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‘The passion that people feel for their work makes my job more enjoyable’

Strong on substance, a good sense of humour and also a bit chaotic. This is how colleagues describe Suzanne van der Pluijm. She started as the new Executive Director at the Faculty of Science on 1 June. Who is Suzanne and what does she stand for? Get to know her in seven questions.

You’ve come back to Leiden to work. What is your connection with Leiden?
I studied Law in Leiden and later I also worked here. I decided to study in Leiden because the University had an excellent reputation and also offered a programme in International and European Law. But I’ve never actually lived in Leiden, even when I was a student. My partner already had a house in The Hague and I often stayed with him there. Everything in Leiden breathes University and students; it’s a vibrant, young city. I love that. I am a born and bred Rotterdammer myself, although I now live in The Hague. The two cities couldn’t be more different. 

Why did you choose to study Law?
Even from a very young age I had a strong sense of fairness. I can’t stand injustice. I think I was about four years old when I knew I wanted to study Law. The idea of working for the UN or the European Union came later. But things worked out differently. When I graduated, jobs were very scarce. My partner pointed me to a vacancy for an intern at a scientific institute that was involved in internationalising the rule of law. OK, then, I’ll do an internship, I thought. That turned out well. It was an institute that was in its initial stages and before I realised, I found myself organising everything. I became Head of Administration. I enjoyed operational management so much, I’ve carried on doing it.

What makes your job so enjoyable?
My work is hugely varied; I’m working on 1001 things at the same time. One minute you’ll be engrossed in numbers and then you have to switch to deal with a communication crisis, or a new construction project. It’s never boring, and that’s what I like about it. I have contact with so many different people. I think I have the best job ever. Operational management is about making sure the primary processes run smoothly. If researchers and teachers can do their jobs well and students can get on with studying, that gives a real feeling of satisfaction.

'It's fantastic to be back and to play a part in the Science Faculty'

You’re coming back to the Science Faculty. How do you feel about that?  
I’m really looking forward to it and I can’t wait to  meet everyone. This faculty is home to an array of scientific expertise that’s truly impressive, from astronomy to information science and from maths to biology, and much more. It’s something to be really proud of. It’s fantastic to be back and to play a part in the faculty. What I like about working in the academic world is the passion of the people around you; that’s something I also see in my current job. The passion people feel for their work makes my job more enjoyable.

What can staff at the Faculty expect from you?
I’ve been away for three years and now I’m coming back in a different role, so we have to get to know one another all over again and figure out how we can help the faculty move forward together. Who am I, who are you, and what can we do together? That’s my approach. The role I play is a very modest one, I always realise that. I’m about to jump on a moving train, and that train will carry on moving even if I get off again. It’s my job – together with all my colleagues – to see that the train runs smoothly. Together. That really is the key word.

How would your current colleagues describe you?
Strong on substance. Interested in the big picture. Humorous. Sometimes a bit chaotic. That last bit  applies to email, for example.  That’s absolutely the worst way to try and reach me. So, my advice is to just come to my office or send me a message via Teams or Signal. And another thing: I’m not perfect and I can also make a mistakes. That’s just how things are. Sometimes you have to run the risk of things going wrong, because the other alternative is doing nothing and that doesn’t help anyone. I also don't have a problem if colleagues make mistakes. The important thing is what you do afterwards. Do you try to hide it or fix it?

May we end by asking about your private life?
I still live with the same man in The Hague. We’ve been together since I was eighteen. We have a son of fourteen who’s in the second year of secondary school. We don’t have any pets, although I wish we did, but all of us are allergic. My boys are really proud of me and give me every support, although, of course, my son sometimes thinks I’m mad to work so much. The trick is to have a good balance between work and private life. I was used to hybrid working before corona and it’s great that that has become more acceptable now. That’s one benefit of the pandemic. The disadvantage was that I had less direct contact with my colleagues. We worked efficiently, but missed out on the social side of things. I’m really looking forward to walking around the faculty more and being able to combine efficiency and sociability.

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