29 mei 2019

Different strokes

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how the idea that academics are expected to excel in all aspects of their academic endeavours - teaching, research, knowledge transfer (kennisvalorisatie), and leadership – places unrealistic expectations on us, and no longer measures up to the realities of today’s academic landscape. The biggest challenges of our times increasingly require working in teams, where different disciplines, expertise, and strengths are essential to a concerted effort to find solutions. The focus is then no longer on individual success in all these aspects, but rather on the team’s success, where each member plays a crucial role, based on his or her particular strengths and contributions.

My colleagues Rianne Letschert at Maastricht University and Frank Baaijens at Eindhoven University of Technology are leading a workgroup of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) that seeks to rethink how we evaluate and reward academic activities, with a view towards more balanced talent development, and ultimately better quality of teaching and research. Dutch funding agencies are also on board.

Closer to home, VU/AUMC colleague Jeroen Geurts has written in his NRC column about his efforts to achieve balance between these aspects within his own department, where talented researchers are given the leeway to focus on research, and those with a passion for teaching are encouraged to innovate in education. He reports that the results are promising – not only does everyone seem to be doing better on all aspects, they’re also happier.

There’s a lesson in this for all us that’s worth exploring. A few years ago, the VU introduced a Framework for Teaching Performances (Raamwerk Onderwijsprestaties) that is meant to address precisely this balance. We recognize that teaching and research go hand in hand, but it’s perfectly reasonable to lay different accents, or weights, on the constituent components to progress on your career path. Traction is slow, but acceptance is growing. I encourage you to engage in this discussion within your own teams. With perseverance, continued evangelism, and leadership, I’m hopeful that we will find that balance and be the better for it.

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