Stories#053 Tanya's mission of recognition and reward

#053 Tanya's mission of recognition and reward

The story of Nando's homegrown apples is a story of Tanya's mission of recognition and reward

An apple a day keep the doctor away! For PhD student Nando Tolboom, thinking of smart sustainable solutions is part of everyday life. He would like to know from professor of HR management Tanya Bondarouk: how do you encourage UT staff to go the extra mile?

Click for Dutch version

Monday 25 October 2021

In the sun

Nando: ‘Explain this to me, Tanya. You studied chemistry in Russia and obtained your doctorate in pedagogy. Then you came to the Netherlands to do another master, but in Educational & Training Systems Design. Is there any logic to it?” 

Tanya: 'I found chemistry simple, very black and white. As a teacher of chemistry, I felt as if all classes were similar. I slowly lost my interest, the fire in me was extinguished. But I did find it interesting to look at how students learn and what the mechanisms were of their  learning processes.' 

Nando: 'You went from an interest in chemical processes to an interest in the personal process?’

Tanya: 'Exactly, the personal development of students. And yes, later I made another left turn. During an exchange between my university in Saint Petersburg and UT in Enschede I thought: this is so different from what I have previously learned. At UT, digitalisation in educational sciences had already started. The entrepreneurial spirit appealed to me. And I was looking for freedom – not necessarily political freedom, but also in my academic work. So I started studying at UT.’

Nando: 'What is the most important difference for you between how you are educated in Russia and how education works in the Netherlands?’ 

Tanya: 'Of course that differs per field, but when I studied chemistry in Russia, I was the happiest student in the world. We were taught in small groups, six days a week, very intensively and with a lot of attention for everybody. You could almost consider it as private education. But there was no balance between work life and home life.’

Nando: ‘Here in Enschede there is little competition between students. How is that in Russia, is it important to excel there?’

Tanya: ‘The most important competition is with yourself. Getting good grades means a larger grant. As a student I always had the biggest scholarship possible, haha. That was recognition, prestige.’

Nando: 'As a professor of HR management you worked on a project about innovation, driven by employees themselves. How can an HR manager help employees with that?’

Tanya: ‘Every employee in an organisation is a source of innovation. Often special attention is paid to innovation in the special department for Research and Development. That's understandable when you're talking about product development. But for better collaboration or a more pleasant work process, you have to check in with all employees. As an HR manager it is important to know how to give employees recognition and appreciation for their role in such innovations. Also very important: ensure that you leave the decision-making about work up to the people who are closest to that work or task. For example, a team responsible for education must be in control of the education design and of the allocation of funds.’

Nando: 'Most policy for UT is conceived university-wide. But according to you, you get more innovation when employees and teams make policy decisions themselves?’

Tanya: ‘Yes, but don't get me wrong. You have to ensure a match between what organisations want and what employees do. For example, UT wants to be interdisciplinary, high tech and human touch, entrepreneurial and putting people first. That's our trademark. In order for that to work, it would be best that departments and employees work together on that trademark.’

Nando: ‘Recognition and appreciation are important, you said. In my case: it is difficult to get recognition for the extra activities I do next to my research, such as science communication or doing business outside my own field PhD work. Some companies do so, for example by giving staff extra time to explore extracurriculars. How can we also embed recognition and appreciation at the university?’

Tanya: ‘With the Shaping Expert Group Individuals & Teams we look for concrete ways to make you feel that UT sees and appreciates those extras. It does not always need to be translated into money or time, in my opinion. It can also be done by putting you in the spotlight, or to draw attention to what you do. Or by offering you a job that makes you happy. That's the type of recognition that we strive for. Because no matter how much time you make available for extras, it will never feel like enough.’

Nando: 'You argue in favor of not only assessing scientists on the basis of number of publications, but also to take education and social impact into account. How is that going in your department?’

Tanya: 'Come and join us for six months and you will experience it. I will give you a concrete example. Two days ago we held our annual review meetings. I don't ask: which courses do you give and what is your publication list? My first question is always: where do you want to be in two or three years and how can I help you with that? Then we talk about your contributions and your role in the team. What do you do to make the team better? For example, we think everyone should go abroad at least three times in five years time to get inspirations and new ideas. In that case I would ask: if you go, what do you bring back? It’s my responsibility to back that initiative financially.'

Nando: 'A year ago you published the manifesto about a new way to recognise and reward UT employees. What’s the currents status of these plans?’ 

Tanya: ‘First of all, we wanted to announce this initiative. We did that within a year’s time, and I see that as a great achievement. The question now is, of course, how can we approach performance assessment in academia in a different way if we do not prioritize on the number of publications? That's a pertinent question. Let me be clear: we never said that numbers don't matter, but we think they should be a different priority. Your story must come first. Why do you do what you do? Only after that, numbers like your h-factor count. I think it's very good that we started with this manifesto, instead of immediately changing all measuring instruments.' 

Nando: ‘What's the next step?’

Tanya: 'To develop those concrete instruments. Of course there are numerous different assessment criteria. But at UT we find a few of things important for everyone. We want to translate that into application procedures. For example, by always asking: how do you contribute to open science? Or what are your ambitions for the team?'

Nando: ‘And then? Who has to get to work?’

Tanya: ‘Everyone!’

Nando: ‘I love your ambition. But where do you want the first changes to be made?'

Tanya: 'We start with the deans, from there we have to go to the HR managers in the faculties… Since this is a cultural shift, I want to talk to as many people as possible. With you, with your colleagues. It takes time. But I prefer to change slowly rather than push something through.’

Nando: 'I saw you also studied art history. I share that interest, so I'm curious: who do you think is the best Russian painter?'

Tanya: 'I like Chagall, we have his works at home; he was a French painter born in the part of the Russian Empire that is now Belarus. But my real favorite artist is Renoir. Le Pont Neuf is depicted on the cover of my PhD thesis. The way he builds his paintings, the way he works, layer by layer… Just wow.' 

Nando: ‘Ah! For the cover of my master's thesis I chose an impression of Piet Mondriaan. I'm a big fan of his, not just because he's from my hometown. People often say: I just see lines. But if you see it in context, it's different. Around 1900 there was a shift from realism to impressionism, to abstraction. His work shows precisely that change.’

Tanya: ‘You are right. The context always makes a great difference, whether we look at the masterpiece in fine arts or scientific work. I do not believe in context-free knowledge, it should be developed and explained for a specific organization, situation, or person. That is exactly what we try to do at UT with our Recognition and Rewards movement.’


obtained his master’s Applied Physics Cum Laude and continued his career at UT as a PhD candidate. As a member of the Energy, Materials and Systems group, he researches the application of binary gas mixtures in sorption compressors. Since 2019, he’s part of Realised, a UT-based start-up that assists organisations in sustainability. 

Tanya Bondarouk (1967)

was born and raised in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, where she studied chemistry and obtained her PhD in pedagogy. After an exchange at UT she decided to turn her career around again and completed a master's degree Educational & Training Systems Design, and then a PhD in IT Implementation. Meanwhile, she is now professor of Human Resource Management. In addition, she is the co-chair of the Shaping Expert Group Individuals and Teams.