking for a day somewhere in the Netherlands, for 6 hours or so, glorious!’
Finally, what is your best tip or resolution for 2019?
‘Personally, I want to stay fit, go swimming regularly. And not too many work dinners. I like to eat at home, my husband is an amazing chef and those two hours of sharing a meal together is an important time in the day for us. One tip for social scientists in general: consider what a great time it is to be a social scientist at the moment. The big issues of our time all have a social sciences angle to them. The idea that progress is driven by technology is only part of the story, mostly it stems from social processes. You will only understand the technology once you understand the social structures. We social scientists really do have something valuable to contribute. Reason enough to start the year on a cheerful, optimistic note.'