Universiteit Leiden

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'We fully trust each other's abilities'

After a long run-up, the time has finally come for Frank Takes and Matthijs van Leeuwen. Together, they will become the new directors of education (OD) at the LIACS institute. Takes as OD of the bachelors and Van Leeuwen for the masters. 'We have been working together as colleagues for years,' Van Leeuwen says. 'So, when I heard that Frank wanted to become OD of the bachelors, I knew it would work out.'

How does it feel to sit here as ODs now?

'We've been running with the LIACS management team for six months now,' says Takes. 'So, even though it is a new task, it doesn't feel so new to be honest. But it is strange that we are suddenly the ones who have to make the final decisions. That responsibility still lay with Marcello Bonsangue until 1 September.'

'We are used to having quite some responsibility,' Van Leeuwen adds. 'We both have research groups and teach our own courses with a few hundred students. Now, on top of that, you have to make sure things are going well within the educational organisation, with the lecturers and the curriculum. Together, we have to enthuse people about working out their initiatives for the institute. That's quite fun.'

So it doesn't feel like a big change yet?

Van Leeuwen: So far not yet, but we still have to experience it. For example, we will represent the institute in the monthly OD meeting. Neither of us has connected with the faculty in that way before. So it’s a fun and new challenge.'

Takes: 'It's quite exciting, because at least a third of the new students enrolling within our faculty are studying at LIACS. So we have quite a big bulk and therefore a big task. And the institute just keeps on growing.'

How did you experience those first days?

Takes: 'At the bachelors' introduction day this year, I addressed the students for the first time as OD. That was nice to do. I had thought of a new anecdote on the bike that morning, instead of the typical talk with the old professor saying, "Look to your left, look to your right, soon they will all be gone.'' We now have an English-speaking bachelor's degree for the first time, and many of those students may never have been to Leiden or even to the Netherlands. So I told those who were sitting next to their friends to turn around and talk to someone sitting alone. That way, by the end of the session, everyone had spoken to someone and no one felt alone anymore. It was noisy for the following 10 minutes, but that was exactly the point.'

It’s a nice goal to connect students with each other! What other goals would you like to achieve in the coming years?

Takes: 'When you have a poorly run training programme, it is easy to say you want it to run better. I don't mean to brag, but our courses are actually running really well! So we want to make sure it stays that way.'

Our institute continues to grow so we also have to make sure it remains interesting for teachers to teach

Van Leeuwen: 'Our institute continues to grow so we also have to make sure it remains interesting for teachers to teach. With larger groups you will be teaching and testing differently. We shouldn't reinvent the wheel by ourselves but think together on how to go about this growth. That way teaching stays feasible for everyone.’

Is the growth of the institute the biggest challenge for the coming years?

Takes: 'I think another big challenge is dealing with a changing group of students. For example, students from abroad may have different backgrounds and expectations of education. Giving a presentation, for example, is not a skill they are taught as intensely everywhere as in the Netherlands. And a teacher is not as easily approachable in every country as they are here. Getting such a diverse group to successfully pass the programme would be wonderful. And by that, I don't mean that everyone has to pass with 10s, but that the programme is a good basis for the student’s futures.'

Fortunately, you are not on your own! Have you known each other for a long time?

Van Leeuwen: 'We have been colleagues for many years and work in the same data science cluster. When at some point there were conversations about becoming OD, it was clear that that person would not do it alone. The institute has just become too big for that. At some point I heard that Frank wanted to take the bachelors and thought: I have full confidence in that.'

Takes: 'That's definitely mutual!'

So you're already well coordinated?

Van Leeuwen: 'Our vision is quite similar. When we worked together before, it always went very smoothly. That won me over. As two ODs, you have to get along well and be able to agree. On the one hand, we have different tasks, but on the other hand, the visions and goals have to align. Which also makes it very nice to have a sparring partner.'

Our vision is quite similar. When we worked together before, it always went very smoothly. That won me over.

Takes: 'I am confident that we will not fall into the trap of the two-captains-on-one-ship problem. Matthijs is very reliable, meticulous and steady. Those are great qualities for collaboration, because you know where you are at. And in the worst case, we can always flip a coin if we disagree (laughs).'

What are you most excited about?

Takes: 'Seeing and experiencing the teachers' enthusiasm. And giving aim to that enthusiasm to help shape the future. We certainly don't want to do this alone, but together with the students and teachers.’

Van Leeuwen: 'And of course trying to make a small contribution to Leiden's beautiful education on AI and computer science. At the beginning, you welcome the students and address them. Two years later, you see them working on their final project and writing a thesis. If you manage to see them eagerly move to challenging, new jobs around the world afterwards, that's really great.'

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