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Marcel Belderbos: ‘I am an idealist’

Marcel Belderbos (31) studied History and International Relations and for a year he has been working at the Faculty of Humanities as a research policy officer. He is fascinated by the cooperation between various actors within the faculty. And: ‘I truly believe that the world will become a better place as a result of the work that we do here.’

Other plans

‘Life happens when you’re busy making other plans. I used to want to be professional football player, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option. I’ve always had a great substantive passion for Africa and have long thought that I would become a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I also followed a traineeship at that Ministry. Now I am glad that I ended up at the university. Travelling back and forth as a diplomat would have caused a lot of restlessness, and I enjoy the fact that I can now make long-term plans.’

The importance of the Humanities

‘I am a bit of an idealist. I find it very important that I do something that I think will make the world a better place. And I truly believe – although sometimes we can explain it a little bit better – that the world will be a better place as a result of the research that we do here. Today’s world is asking for humanities’ insight and context. When you look at Brexit, the rise of artificial intelligence, polarisation, climate change… Extremely complex issues in which the humanities can play a major role when it comes to providing solutions.

Between policies and research

‘As a research policy officer, my position lies between management and research. On the one hand, it’s my job to make sure that researchers can carry out their research the best they can, and on the other hand, I look at how we can best shape the wishes of the board in the workplace.

I think it’s interesting to see how various actors relate to each other. This started during my study of international relations, and has been a common thread throughout all of my work, even now. At the Faculty of Humanities there are all these different actors that have to relate to each other. It starts at the researchers, they are the foundation of my work. I talk to them a lot to hear what they need to be able to properly do their jobs. In addition, there are the policy developments of the board, the NWO, the European Commission, The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and several other actors that all want something from you. I think it’s interesting how these actors relate to each other and how you can make sure that they all work together and  strengthen one another.’

Freedom and cooperation

‘In the past year I have noticed that Leiden offers a lot of room to set up your own initiatives as a researcher. That is a strength. At the bottom of the organisation exists a lot of autonomy. On the other hand, it is a challenge to find a common ground in all those initiatives. What I would like to see is that within five years’ time we will find a way within this ‘bastion of freedom’ to, where it adds value, work together and look beyond the boundaries of our own disciplines.’

Outside of University

My week is, besides work, pretty busy. I ready a lot for example. Especially about conflict areas and development issues, that is still where my interests lie. I have just finished reading De nieuwe Keizer, a book on the Chinese president Xi Yinping – a book that opened my eyes to China’s influence on the world. I also play squash, tennis and I cook a lot. And that pretty much fills up my week.

I’m enjoying myself here at the university. I still don’t exactly know ‘what I want to be when I grow up’, but I do know that relations, collaborations and relationships between people will always fascinate me and that will probably always be reflected in my work.’

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members or students, every other week. Who are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

Julia Nolet
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