Last summer, Dr Marike Polak, a statistician at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), was appointed associate professor (UHD). Since then, she has been working in the management profile, one of the five scientific profiles developed within ESSB to empower people and reduce work pressure.
ESSB scientists can now choose what they want to focus on: teaching, research, management, societal impact or the standard profile of 60 per cent teaching and 40 per cent research. “It is important to recognise with each other that we have a tough job to do. By looking in a team at where everyone's passion and talent lies, everyone can focus on what gives them energy.”
Marike Polak has been working at Erasmus University Rotterdam for some thirteen years. Originally a psychologist, she obtained her PhD in methodology and data analysis at Leiden University and started working at our university as a lecturer in the cluster Department of Psychology, Education and Child Studies (DPECS). Here she still teaches statistics and academic writing to the psychology and pedagogy programmes. In addition, she conducts research in the areas of Developmental Profile, Clinical Genetics and validation methods for clinical diagnostic instruments, among others. She is an external assessor at the Test Affairs Committee Netherlands (COTAN).
A natural development
Gradually, the focus of her career shifted from teaching to committee and policy work. In the past five years, Polak developed from member of the ESSB examination committee to chairman. “The more experience you gain in teaching, the more you get ideas about improvement possibilities within the university. The fact that I have been able to develop myself more in so-called management roles has also allowed me to develop naturally in my work. That is how I have been able to grow.”
Five different profiles
Prof. Victor Bekkers, Dean of ESSB, put reducing the workload among academic staff high on the agenda when he took office four years ago. Scientists had to be good researchers and teachers, but they also had to achieve societal impact and fulfil all kinds of management tasks. He noticed that there was not enough time to fulfil all these roles. Together with a working group set up for the purpose, Bekkers came up with a plan: five different profiles for scientists with linked career paths.
In addition to the standard profile of 60% education and 40% research, ESSB scientists can choose a model in which the focus is on education, research, societal impact or management/leadership. This allows scientists to determine the direction of their career. Previously, the standard profile of 60% education and 40% research remained the same throughout their careers. Now, young researchers can choose one of the new profiles after, in principle, six years. This way, a young university lecturer (UD) has enough time to prove themselves before choosing a profile. A profile is initially for four years. Afterwards, academics can switch to another profile if they wish. There is considerable interest in the ESSB profiles from both within and outside Erasmus University Rotterdam, which is currently serving as a pilot.
Recognition for the different career paths
In May, Polak was offered the opportunity to be appointed as Associate Professor (UHD). For this, she wrote a narrative, a description of her career and vision for her future development, with the management profile in mind. “When I was trusted as chair in the examination committee, I felt ready to write the narrative focused on the management profile. I am very positive about the new job profiles. The term ‘Recognition and Rewards’ says it all. I think it is very important to look in an organisation at where the talents and ambitions of people lie. I think it's great that this recognition is now there for the various career paths and that I can spend part of my time on management.”
From education and management back to research
When asked whether there are also disadvantages to working in the new job profiles, Polak had to think hard. In general, she is very enthusiastic, although she can imagine that as a researcher it can be more difficult to choose between the profiles of education and management. “Suppose you used to be the face of a research group, obtained several grants and were out of it for a while, then it does seem more difficult to manifest yourself as a leader again. It could possibly be a disadvantage, making it more difficult to go back to research from the profiles of teaching or management.” Yet the profiles do not mean that as a scientist you only focus on a certain leg (education, management, research or societal impact). “You make a temporary difference in emphasis to where your ambitions lie and, in the meantime, remain active in all areas. Within the management profile, for example, I still have as much research time as other UHDs without this profile.”
A creative solution
Considering the high workload, the new scientific profiles are an important development, Marike believes. Within ESSB, student numbers have doubled in the past five years. Twenty years ago, the psychology programme started with a hundred students. Today, there are 600 first-year students. In the peak year of 2019/2020, before the introduction of the numerus fixus, there were even 900. In other words, there is a lot of work to be done. “Student numbers have doubled, but funding has not. That is also an important point. I think that Recognition and Rewards cannot solve the national problem of funding. In that sense, it is a creative solution that ensures that the required effort is distributed on the basis of people's ambitions and talents.”
Around her, Polak sees many people experiencing high work pressure, and she herself also experiences it at times. “But I do get a lot of fulfilment from my work. For me, Recognition and Rewards means that I now have a profile in which the activities you do as an Associated Professor are listed with a development path. In a way, that gives me peace of mind.”
The fact that Marike remains employable on the various fronts, but with the emphasis on what she is good at, leaves her with more energy. “If it is also valued in your job profile, that is nice, it gives you fulfilment. It gives me the feeling: everyone counts equally, no matter where they place their emphasis. I like that. I think it is also a modern view of what it takes as a university today to deliver team performance.”