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Davy de Witt: ‘I have really made this into my own place’

‘To be honest, I don’t really care about what type of research is going on. Just let me do my own thing and everything is fine,’ according to biotechnical officer Davy de Witt. In this interview, he tells about his tasks and experiences at the Institute of Biology Leiden, where he has been employed for 27 years already.

Is the IBL that perfect, as you have worked here all this time?

‘It’s a sort of a coincidence. Of course, I would have left if I was not satisfied. But I do like my job very much. I do all sorts of preparations for the microbial biotechnology- and health researchers. That means I sterilize the glasswork from the lab and make mixes of up to ten different substances. I ensure that everybody can keep doing their job. And I am good at finding practical solutions to obstacles in the lab, as researchers sometimes tend to overcomplicate things.’ 

Your workspace is filled to the brim with figurines and other decorations. Have you consciously created such a space?

‘I am here every day, so I believe it is best to make it as enjoyable as possible. Maybe it seems chaotic to some people, but it does not influence my work. Instead, it is nice to look at drawings my daughter made when she was young, or the Diamond Paintings that I have made. Or this bottle, for example, which was made for a yearly event when I worked at a comic book shop.’

A part of the ornaments in De Wit's office. The bottle from the comic book store can be found on the bottom in the third compartment.

Was there also a time you were less happy at IBL?

‘I have worked for many different departments. I was trained as a gardener and thus started in the plant department. Later, I got added the animal section and took care of the zebrafish. I felt less at home there, resulting in me getting too stressed in 2015 and having a burn-out. But since 2017 I have been working from here, at a job that was created especially for me by several researchers. And in this place, I feel completely at home.’

What makes you feel that comfortable?

‘Every day is different. That keeps it fun. This morning I had not expected that it would be a busy day, but now I have all three of the dishwasher filled. On a good day, there aren't too many distractions. Even now, every few minutes a researcher walks in to check if their mixes are ready, to simply borrow measuring tape, or I get called away to the lab. Because of that, I have to be flexible.’ 

So you can support people in a lot of different ways?

‘Definitely. I have a varying purpose, as everybody likes to get assistance in their own way. Some you assist by cleaning their lab equipment, but others I might even help by making small talk now and then.

Saying goodbye is the most difficult part of my job

‘PhD’ers have a very difficult job and have to achieve something in just four years. That is a lot of pressure. When a setback happens, as it does sometimes, that can be frustrating for them. Then it is nice to have a place to joke around. I am a bit of a clown and it’s enjoyable to be sarcastic now and then. For some people that means that they can come here to relieve some stress. That creates a bond, even though that makes it harder when they leave after they graduate. That might be the most difficult part of my job, the saying goodbye. Even though I feel that it gets more difficult for new people to approach me.’

To go to that scary, sarcastic man?

‘Yes, even though I always have been scary and sarcastic, but now I am becoming an old man too. That is what happens when you work here for almost 30 years. They don’t become younger, but I am getting older. Even though everything works out fine when they get over that first bump. After that, they know exactly to whom to go to ask for help or have a laugh.’

The DNA of the IBL

In this series, we get to know researchers and staff members of the Institute of Biology Leiden. Who are they and what do they do? 

Questions and/or suggestions on who to interview? Please contact the news editors

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