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Introduction Niels Laurens: 'The basis is there and now we are going to build'

Niels Laurens (37) has been appointed Executive Director at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs since 1 October. Because of covid 19, he only saw most of his colleagues within the faculty through a screen. Although the online introductions go well for him, Niels Laurens lacks personal contact with his new colleagues. Via five questions we learn more about his ambitions, motives and goals.

You have been working for three months now, how do you like it?

‘My impression of the faculty is very positive, although the start is strange, of course. You only see each other on a screen. I notice that people immediately start talking about the content. Even if you don't know each other, even though I think it's that first acquaintance that's very important. That you can ask and answer questions such as 'who are you, what do you do and where do you get your energy from'. That's why I make an (online) tour of all the support services within the faculty. So that we will know who we are when we meet each other in the corridor.

Personally, I notice that it is quite difficult to get used to working in this way. Besides, sitting behind a screen all day is not good for anyone. I sometimes go for a walk with colleagues who live in the neighbourhood or plan an appointment to call outside. That also works well for me, while walking you also get new ideas. In general I can say that I have a very good impression of how the faculty is doing and I get energy from all the introductions, even in Teams'.

‘In general I can say that I have a very good impression of how the faculty is doing and I get energy from all the introductions, even in Teams.’

Why did you switch from the research world to a management position?

That switch is now about 9 years ago. After graduating in physics, I made a conscious decision to do a PhD, to go into research. I certainly thought that science was and is important to me. In biophysics you work a lot with others, with a biologist and a chemist, and then you try to solve problems together. I certainly had a passion for this. But after 60 hours a week that passion was ready and others went on. I noticed that I liked arranging it and the administrative part as well. Not in a commercial environment, but certainly in the scientific field. When I was asked to join the VU in the management team, I seized that opportunity. After that I became Institute Manager in Leiden and now Executive Director of two faculties.’

You will work three days as Executive Director at FGGA and two days in the same position at archaeology. Do you mainly see differences between the two faculties or similarities? 

‘Of course there are differences, but I also see similarities. On balance, I find the combination particularly interesting. The Hague attracts me as a city. I'm originally from Rotterdam and I notice that I've missed the city, the tall buildings, the architecture. I could use that after so many years in Leiden. The dynamics in The Hague are also very different from those in Leiden. Campus The Hague is also about the objectives of the city, the social problems of the city. Archaeology is a much more research-driven faculty. That's where I really feel the beta-vibe I love. We can also learn from each other. On the one hand how to organise research and on the other hand how to organise education. So for me, this combination is ideal.’ 

‘I am a real team player and I want to focus on integrated business operations. I'm not going to decide everything on my own.’ 

What are your goals for the coming period?

‘In addition to business operations, finance is also part of my remit and we are dealing with a faculty that is ambitious and growing rapidly, but that is also running up against financial frameworks. Fortunately, agreements have now been made about this and there is room to incorporate new initiatives. I am a real team player and I want to focus on integrated business operations. I'm not going to decide everything on my own. You lean on and rely on the experts within your organisation and together determine the course you are going to take. What I think is most important is that teachers and scientists can do what they are good at and where their passion lies. All other things we - as supporting staff - can take away for them. Think of administration, arranging things, hiring people. But we don't take away our own responsibility. You yourself are responsible for guiding new people. To facilitate a scientist does not automatically mean to serve a scientist.

We deploy the people they are good at, we bring expertise together. The basis is there within the faculty and now we are going to build. Making appointments, recording processes. We have to get rid of ad hoc decisions. The faculty is now too big for that. I also notice that this is the ambition of the people working in The Hague. The mobility that you sometimes miss in other places within the university is very evident here, and that is a great compliment to the colleagues.’

There is no personal acquaintance with everyone, but what do your new colleagues need to know about you in any case?

‘Haha, I like to talk to people, but I don't get that question very often. Maybe it would be nice to say something about my cat, many colleagues have already seen him in the picture when they talk to me. It's a Siamese, that's cats chatting all day long, although sometimes it's more of a scream, quite annoying. He is called Ceylon, named after the tea because I am an avid tea drinker. Another fact about me, I don't drink coffee. Ceylon is not to be missed if you call or videoconference me. I have a daughter of 4 years old, but sometimes you can't tell the difference. The other day a colleague said ‘hang up, your daughter needs attention’. Then I said: ‘she's in the nursery, that's my cat’.’

Tekst: Margriet van der Zee

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