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A thousand participants in Dies for alumni

The Dies Natalis for alumni on 11 February was an online event. Almost 1,000 alumni tuned in to Bastiaan Rijpkema’s interview with Annetje Ottow, who had then been President of Leiden University’s Executive Board for all of three days. Alumni are part of her portfolio on the Executive Board.

A law alumna being interviewed by a law alumnus: Annetje Ottow (photo above) studied European and business law in Leiden, and Bastiaan Rijpkema did a master’s in legal philosophy at Leiden Law School, where he also completed his PhD and is now an associate professor of jurisprudence. 

A laptop showing Annetje Ottow being interviewed by fellow law alumnus Bastiaan Rijpkema.
Annetje Ottow being interviewed by fellow law alumnus Bastiaan Rijpkema.

Already met lots of people

Ottow, prior to this Vice President of the Executive Board of Utrecht University, clearly couldn’t wait to get started. Before being appointed to her new post on the Dies Natalis on 8 February, she had already been shadowing the Executive Board to familiarise herself with the work, her new colleagues and the environment. She explained how coronavirus has stopped her from cycling through Leiden to visit the faculties, but video calls had made it possible to get to know ‘an unbelievable number’ of people in a short space of time. Rijpkema also asked about her decision to move to Leiden. ‘If a great opportunity presents itself you have to grab it with both hands,’ said Ottow. But she also emphasised how it is always a good idea to discuss the idea with others, which was a good segue to the Alumni Office’s mentor network Here young alumni and students can discuss any decisions or questions they may have about their work or studies with experienced alumni. Ottow’s portfolio includes alumni.

A screen showing LUF Chair Aletta Stas-Bax. She said, 'Almost a third of the regular proposals were awarded a grant.'
LUF Chair Aletta Stas-Bax: 'Almost a third of the regular proposals were awarded a grant.'

More donations = more funds for research

Leiden University Fund (LUF) Chair Aletta Stas-Bax explained how the LUF had been able to subsidise more research projects than the previous year: 30 out of 95 proposals were awarded funding. These were often pilots or proof of concept proposals, which also help researchers gain access to larger Dutch Research Council or EU grants, for instance. The coronavirus crowdfunder, which raised over a million euros, had been a great success, said Stas-Bax. LUMC virologist Erik Snijder had been able to set up a new advanced research lab and hire two extra researchers with the proceeds. A considerable sum had also been raised for the ‘Keeping Political Leaders in Check’ project at the Faculties of Governance and Global Affairs, and Social and Behavioural Sciences. They will conduct research into political leaders in large and small communities, at different times in history and look at how to prevent them abusing their power.

Eefje Cuppen, a young professor of governance of sustainability at the Institute of Public Administration had just not managed to secure a LUF grant, said Stas-Bax, despite having submitted an excellent proposal. ‘More donations will mean more research projects...’ Stas-Bax added. To make a donation visit the LUF site.

Eefje Cuppen holding a microphone and explaining how she wants to research how governments can encourage public participation.
Eefje Cuppen wants to research how governments can encourage public participation.

Public participation in energy transition

Cuppen gave a short lecture about the research project that she wants to carry out: how to encourage public participation in energy transition? ‘The project will start somehow,’ she declared.

Eefje Cuppen, a young professor of governance of sustainability at the Institute of Public Administration gave a short talk about the research project that she wants to carry out: how to encourage public participation in energy transition. Bureaucrats and politicians often have great expectations about how public participation in decision-making about wind and solar parks, for instance, can help achieve climate goals. The public also wants to be more involved in climate policy. However, the results of such participation often fall short. 

Sound information about participation is lacking. No one has systematically examined which forms of participation lead to which kind of result in which situation. This is what Cuppen and her team hope to do. They will work with experts from professional practice on a database of public participation projects relating to climate policy. Using state-of-the-art techniques, such as machine learning and causal discovery, the team will seek commonalities in the data. Cuppen ultimately hopes to be able to determine which type of result can be expected from which form of public participation in which kind of situation. The goal is to gain a better idea of which public participation tool will yield the most useful result for which question in which context.

A screen showing Rick Honings talking about Leiden poet Willem Bilderdijk.
Rick Honings spoke about Leiden poet Willem Bilderdijk.

Stranger in a dark alley

Bettina Mulder and Elisabeth Wilmer both attended the online Dies for alumni. They watched the lecture by Rick Honings, Scaliger Professor and expert on modern Dutch literature, on poet Willem Bilderdijk (1756-1831), and were most impressed. ‘Fantastic lecture. Wonderful objects and great presentation,’ said Wilmer (history, from 1987). ‘Honing’s talk makes you want to visit the library’s Bilderdijk collection.’ 

Mulder: ‘This lecture tied in best with my historical and linguistic interests. Interesting and beautifully illustrated.’ She also watched ‘Myths about Murder’ by professor of social resilience and security Marieke Liem. Liem debunked the myth of the murderer as a stranger in a dark alley. Victim and perpetrator often know each other, and not infrequently are related to each other even. Mulder chose this topic too because of her interest in history, and found this lecture was interesting and beautifully illustrated too.

Moderator and art history alumna Hanneke Wiessing wearing a facemask and working at a laptop at the Alumni Office.
Moderator and art history alumna Hanneke Wiessing, working at the Alumni Office.

Artificial Intelligence

Wilmer watched professor of discrete mathematics and tomography Joost Batenburg’s lecture about Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is all around us, he said, and this will only increase. It is now moving in the direction of integration with human aspects such as law, language and psychology. Wilmer: ‘I’d expected the lecture to provide more new information, but I still think there could have been a third round of lectures.’ 

Quotes from the network carousel:

‘I enjoyed the network carousel so much that I missed the start of the second lecture.’ 

‘Great to chat during the break to three complete strangers in quick succession. Shame it wasn’t open for an extra quarter of an hour at the end.’

‘I’d have liked to have experienced more of the carousel, but the lectures were at the same time. Perhaps we could have more time for networking another time.’

‘A successful event’

Neither Mulder nor Wilmer took part in the network carousel. Mulder: ‘I was WhatsApping with a friend during the break, who did the same degree as me, about the programme.’ 

‘It was a very well organised evening,’ was Wilmer’s take on the evening.

‘Even though it didn’t all run smoothly, it was still a successful event,’ said Mulder. ‘In the 30 years since I graduated, I’ve only managed to attend the Dies Natalis twice. That’s because of my lungs, which have me homebound in the winter. I think it’s a very good idea to make the lectures available online in future. All that’s left to say is thanks to the organisers!’

Two men sit at four laptops connected by a tangle of cables ensure that the even goes well.
....and in the background all the technology needed to ensure all goes well.

Text: Corine Hendriks
Photos: Melissa Schriek
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