Monday 3 May 2021
Wander: 'As a philosophy student, did you ever imagine you'd become a study advisor?'
Annet: 'No. In my heart, I wanted to be a farmer. In practice, I thought I would probably end up as a policy officer, despite not knowing exactly what that involved. But I started to work for an IT consultancy firm, where one of my tasks was training people. That was something I really enjoyed. The study advisor job was a nice extension of that. By the way, I've always done other things on the side: I coordinated internships and internationalisation, I was a lecturer for academic skills. And now I'm a project leader for the student well-being project as well. I really enjoy some variety.'
Wander: 'Do students have different issues today than they did twenty years ago?'
Annet: 'The pandemic is obviously a big theme now. But in general, their problems haven't changed much. Students come to me with all kinds of questions. From “I can't find the timetable”, via “I don't know which direction I ought to go with my studies” to “I have suicidal thoughts”. In the latter case, I take the person to the student psychologist. I also try to monitor their study progress. Which is particularly important for first and final year students. When I see that they're falling too far behind, I ask them to come and see me.'
Wander: 'Would you say that students' lives are much more hectic these days? They always seem to be planning and doing too much.'
Annet: 'Their busy lives, also due to social media and a higher standard of living, is certainly a problem. When I look back at my own student days: we were poor, so there were no holidays. We didn't have a public transport card, so there was less travel stress. We used to visit our parents once every six weeks. We tended to drink at home with our housemates - the same people we had most of our conversations with. Students today have a part-time job, keep up with lots of different people, they text their parents three or four times a day, and those parents in turn share their private woes with their children, much more so than in the past. Students are busier and under more pressure. As a result, some of them spend the whole day rushing around. Others go quiet. In between those extremes, there is fortunately a big group who manages to maintain a balance.'
Wander: 'How do you keep yourself in balance after a busy day?'
Annet: 'Going back to my farming ambition, I have a huge garden which I enjoy working in. I have a dog, I am the coordinator of a hiking club, and I go open water swimming all year round. That's becoming rather trendy, but I've been doing it for years. Every week, a group of us swim in the Rutbeek.'
Wander: 'Respect! I once considered it, but I'd hate it in the winter. I prefer to look out at the water from the shore while I'm running.'
Annet: 'Well, that deserves respect too. But don't be afraid of cold water. It's just like a sauna, without the heat.'
Wander: 'Ha, if you put it like that ... So consider this: imagine, you're the boss of UT for one day. What would you do first?'
Annet: 'I'd tackle information provision to students. So much is communicated through so many channels that they sometimes drown in it or miss essential information. It's also because they don't filter anything. Twitter, Instagram, Osiris, WhatsApp, e-mail: everything is considered equally urgent and important. I feel that we need to do something about that.'
Wander: 'Isn't this a life experience which students need to learn?'
Annet: 'That's the question. If we really feel that students must learn how to navigate without getting hopelessly lost, we will need to explicitly identify that skill as an attainment level for our courses. And schedule time and attention for that.'
Wander: 'In the same way that we introduced challenge-based learning, because working together was becoming increasingly important?'
Annet: 'Exactly. In the student well-being project, that's something we want to discuss. What should students do themselves, what do we offer? What is part of the curriculum, what isn't? As a university, we need to be clear about that, taking into account our international students in particular. In some countries, independence and self-management are not taken for granted. Obedience might be considered more important, for example. We must be transparent about what we aim to achieve. And that may mean that we all need to organise things differently.'
Wander: 'Talking about change: as a UT dinosaur, Shaping2030 isn't the first change process that you've experienced.'
Annet: 'Right. And in the past, desired changes have tended to be imposed on the organisation from above. Or a some kind of “change organisation” emerged detached from the existing organisation[P-vdLL(1] , which didn't include “ordinary” teachers or support staff. Fortunately, Shaping2030 seems to be different. Everyone is asked: how does your work or how do your plans contribute to our common goals? In this way, the entire organisation is involved.'
Wander: 'How do you see your involvement in this?'
Annet: 'My work reflects several Shaping2030 themes: inclusion, individuals and teams, and innovation of education. As a study advisor with a special focus on student well-being, I feel my task is to continue emphasising that our students are individuals. And that we are jointly responsible for keeping their minds and bodies together.'
Wander: 'A great task. It would be nice to join you for a day.'
Annet: ‘Be my guest! That would be great. And then I'd like to find out what you do at UT. I'll certainly read the Shaping2030 story of Massimo Sartori with you.'