Behind the debates, Recognition and Value are already taking shape

Interview | by Michiel Bakker

June 8, 2022 † Reine van der Wal, UD at Utrecht University, believes that anyone who wants to recognize and value scientists does not need awards. She talks about the implementation of the Recognition and Valuation Program within UU, the positive development and the many things that still need to change. “My generation is part of the system; we can therefore change it from within. ”

“In Utrecht, they will not hire me because of my publications. I wonder if it also works like that elsewhere, “says Reine van der Wal.

“Recognition and appreciation lead to better and more fun science,” says Reine van der Wal, assistant professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Utrecht University (UU). Give up research time, get a worse international position and no longer focus on expertise? None of that.

While the broad discussion on the recognition and valuation program has even ended in the political sphere, Utrecht University is already underway internally. What does it lead to? What happens? whose academically early in his career Van der Wal talks about the process, bright spots, dots on the horizon and everything that is still needed to create a better scientific environment.

A ‘different kind of scientist’

Her involvement in the recognition and valuation program stems from frustrations from her own environment, Van der Wal says. “In my environment, I saw a lot of good people drop out because they think science is sick, and I saw movements like WOinActie with a mostly one-sided message: more money is needed. I prefer positive movements. More money in the current system is also important, but it will not lead to a culture change. ”

Another factor is that she already obtained her BKO during her PhD, and then she was not only in a hurry to get a Veni scholarship. “I’m not a Veni-Vidi-Vici person, which sometimes made me feel like a ‘different kind of scientist’. In conversations about recognition and valuation, I saw the place for scientists who are more than scientists. ”

My generation does not stand with tied hands

As a member of the working group for recognition and valuation at Utrecht University, Van der Wal acts as an ambassador for this within his own faculty. The recognition and appreciation movement has one grass roots character – exactly what university administrators aim for, she says. “The board does not want to impose this from above, because the situation is different from the faculty. So it takes shape in the organization itself. However, it is not always easy, because it means that people have to decide for themselves what they want to be judged on. A dean no longer chews on it if all goes well, while employees in a changing organization sometimes need a little guidance. ”

The culture change must therefore come from two sides and go side by side – something that is still often lacking. “It comes up a lot in conversations, much more than before, but it is sometimes disappointing how little actually happens. The general attitude is changing, but we must take the step towards action. My dean is open to a discussion. In addition, we have a business council that is upstairs, thankfully. In addition, faculties offer quite a lot of space. It is up to us to take that place. ”

Her generation may be dependent on leaders who have climbed the academic ladder under another flag, but their hands are not tied, Van der Wal stresses. “My generation can actively engage in conversation about things we do not like. For example, professors are often asked to contribute ideas for changes in the curriculum. But who is responsible for most of the training? Foreign Ministers, not the professors. Well, then it’s our job to name it. We should not do that from a Calimero position. We are also part of the system; we can therefore change it from within. ”

Recognize and value in practice

She sees that this is actually happening – not only through efforts from below, but also through, for example, a more strategic personnel policy. New employees are not recruited on the basis of their publication list, they are recruited for the necessary addition of a team. Moreover, a group of chairs often had the name of the professor; Fortunately, that use is crumbling, Van der Wal says.

“These are small, important changes. In my assessment interviews, I am now the first to be asked about my contribution to the team. Only then will my performance be discussed, from the perspective of my tasks, not just for research purposes. In Utrecht, “they do not hire me because of my publications. I wonder if it does not work the same way elsewhere.”

Team Science is the hardest part

At the same time, there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, Van der Wal and her colleagues are trying to convince their leaders to stop awarding prizes, whether they are for individuals or for teams. “You do not need a prize to show your appreciation,” Van der Wal says. “Furthermore, it goes against the idea of ​​Team Science; you put one person in the spotlight while a team operates around it. We work in teams and we teach in teams, but the recognition and appreciation always goes to the individual. We still have some way to go in that regard. ”

As long as everyone is judged on the individual contribution, everyone will continue to think primarily of themselves.

In fact, the ‘Team Science’ part is the hardest part of the whole change that the Recognition and Appreciation program advocates, she believes. “No longer thinking based on yourself, but based on the team’s interests, it is difficult. The assessment must then primarily take place at team level. As long as you judge everyone on the individual contribution, everyone will continue to think primarily about themselves. ”

Leadership Key Ingredient Recognize and Appreciate

A different way of assessing, acknowledging, appreciating and guiding requires a different kind of leadership. This makes leadership the most important ingredient in making the changes under the recognition and valuation program more sustainable, Van der Wal emphasizes several times. “If we change things but do not train people who can sustain the change, it does not benefit us. Moreover, the current generation of professors does not seem to change easily, even though they are the ones who decide who will be the next generation. We need people with courage, people who dare to stand up for this, who dare to take the lead and make mistakes. ”

Yet both power and leadership now often rest with professors, a group that is not unanimously enthusiastic about the program of recognition and appreciation, as evidenced by the many signatures on a letter published on ScienceGuide. According to Van der Wal, that power must be distributed better and more wisely. “We should not assume that professors by definition become leaders. Put someone there who can do it, for example a UHD or maybe even a UD. Management is a profession in itself. Divide the tasks with each other and decide together how you want to be invoiced. Now it happens that someone who mainly teaches is judged on the research he or she also does – just because the leader knows a little about education. ”

Recognize and value expertise differently

Van der Wal is familiar with the arguments that are often put forward against the program of recognition and valuation – for example, the idea that it has a bad influence on the international position of Dutch science. She does not think that concern is justified. “A lot is happening internationally. At the professor level, which often makes that argument, it may be less frequently the case, but my international contemporaries want me to inform them immediately as soon as there is a vacancy with us. In many places they feel a very hot breath in the neck. ”

The point is, you no longer have to excel in all areas.

The focus on expertise will also not disappear if the program of recognition and valuation continues, Van der Wal says. “The point is that you no longer have to excel in all areas. Not everyone has to excel in research, as was the case before. You must also have the opportunity to excel in education or community involvement. ”

Work more often in broad applications

In addition, the Recognition and Appreciation program would leave less room for curiosity-driven research. That’s right, says Van der Wal, but it’s not a bad thing. “When I was doing my PhD research, you could come up with a question while cycling, and then spend a week researching that question, without any embedding in a program. It does not really make any sense, does it? It’s actually good to start working more as an organization with broad programs. ”

Anyone who is also concerned about the academic entanglement of research and education can be sure. There is a lot of discussion about the exact desired relationship between teaching and research time, says Van der Wal. “What is the right thing in terms of recognition and appreciation? On the one hand, it is desired that scientific staff have a basic qualification in research and education – whereby a PhD. must be on a par with a BKO. At the same time, there must be room for different career paths with a focus on education, research, etc. professional performance† Perhaps reality will catch up with us and the current shortage of labor in combination with the high student numbers will provide the redemptive answer. ”

It’s too slow, but slow is good

In between the debates about recognition and valuation, the implementation of the program at Utrecht University is slowly taking shape. Van der Wal thinks it’s going too slow, although she understands that it’s good that it’s going slow. “You have to have everyone on board, and you have to realize that you are in a bubble. Fortunately, that bubble gets bigger and the conversation expands. I recently spoke with a scientist who had become a member of the Utrecht Young Academy because he thinks the recognition and valuation program is going too fast. I’ve just been there because I think it’s going too slow. We have to do it together anyway. ”

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