"The workload is high among scientists. Now is the time to tackle that"

Professor Victor Bekkers on the five scientific profiles
Annelien Bredenoord cortege
Arie Kers

When he started as dean of Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Prof. Victor Bekkers heard through a series of roundtable discussions with the academic staff that they were getting 'stuck'. "There were too many demands. They had to be good researchers and lecturers, but also realise social impact and perform all kinds of management tasks. Scientists simply did not have the time to fulfil all these roles."

Together with a working group, set up for that purpose, Bekkers came with a plan: five different profiles for scientists with linked career paths. "The new system is a culture change, the first results of which can already be seen. You create more room to put people in their strength."

Determine the direction of your career

The current model of a university lecturer (UD) and associate professor (UHD) consists of 40% research and 60% teaching. As a result, everyone starts with the same basis. In this way, a young UD has sufficient time to prove himself. Previously, this model remained the same throughout their careers. Young researchers can now, in principle after six years, choose one of the new profiles:

  • Standard - 60% education and 40% research.
  • Education focus - 80% education and 20% research. Educational management tasks fall within the 80% education allocation.
  • Research focus - 25-40% education and 60-75% research.
  • Societal impact focus - There are roughly two flavours because societal impact can be both education and research related. Or: 60% education, 20% research,20% impact (education). Or: 40% education, 40% research, 20% impact (research).
  • Leadership/Management focus – Customised. Based on standard, management time can be taken both from education and from research time.

The content of the profiles is different for everyone, but we do think it is important that people continue to do research or teach, says Victor. "You don't want people to be locked into a profile. Within a profile, you can make a career through career paths. You can continue to grow, from UD to UHD. A profile is initially for four years. Afterwards, one can even switch to another profile. In this way, the scientist determines her or his own career in broad lines. However, it is important that the choice of the profile contributes to the further development of a team and to the performance that a team must achieve".  

Decaan ESSB Victor Bekkers
Prof.dr. Victor Bekkers
Fotograaf: Wilma van de Hel

Workload & Stress

It is impossible for one person to fulfil all the roles of teaching, research, social impact and management at the same time. This  is one of the reasons for the high workload and amount of stress among academic staff. How can you reduce this pressure? Sharing the burden is a first step. "The profiles and career paths are the core for me," says Bekkers. "In the old system, an academic career is almost only possible on the basis of a certain interpretation of the traditional profile. You are good at research and that is measured in terms of the number of publications. It is a quantitative assessment. Someone who is less good at research also has less chance of making a career, while we actually need good teachers who can bring about innovation in education. And research that is not only measured by the number of publications, but also by the degree to which you have societal impact. The aim is also to focus less on quantitative indicators alone, and to pay more attention to the use of evidence-based narratives. You see this, for example, in the Veni, Vidi and Vici grants that can be applied for at NWO.”

The new system of Recognition & Rewards

The innovations within ESSB fit perfectly within Recognition and Rewards. This is the way in which universities will recognise and value the work of academic staff more broadly. Less emphasis on numbers of publications, more emphasis on the other domains in which the scientist works, such as education, social impact and leadership. "The new system is not the Holy Grail, of course. The details have not been decided yet, but we know one thing for sure: the old system no longer works and is reaching its limits. The new way also brings uncertainties. We are working on a culture change. These uncertainties must certainly be addressed. You don't quite know how it will work yet, but change is necessary".

This creates an environment in which scientists can also seize opportunities themselves. "ESSB researchers are active in many areas of society. You want them to be able to spread their wings there too. At the moment, they sometimes see an opportunity somewhere, but cannot seize it because they are judged by publications and therefore have no time left. That is just a waste. An example is freeing up time to start a study with the municipality of Rotterdam to determine the inequality in certain neighbourhoods and how that inequality affects the opportunities people have by going through the school system."

Tropicana view
J. Van Rijn

Making it tangible for the whole university world

There is a lot of interest in the ESSB profiles from within and outside Erasmus University Rotterdam. "I regularly forward information to other universities and EUR faculties to help them set up their own profiles. It's a first step for others to bring about change as well. Each faculty or organisation must of course put its own spin on it. It is not cast in stone."

"Four years ago, our Executive Board was very enthusiastic about our plans with the profiles. We became a pilot. The Board found it especially important that the results would be shared. At the same time, Recognition and Rewards came along. This confirmed that this is not something that only happens within ESSB, but throughout the entire university world. Other countries (e.g. England) are also working on it. The next step, after a year of working from home, is to make everything very tangible and concrete. This is the best way to get the message across.

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