The story of Wieteke's rosemary and lavender is a story of Kathi's scientific integrity

Wieteke Willemen, professor of Spatial Dynamics of Ecosystem Services, studies ecosystems from far away and from up close. Policy advisor for research Kathi Lemmens-Krug looks at policy issues in much the same way. Not only is she a passionate advocate of cooperation at the European level, but she also contributes with concrete action in her immediate environment. In this way she strives for more integrity and inclusion. ‘We should talk about integrity more often. Saying that we are too busy with the here and now is no excuse: it is exactly those everyday moments or remarks that can cause someone to be left out.’

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Monday 12 April 2021

European on a mission for space and trust

Wieteke: ‘I’m looking forward to this, Kathi. You’re doing a PhD and you work for strategy and policy on scientific integrity. If you had to choose, what would it be: research or policy?’

Kathi: ‘Policy. I did an internship with the European Commission where I focused on higher education. An experience I’ll always remember.’

Wieteke: ‘Amazing! Aren’t you currently also working on a comparison of higher education in different countries?’

Kathi: ‘Yes. In my thesis, I compare policy for educational quality at seven European universities. Such policy works better if teaching staff are involved. That helps create acceptance, which you don’t get if an external consultant comes and tells teachers – who may have been teaching for twenty years – how to do their work.’

Wieteke: ‘When I did my PhD, my research took up all my time. How do you combine two jobs?’

Kathi: ‘Well, I didn’t really choose the combination. The situation mainly arose because I hadn’t yet finished my PhD but I’d started looking for my next job. I had it all planned: my thesis was nearly finished, but then the pandemic came along and suddenly we were at home with two young children. The first lockdown was a question of survival. After that, I would regularly have a week off to work on my thesis. But then my three-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer. At first, his health went downhill very fast. His wellbeing improved a lot with chemotherapy, but the prognosis is bad.’

Wieteke: ‘Oh, I’m so sorry... And here I am asking you questions about your PhD. I admire you for being here today.’

Kathi: ‘Because my son is doing a bit better, I have more time to work. After four months, it’s nice to think about something other than neuroblastoma and hospital visits.’

Wieteke: ‘I can imagine. So, let’s focus on that. You are passionate about the quality of education. You’ve also worked on a new system to compare universities. Should we make lists of universities?’

Kathi: ‘No, we shouldn’t. At least, not just based on publications or research funding. A university is so much more than that. U-Multirank is the opposite of the traditional, one-dimensional rankings, like the Shanghai Ranking or the Times Higher Education World University Ranking. U-Multirank also highlights other aspects of universities, like regional involvement, education indicators, internationalisation, and in the future hopefully also inclusion and sustainability.’

“We want to be an open, inclusive and sustainable university. Traditional university rankings do not contribute to achieving those goals”

Wieteke: ‘But why do we all look at those traditional rankings then? The UT also wants to stay high in the rankings. Isn’t that odd?’

Kathi: ‘Yes, I think it’s strange. But there’s huge pressure in the higher education system. You can’t change that system from one day to the next. Even within the UT, it takes time before we can all make different choices. For new funding models, for example; for more recognition and appreciation for different career paths than the traditional research career leading to a professorship. And for a healthier academic culture, with less dependence and  potential misconduct.

‘In that respect, Shaping2030 is a step in the right direction. The UT states that it wants to focus on social impact and on cultural change. We want to be an open, inclusive and sustainable university. Traditional university rankings do not contribute to achieving those goals I feel, we should be concerned with questions like: How do we encourage people to think more about scientific integrity? How do we become more inclusive? How do we improve the way we treat each other? Speaking of which: have you seen the play Mindlab?’

Wieteke: ‘I was just going to ask you about it! I thought it was a great reflection of academic culture.’

Kathi: ‘Totally. And it’s nice that it was initiated by Ellen Giebels, vice-dean and portfolio holder of research at the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences. You can see that the play is based on real conversations with people in science. People recognise things in it. In this way, Mindlab stimulates debate. Which I feel is very valuable, because you don’t get that discussion if you say: read this code of conduct for scientific integrity.

‘We should talk about integrity more often anyway. We are often too engaged with the here and now, but that’s exactly what it’s about. Brief moments or comments which make someone feel unsafe can make that person feel excluded.’

“My ideal work environment is one in which we work based on space and trust, instead of external stimuli and control”

Wieteke: ‘The hero in Mindlab is a young woman who sets up her own research group. What does your ideal work environment look like?’

Kathi: ‘I’d like it to be about intrinsic motivation. Fewer external stimuli and control, more space and trust. So many motivated people work at the UT. But some get demotivated by externally imposed goals and deadlines. If we let that go a bit, I feel we’d get more done.’

Wieteke: ‘Hmm, I get what you’re saying. And where do you see yourself in the future?’

Kathi: ‘Eventually, I’d like to work for the EU again.’

Wieteke: ‘Why?’

Kathi: ‘The basic philosophy attracts me: not against each other, but with each other. For me, cooperation in Europe is a wonderful idea. My parents grew up in former East Germany. My grandparents lived through the Nazi regime. Throughout my childhood, I heard stories about life in a dictatorship. About what it means if people are not considered equal. That drives me to work on inclusion and cooperation.’

WIETEKE (LOUISE) WILLEMEN (1979)

worked abroad for several years and came to UT in 2014 as a tenure tracker. She is now professor of Spatial Dynamics of Ecosystem Services. She studies relationships between people and nature and is trained in Tropical Plant production Systems and Geoinformation Science. 

Kathi Lemmens-Krug MSc (1988)

is policy advisor for research. She focuses on scientific integrity. Kathi is also writing her thesis about policy in the field of the quality of education at European universities in the UT department CHEPS. After completing a Bachelor in European Studies at the UT and a Master in European Governance at the University of Bristol, she did an internship at the DG Education and Culture at the European Commission and worked for DAAD, the German institute for university exchange.