As the first keynote of this year’s conference, prof. Svetlana Khapova addressed the challenges of integration of academics from other countries in the Dutch university context.
Being from a different country, often different culture, you simply stand out – people notice you are not Dutch. However, this has also its plus sides, since people “try you out” - if you manage to tackle some challenge.
“Making a career at Dutch university is like juggling balls”
Challenge of academic career in the Netherlands is not only about being different. Dutch system itself is a challenge. You don’t only do your research; you also have to teach. Supervising bachelor and master students often takes longer time than anticipated. A lot of this local collaborations might eventually pay back. However, these are not recognized globally. For example, when trying to apply for grants, like at NWO, it is the international visibility, publications in top journals and your network on global scale that count the most. The good teaching is not important for your international career, rather for the university.
Professor Khapova also pointed out that another challenge for academics in Dutch system is wrong prioritizing. If you want to have a good career, you need to put your research before the teaching or other faculty obligations. At least, at first. After focussing on the globally acknowledged aspects of your career, there will be time to focus on the local aspects – your group that you are a part of. By collaborating and contributing within your group, you will become your group.
Professor Joy Clancy gave a presentation containing of two main parts: about diversity and about tips on surviving a close encounter with the Dutch academic system. After all – as she pointed out – she is a living example that you can survive a research career path in the Netherlands.
There are many dimensions of diversity, not only gender and ethnicity: also sexuality, age, civil status, language, disability. Diversity aware person is able to recognise the strengths of a mixed team. Such person can see that disability is not inability, and that you can decide on a different way of working. After all, it is all about perceptions. For example, how old is old? Getting to know the Dutch culture might be difficult and sometimes confusing to colleagues from other cultures. Joy named a few puzzling elements: food – bread for lunch?; everyday sobriety vs carnival freedom; Dutch directness – so be ready for also the bitter truth. However, there are also good parts. Also, you learn a lot about your own country, because you explain to other people about how does it differ.
How to survive then?
- Be an academic! - analyse.
- Get a mentor, formal or informal.
- Be modest within the university, but expand your network outside the university, because this counts. Promote yourself, but don’t be too showy.
- Learn Dutch – practice with secretaries and support staff.
- Don’t expect your Dutch colleagues to socialise after work. Do something for yourself, join a club.
Joy also gave some suggestions to Dutch colleagues:
- Make space for other people for discussion.
- Support non-Dutch colleagues in learning Dutch.
- Don’t expect your non-Dutch colleagues to enthusiastically take part in Dutch cultural activities.
- Watch out with sex and sexuality aspects, as they may be very awkward for people from other countries.
Presentation of dr. Paul van Dijk started with the “global” aspect. Paul went to many places around the globe. Among others, he did some field work in Spain and Norway. This is when he already experienced cultural differences: Spain was very welcoming when camping, with fire and songs, while Norway was quite the opposite.
You learn a lot when you are abroad about customs, gender, religion, etc. It is important to know the information about different negotiation techniques, which are applicable to the country you are in.
How to use this global view at the University of Twente? Paul is responsible for the Twente Graduate School (TGS), which is the coordination centre for the PhDs educational programs. Since University of Twente attracts PhD candidates from many countries, TGS organises an introduction workshop where students learn about the university and their research path. During such introduction, the groups of students are mixed, so students cooperate with other nationalities. With some exercises, students learn the differences in the workstyle of others and find out what are the skills they would like to develop most.
Panellists: Joy Clancy, Svetlana Khapova, Guido Giammaria, Paul van Dijk, Joost Sluijs, Suzanne Hulscher
Acknowledging and fostering diversity is part of UT policy and practice at all levels.
The change is visible in the University management. It is now accepted that diversity is needed, however, it is easier to only come up with policies and acknowledge that this is important. Practice is the difficult one. Having a dialog and debates is necessary. Also, maybe the deans and management require some leadership training, so they learn how to put their awareness in practice. At the group level, it could be a good practice to, e.g., celebrate each other’s holidays.
Academics coming from abroad should adapt to Dutch culture.
Academics coming from abroad have to be aware of how the university workstyle looks like in the Netherlands. Depends on atmosphere of the group. Getting a mentor could help in this. One thing is enjoying the international culture and Dutch culture. However, do the foreign academics have a chance to be promoted? Is the system flexible enough to help that person, have space for them?
- It is important to fit in the research group that you join. This type of integration might be difficult but it is rewarding.
- Make courses with your colleagues, preferably in a mixed group of different age, time spent at UT and positions of the people. You learn a lot about each other and also about the unwritten rules of the University.
- No matter how transparent the university rules are, female academics tend to underestimate the value of those unwritten rules.
- Take care of your own career, don’t let it just happen.
- You need to signal yourself that you are ready with promotion, don’t wait for your manager to call you and give you the promotion.
Career at the university does not depend on the background.
This statement was recognized as a future work. A good example from University of Twente is the transparency of the tenure track criteria.
Many women don’t want to be the problem, so they don’t want to discuss it until it is too late. Therefore, it is important, once again, to take care of your own career. However, it would be a good practice if UT required that, e.g., every assistant professor gets a mandatory mentor. New things come up all the time, so even if one has spent some time at the UT, one might need to get a mentor.
Getting funding was also recognized as more difficult for foreigners than for Dutch people.
- There is a lot to be done!
- Regarding your career: take initiative in your hand and be responsible for your own career!
- Initiate a dialog.
- Share good practices.
- Mentoring is important on different levels – formal or informal. Seek for mentoring, the University of Twente provides that!
- Acknowledge where you are and embrace it.