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Interview - ‘A teacher can have a lot of impact’

Dr. Maarten Schrama is an ecosystem ecologist who studies general laws in ecosystems. ‘How do complex systems change under the influence of the major problems of our time, such as changes in the climate, the landscape and the amount of nitrogen in the environment? The themes we deal with are at the heart of society.’

Maarten Schrama

He thinks field research is a very important part of the biology curriculum. ‘I remember the moments when I did my own research as the most inspiring elements of my own student days. That's why I try to put that in all my teaching. I think our students really appreciate that.’

A lot of impact

The assistant professor pays an above-average amount of attention to education. ‘Last year I spent half my summer vacation writing a syllabus laced with short films. It is immensely satisfying when you see that students have really mastered the material and are fully committed to their own research projects. Often they come up with things I never thought of. That is of course fantastic.’ As a teacher you can have a lot of impact, he has noticed. ‘We see that many students end up in influential workplaces.’ During the corona period, he was involved in the start of the Polderlab, just above Leiden. This is a ten-year project on future-proof agriculture. ‘In times of corona, people have really appreciated that they could at least do something outside.’

‘If you can tell a story, you understand the essence of your findings’

Responsible for collecting data

He tries to integrate education and research as much as possible. We really use the data we collect with students for scientific research. I advise other teachers to do the same: take your students seriously and make them responsible for collecting data. This approach is possible in many fields.

An important task of the scientist is to tell a story about the world, says Schrama. ‘If you can tell a story, you understand the essence of your findings. The data you have collected will not talk, you as a scientist have to do that.’

Make things easier

Schrama challenges students to reflect on what science essentially is. ‘In one of my first lectures, I give students a difficult text and an easy text. They usually designate the difficult text as “science”. While I think science is a method to simplify complicated things. That realization is what I want to impart to them as a researcher. And I think one of our tasks is also to try not to complicate the world unnecessarily, but to try to make things easier.’

About Maarten Schrama

Maarten Schrama studied biology in Groningen, where he also obtained his PhD. After being a postdoc in several international places he became a postdoc at Leiden University in 2015 and in 2018 he became assistant professor. He is nominated for the course Orientation to biodiversity.

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