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Caelesta Braun & Bert Fraussen awarded NIG Supervisor of the Year Award

Each year, the Netherlands Institute of Governance (NIG) invites PhD students from Public Administration departments at universities in the Netherlands and Flanders to nominate their supervisor(s) for the NIG Supervisor of the Year Award, to celebrate and recognize excellent PhD supervision. This year, this price has been awarded to Prof. Dr. Caelesta Braun & Dr. Bert Fraussen, who were nominated by their PhD students Adrià Albareda, Erin Sullivan and Moritz Müller.

You can watch the video of the virtual award ceremony here

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Below, they all share their experiences and reflections on PhD supervision and working together as a diverse team of 5 different nationalities.  


Can you tell us why you nominated Bert and Caelesta for this award?

Moritz: 'Let’s start with August 20th 2020, when we kicked off the last official annual team meeting for our four year research project. A common theme we discovered when reflecting on the team was ‘embracing uncertainty.’ Apart from more obvious reasons given COVID-19, this resonated with us in terms of the agile, empathetic and tactful supervision Caelesta and Bert have provided over the last years and months. Beyond the purely academic work, they care about us as individuals that have to develop a professional career. In that regard, they seize opportunities that have opened doors to different contacts they have, bridging our interests with relevant actors and organizations, and enabling productive development as individuals and independent researchers.'

How do you work together as a team?

Adrià: 'Our way of working together can best be described as “balancing the professional with the social”: work meetings are almost always combined with a coffee talk about life, football, family, or whatever is moving us at that moment. We gratefully look back at meetings in Caelesta’s garden or at the beach in Scheveningen, which have proven to be incredibly constructive and enjoyable ways of creating academic output whilst not forgetting about the other nice things in life.'

Adrià: 'Our way of working together can best be described as “balancing the professional with the social”: work meetings are almost always combined with a coffee talk about life, football, family, or whatever is moving us at that moment.'

It is inspiring to see this collaborative spirit among all of you that so clearly resonates in this duo nomination and joint award. Caelesta, Bert,  what would you say defines good PhD supervision?

Caelesta: 'Supervising a PhD is like being open-minded, enabling, and honest company on an intellectual journey. Open-minded company is crucial because a PhD student should pursue his/her own research agenda. As a supervisor, it is our role to facilitate their individual development and to ensure that they adopt a rock-solid approach to their research endeavors. Being enabling company helps them to seize multiple opportunities along the road, from referring them to our networks or stimulating them to engage in other activities beyond their PhD research. Finally, being honest company helps them to be aware about trade-offs associated with academic work. All of this helps to forge a collegial and respectful fellowship on an intellectual journey that may last longer than the PhD and contributes to science and personal growth for all involved, including supervisors. I once compared being a PhD supervisor to being Ollivander, the wandmaker in the Harry Potter movie series and I still think this comparison holds. The job of the wandmaker is to provide a witch or wizard with a wand that best fits her or his capabilities. Ensuring the best match between wizard and wand will yield optimal results. A PhD supervisor is much like a wandmaker: it is our job to facilitate the forging of a research project and (academic) career that best fits each individual young scholar. Doing so will yield the best scientific results and ensure personal growth, two crucial elements for good scholarship and personal wisdom.'

Bert: 'I believe our task is to guide, encourage and challenge our PhD students, and perhaps most importantly to provide inspiration and show how fantastic and exciting doing academic research, and the process of obtaining a PhD, can be. In my view, the time when you work on your PhD is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding periods in an academic career. It is a time to read, explore and develop new ideas, make mistakes, discover which research puzzle really triggers you, and discuss your unique thoughts and perspectives with other academics and practitioners. I consider it our job as supervisors to fully open up that universe of wonderful opportunities to our PhDs, by always thinking along with them, having an open and flexible mindset, and being very transparent about our experiences and successes, yet also the trade-offs and difficulties we sometimes encounter.'

Has the current Covid-19 situation changed your approach to supervision?

Bert: 'I don’t think that Covid19 fundamentally changed our way of working. “Of course, the crisis had a big impact, yet the main change involved the tools we use to collaborate and discuss our work. Luckily, we already had established a solid foundation, and knew each other rather well, which made the transition to a digital environment relatively easy, even though we continue to miss face-to-face contact. We did intensify the frequency of our online meetings, to keep the research going but more importantly to have more opportunities to catch up and talk about how all of us were dealing with the uncertainties and challenges that the Corona-virus inflicted upon our professional and personal lives. These meetings were often optional and had an open agenda, as the main goal was to provide more opportunities to connect and discuss whatever issues were on our mind at that time.'

Caelesta: 'indeed, while the interface (our laptop screen at the kitchen table rather than our offices at Campus Wijnhaven) has changed, the spirit of our collaboration remained the same. Sharing thoughts and experiences of how Covid19 affected our individual lives and our countries led us to write a series of blogposts based on these reflections. Engaging in a collective effort distinct from the PhD projects and our regular work, helped to get distracted from the complications of doing and supervising a PhD remotely during a (partial) lockdown. And it brought some fun and lightness too!'

Is there one final reflection you want to share with us on the PhD supervision by Bert and Caelesta and working as a team?

Erin: 'Above all, the key message the three of us want to send today because of Caelesta & Bert is this: uncertainty is always there, it’s how we handle it that enables us to find success in anything. It doesn’t need us to be perfect. It doesn’t need to bring us down. Dealing with uncertainty creates a strength that pushes us to show up and give it our best shot, no matter what else is going on in our lives. They’ve shown us to show others—not just with research abilities and intellect, but with dynamism and humility in our future work for society.'

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