My journey as a scientist
I have enjoyed working in science for 18 years. I am an professor at the University of Twente and one of the team leaders of the Professional development of lecturers zone. The question is of course how I got here. For this I would like to take you on the journey I made as a scientist on this International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This journey started in Hengelo, where I grew up in a warm family, but where studying was not immediately obvious. Thanks to my secondary school and active dean, I was made aware of the possibilities of a university education. And so I became the first in my family to go to university. I chose to study Educational Science in Nijmegen.
Off to a foreign country
In the last year of my studies I had to write a thesis. I love to travel and went looking for opportunities to conduct my thesis research abroad. This was possible and my journey went from Nijmegen to Toronto. And there in Toronto the foundation for my career was build. Not only did I discover that I loved doing research, I also had the opportunity to do so at the renowned Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. There I got to know several world-famous researchers in my field and one of these researchers became and remained my mentor. I had a fantastic time in Toronto and I really got to know myself. I learned a lot in the field of research (my graduation research was about the problem-solving abilities of school leaders). But I also learned that the coffee shop around the corner had a clean toilet when the toilet in my rental apartment turned out to be clogged and I couldn’t reach the landlord (speaking of problem solving skills). And also how you could get to university at a temperature of -25 degrees Celsius by staying underground as much as possible.
From student to researcher
After successfully completing my research and study, I knew I wanted to continue in the field of research. However, at all the research agencies I applied to, I was told to come back if I got my PhD. That then became my goal. I have applied for various PhD positions, have been rejected several times, but persistence wins. I got a PhD position at the University of Twente in Enschede, much to the joy of my family, who didn’t like it that I was losing my Twente accent there in distant Nijmegen (and Toronto).
My PhD research was on self-evaluation in primary education and this has become the basis of my further career. I became interested in data and data use in education (primary, secondary and higher education), a subject I still enjoy deepening into and I also keep learning new things (currently, for example, about the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence). The wanderlust has remained as well. During my PhD research I applied for and received a Fulbright grant to be able to do research abroad for a while: Baton Rouge in Louisiana this time. I went to Louisiana State University (LSU) to research data use by underperforming schools in particular. Here I experienced my first real culture shock. I had roommates who spoke Cajun and refused to speak English with me, some of the schools I attended were in such bad shape that the state threatened to close them, and getting from campus to downtown literally took you through the ghetto by bus. Believe me, being on a bus that gets a flat tire in the middle of the ghetto is not a pleasant feeling. Despite this culture shock, I had a great time at LSU. I met a lot of fun and interesting people, experienced great swamp tours and Cajun barbecues, celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and learned a lot about doing research in a different educational system.
After my PhD, I had the opportunity to hold a postdoc position at the UT. My work continued to focus on (professionalization in the field of) data use. I am a researcher who prefers to collaborate with practice. For example, together with this practice, I developed a professionalization intervention in the field of data use, the data team method. We have extensively researched this method and is now not only used in the Netherlands, but in various countries (e.g. America and Sweden). I am very proud of that! I am also proud of the work we do with the Professional development of lecturers zone. We also bring this into practice, and this works! After years of working as an associate professor, I have since been appointed as professor as of January 1st, 2021.
Tips for young and aspiring researchers
- Find a mentor in your field with whom you click. This mentor can introduce you to the right people, expand your network and give you concrete tips on how to progress in your field;
- Networking is crucial and international experience is also important. Try to apply for grants (e.g. Fulbright, Erasmus, Spencer), participate in international projects, go to (international) conferences and especially go to receptions and drinks there;
- Publishing in scientific journals is important, but working on your brand awareness is also important. Therefore, publish occasionally in trade journals, write a book (chapter) or edit a book or journal special issue;
- Just being a good researcher is not enough for a career in science. Also undertake activities that allow you to practice and demonstrate internal leadership skills. For example, join the Examination Board, Program Committee or Faculty Council. This way you also ensure that you become visible within your own organization;
- Work externally on leadership skills as well, review for journals and conferences, apply for the board of international organizations. For example, I was on the board of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement for years and I was even president of this organization. My network has grown enormously and I have been able to practice a lot of leadership.
Finally, networking, publishing, leading etc. is all important, but most important is that you have passion for what you do! Mine is improving the quality of education. What is your passion?