Universiteit Leiden

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Inspired teaching without the administrative hassle

In his inaugural lecture Professor of Molecular Microbiology Dennis Claessen will explain how lecturer enthusiasm can be contagious. And how as a programme director he wants to ensure that lecturers can focus on the content of their classes instead of the accompanying admin.

His passion for microbiology was awakened in lectures and practicals that were taught by enthusiastic lecturers. One of these was Han Wösten, a professor of fungal biology who gave hugely inspiring lectures. ‘The topic of his lectures appealed to me but even more than that was the personal click I had with him. He was really down to earth and approachable. I did an internship with him and he ultimately became my supervisor.’

His tip to future PhD candidates is to choose not only a topic they find interesting but also a supervisor they feel comfortable with. ‘A four-year PhD programme is quite an undertaking. As a PhD candidate or a student, you have times when things go really well but times when they don’t. Then it’s good if someone can help you through that dip by asking how you are and making new suggestions.’

Actively involve students

He himself tries to convey his enthusiasm for his field to his students. ‘The classic lecture format is obviously a bit passé. I try to actively involve students in my lectures. I ask them, for instance, to think about how to solve a problem and then put them to work.’

‘The classic lecture format is obviously a bit passé.’

Claessen also introduced the international iGEM biology contest to Leiden University a few years ago. Here student teams use synthetic biology to offer a solution to a global problem. A team from 2020 worked on the early detection of infectious diseases. ‘It is extracurricular but no one complains. It doesn’t feel like education at all because it’s such a great project and gives you so much energy.

Administrative hassle

As programme director Claessen wants to do all he can to make sure lecturers do what they enjoy most and do best: teaching. ‘Lots of lecturers have to do admin after their lectures, what I call the administrative hassle of teaching. Putting slides on Brightspace, for example. Many of them don’t like or forget to do this when there are support staff who are much better at it and enjoy it much more. I want to make sure we can offer lecturers enough support. So that if you ask them to give a nice lecture series, their first thought isn’t all the admin they’ll have to do. But that from now on they think about the great things they can say about their research field.’

Text: Dagmar Aarts
Photo: iGEM 2020 entrants. Eelkje Colmjon

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