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‘’More voices and more ears” – six new members join the Young Academy Leiden

Six new members joined the Young Academy Leiden (YAL) yesterday. They were officially inaugurated by Leiden University’s rector, Hester Bijl.

Building community takes work and effort

In her speech, Hester Bijl praised YAL’s efforts over the past years by contributing to outreach activities, interdisciplinary network building, and science and education policy. She especially lauded the YAL for managing to be a constant pillar for community-building by organizing faculty and inter-faculty events with current topics, such as social safety or mental health. These connections – both virtually and in-person – are important points of contact for early career researchers who want to get in touch with their peers in other faculties and institutes within Leiden University and the LUMC.

Sarah Giest, the YAL’s new chair, highlighted that YAL’s motto of ‘shaping the future of academia’ requires time that many early-career colleagues do not have while tackling new teaching and administrative tasks, writing grant applications and also are in a phase in their life where there might big personal decisions around family or caretaking responsibilities. The YAL platform gives members the opportunity to be a representation and ear to this community by highlighting issues, connecting people and voicing concerns to the Leiden leadership. Sarah applauded the new members for taking on this responsibility and bringing their time and ideas to the different groups within the next five years, including community and communication, outreach, interdisciplinarity, and policy.


Cristiana Strava, one of the members of the selection committee, talked about why the committee selected exactly these six new members. Those who were selected distinguished themselves by showing thoughtful attention to, and concrete plans for, serving their communities. What the committee really liked was everyone’s answer to the final question of the interviews: “imagine a work day after which you feel happy and accomplished - what is it that you have done?” Everyone (also the candidates who were not selected) in one way or another spoke of helping others: their students, their colleagues, their community.

Ahmed Mahfouz, one of the new members, put a spotlight on interdisciplinarity in his speech. He mentioned it is crucial to break out of your disciplinary bubble and interact with others of different perspectives. Explaining your work to others outside the field, helps you think harder about how to present your story. You sharpen your thoughts and clarify them to best portray your ideas to someone who may not have all the background knowledge needed to understand. He called for us to not see these difficulties as a discouragement, but rather as a challenge we should welcome. He said that academia is a great place to be: “Despite all the challenges and the issues we highlight, it remains a very open and free environment.” This gives it a sense of community.

Community videos

As part of the programme, YAL members recorded a video of what community means to them. Many of the YAL members mentioned it means caring for each other, working together and learning from each other. And navigating your way through academia. One member jokingly said: “Community is discovering the good, the bad and the ugly of the Dutch higher education system together”. 

Julia Cramer, the YAL’s new vice chair, finally emphasized how the new members make sure the YAL community keeps flourishing, and how they bring more ears and voices to the community of early career researchers.

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