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Young Academy Leiden: bursting with youthful zeal

Great things are expected of Young Academy Leiden. The first 13 members of this society for young researchers will provide the Executive Board with fresh ideas on teaching, research, policy and how to connect with society. The researchers themselves will benefit from the contact with their peers from other disciplines.

Young Academy Leiden (YAL) is the local counterpart of the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences  (KNAW). Leiden University researchers at this Young Academy thought that there should be a Leiden version. Duchenne researcher Annemieke Aartsma-Rus: ‘We wanted to bring the energy that comes with youthful zeal, of innovation, to Leiden as well.’

Quentin Bourgeois, archaeologist and fellow member of the KNAW Young Academy, reiterated this in his speech: ‘We were knackered at the end, but the process was very fun and inspirational.’ In the space of ten months the KNAW Young Academy had managed to set up YAL.

YAL installation
Nine of the 13 YAL members, l-r: Annemarie Samuels, Martin Lipman, Tom Louwerse, Helen Pluut, Stéphanie van der Pas, Sarah Giest, Noel de Miranda, Anouk Goemans and Joris Larik.

In dialogue with others

Martin Lipman, one of the new members of YAL, sees his selection as a compliment and honour. As a philosopher, he deals with questions pertaining to the scientific method and objectivity. ‘At this point in time, the exchange of ideas and information with other young scientists is particularly interesting,’ he says. ‘There is a crisis brewing in a number of disciplines in the area of methods and techniques, indeed the very foundation of each discipline.’ As an example, he mentions the repetition of previously conducted research, in psychology in particular, which often leads to entirely different results. How is that possible? Lipman: ‘There is another question in physics, namely, whether we should be able to test all theories empirically all the time. What I can do is ask questions about the methods and techniques used.’ He thinks it’s great to be surrounded by other young researchers and talk to them about almost anything, as happened in the run-up to its establishment. ‘It now feels very strange that I had not had discussions with colleagues from other disciplines before.’

YAL installation
YAL ChairTom Louwerse addresses the audience in the beautiful Lorentzzaal of the Kamerlingh Onnes building.

How can you effect change?

‘I want to look beyond the boundaries of my discipline’, says mathematician Stéphanie van der Pas, also a new member. ‘I have always had that attitude. I graduated in classical languages as well and studied medicine for a year.’ Van der Pas seeks breadth in her work whenever possible. ‘I am a statistician and work with researchers from other disciplines, such as medicine and linguistics. I also want to expose others to the pleasure and inspiration that accompanies interdisciplinary research, and am curious about how the University works. How can you effect change?’ One area holds special interest for her is diversity. This should be understood in the broadest sense, so not just the advancement of women in science. ‘I think the diversity in YAL is great: so many different disciplines and areas of interest, professional focuses, nationalities. And nobody is afraid to offer their opinion.’

Growing gap

YAL Chair, political scientist Tom Louwerse, wants to go further than the latest fads. ‘The academic mantra today is excellence, he states. ‘But our big brother, the KNAW, can see a growing gap between the haves and the have nots, especially in the area of grant acquisition.’ Many excellent scientists are being left out in the cold. ‘Selection for YAL also took our academic performance into consideration,’ Louwerse continues, ‘but we don’t see ourselves as superstars. Without mentors, friends and colleagues, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I would therefore like us to be a YAL that serves others.’

YAL installatie
Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker shakes hands with young Leiden researchers Tom Louwerse (YAL) and Quentin Bourgeois (KNAW Young Academy)

Becoming a member of YAL

Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker and Vice Rector Hester Bijl are both enthusiastic about YAL. At the installation of the new members, Stolker said that, in his experience, the pool of professors is usually targeted for board positions. While he himself – at around the age of 35, he estimates – was asked to become chair of the ‘International degree programmes’ committee of the Faculty of Law by the Dean, Thijs Drupsteen. ‘That was the start of my administrative career incidentally.’ Stolker also quoted the President of the KNAW, Leiden physicist Wim van Saarloos, who said, in reference to the Young Academy, that things could do with being shaken up. Stolker’s YAL can do the same. Hester Bijl recalled the time in which she herself was on the board of the Young Academy. She said she found it was wonderful and enriching, and wished the YAL members the same experience.​​​

444 project

YAL would like to do something as part of the celebration of Leiden University’s 444th anniversary, namely to shed scientific light on the next 444 years. YAL member Sarah Giest explains: ‘We have defined three themes that will determine the coming period. These are Data Science & Technology, Equality, Fairness & Justice and Sustainability. We want to use our own hashtag and social media channels to gather as much information as possible about these themes over the course of this year. Ultimately, a platform must be created where the ideas become more concrete and culminate in interdisciplinary research with concrete, societal goals.’

Text: Corine Hendriks
Photos: Monique Shaw
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Not necessarily young
YAL members do not necessarily have to be young. To apply, you have to have earned your PhD no more than eight years ago. Theoretically, you could be 45 years old, but members tend to be around the age of 30. Each faculty was allowed to nominate six candidates, and the application committee, which consisted of Leiden members of KNAW Young Academy, made the final selection. Six new members are selected each year. Just as with KNAW Young Academy, membership is for five years. After the initial phase, the number of members will remain the same, but the senior members will be replaced annually by newcomers. Vice Rector Hester Bijl revealed the new YAL logo (photo).

The new members areTom Louwerse (Chair), Political Science; Helen Pluut (Vice-Chair), Business Studies; Sara Schrader, Archaeology; Olaf van Vliet, Economics and Public Administration; Joris Larik, Comparative, EU and International Law; Sarah Giest, Public Administration; Martin Lipman; Philosophy; Anouk Goemans, Forensic Family Pedagogy and Youth Care; Annemarie Samuels, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology; Stéphanie van der Pas, Mathematics; Yamila Miguel, Astronomy; Noel de Miranda, LUMC - Immunogenetics; Maaike van der Putten, LUMC - Duchenne research.

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