Universiteit Leiden

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A staff exchange with your European peers: ‘Everyone could benefit from this’

Fancy seeing how your job is done at a university abroad? Project Managers Christina Schlüpen and Jeannette de Wolf from the Leiden Institute of Chemistry did just that. They both spent a week shadowing a European colleague: one in Bologna and the other in Berlin. This was through the Una Europe alliance, of which Leiden is a member.

Hi Jeannette and Christina, what made you apply for this exchange programme? 

Jeannette: ‘I happened to see the call on the staff website and thought it seemed like a great opportunity to visit another university, learn more about how they work there and meet somebody who does the same job. For non-academic staff, these kinds of opportunities don’t come along very often, so I decided to give it a go.’

Christina: ‘When Jeannette mentioned this programme to me, I was immediately interested. I really enjoy travelling and learning about different cultures and environments, so I decided to apply as well.’

What did you learn from this experience that you can use in your work here at Leiden University?

Jeannette: ‘While in Berlin, I spoke with the person who supports their chemistry researchers with grant applications. We talked about possible collaborations between the chemists in Leiden and Berlin. Nothing’s set in stone, but I think it’s great that I got to meet her. I’m even more enthusiastic about Una Europa now and would really like to get our researchers involved. Thanks to this exchange, I feel we are better equipped to make that happen.’

Christina: ‘I noticed that in Bologna, our counterparts work on different types of projects. This means that if someone is ill or on holiday, they can take over that person’s tasks quite easily. Here in Leiden, we have different project managers for national grants and European grants, for example. We manage when someone isn’t here, but it does take more time to get up to speed. So maybe we could put a little more effort into knowing the basics of each other’s projects, just in case.’

Jeannette: ‘It might sound a bit strange, but I think this exchange also shines a light on what we are already quite good at in Leiden. Take digitalisation, for example: when we want to take time off, we arrange that through an online system. In Berlin, they had to do this by hand, and calculate how many holiday hours they have left on a spreadsheet.’

Christina: ‘Our colleagues in both Bologna and Berlin were also impressed with our Leiden Research Support Network. They really liked the idea of being able to ask for help from fellow support professionals, instead of having to figure things out  yourself.’

Was there an activity or event that stood out during your stay?

Christina: ‘My exchange partner works at the agricultural department of the University of Bologna. While I was there, I was given a tour of their greenhouses, which was interesting to me since I have a background in biology. I really enjoyed learning about all the different types of research done with plants.’

Jeannette: ‘Freie Universität Berlin actually has a dance lab: a special recording dance floor, that allows them to study dance and movement. So that was fun to see. My exchange partner also went to the effort of showing me around the Max Planck Institute. As someone who is very interested in the history of science, I really appreciated that.’

Lastly, do you have any advice for colleagues who are also considering a Una Europa exchange?

Christina: ‘Just go for it! This is a wonderful way to exchange best practices and cultural knowledge and of course to get to know new people. I think that everyone could benefit from this Una Europa exchange, not just professionally, but also personally. It’s a very valuable experience.’

Jeannette: ‘I agree. And I think that working together within this alliance of eleven universities will enable us to offer even more to our students, staff and society. To me, it’s great that Una Europa isn’t just an idea on paper, but is something that really lives.’

Get involved with Una Europa!

Our university is part of Una Europa: an alliance of 11 leading European research universities. This unique partnership provides students and staff with international opportunities for collaboration and development. The Una Europa Live My Life exchange programme matches non-academic staff with a colleague working at another Una Europa university for job shadowing and peer-to-peer learning. Participants connect with each other virtually and in person.

Find out more on Leiden University’s Una Europa website and sign up for the newsletter to stay informed!

Text: Evelien Flink
Banner photo: Michel Olsthoorn

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