Stories#060 Vinod’s return home

#060 Vinod’s return home

The story of Leontien’s hotline is a story of Vinod’s return home

Leontien Kalverda feels at home on campus. She likes to have conversations with as many ‘roommates’ as possible. To know what moves them, what they would like to improve and how she can help them. Vinod Subramaniam also came home to the UT, now as president of the Executive Board. Leontien is interested in hearing how Vinod would like to shape the university of the future. And they both know one thing for sure: they can't do it alone. “A conversation between you and me is not enough: we also have to involve 12,500 students and 3,500 other colleagues.”

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Monday 10 January 2022

Exotic president of the zoo

Leontien: ‘Welcome back to UT. How did that happen? Did you want to come full circle?’

Vinod: ‘I was actually doing fine as rector at VU Amsterdam. But the role of rector is much more about the content. In contrast to that of president of the Executive Board. This makes things interesting, because I can develop myself further. The more I considered making the switch, the more I thought: you know, this is actually pretty cool. And UT is a university I know, where I’ve enjoyed working before. It really felt like coming home.’

Leontien: ‘That’s nice. Why do you think you are the right person for the position of president?’

Vinod: ‘You should really ask others this question. But I know the academic system, because I’ve been part of it. That helps. Universities are like zoos: they contain a lot of exotic animals, and you have to understand them well. I also bring international experience to the table and I have affinity with issues regarding diversity and inclusion.’

Leontien: ‘How is UT doing in that regard?’

Vinod: ‘I think the student population is a bit less diverse than, for example, at the VU. But I do see more diversity among the staff, with colleagues from all over the world.’

Leontien: ‘Is UT more diverse now than during your previous period here?’

Vinod: ‘Yes. I see more women and more colour than I did back then. Real progress has been made. That’s a good thing for the university. A diverse team is always better. Different angles lead to better discussions and better decisions.’

Leontien: ‘If everyone dares to make their voice heard.’

Vinod: ‘Yes, that’s an important point. We have to make sure that each perspective can be put forward. And that doesn’t happen automatically. Together with my colleagues from the Executive Board, I want to create an environment in which everyone can make their voice heard.’

Leontien: ‘Do you have the idea that this is not the case now?’

Vinod: ‘A lot of things are said all the time, but I don’t know if everyone experiences the freedom to express themselves. I can’t judge that – at least not yet.’

Leontien: ‘As the president of the Executive Board you spend a lot of time away from UT. How do you show what is happening on our campus?’

Vinod: ‘I notice that we could present ourselves even better than we do now. We do fantastic things, but we don’t always manage to explain them to the outside world. We need to develop our story as a community. Together we can really put UT in the spotlight. All universities revolve around people. But of course there are differences. We are a technical university. What I like here is that we have people who say, ‘Okay, we have a challenge; let’s roll up our sleeves and fix it.’ They did so at VU Amsterdam too, but sometimes there was more of a discussion.’

Leontien: ‘It’s funny that you say that, because at UT we spend quite some time discussing things too – everyone has to make their point about everything.’

Vinod: ‘Yes, sure, but having something to say on everything is part of academia. We are all clever, highly educated people with an opinion.’

Leontien: ‘That’s right. And I like it. What makes you happy in your work?’

Vinod: ‘The young people. Students and young colleagues who show great passion for their work. Of course I have a lot of respect and appreciation for other colleagues. But the students are what the university is all about, they are our core business.’

Leontien: ‘And outside work?’

Vinod: ‘I like to cook. That’s how I relax. And in my life, the kitchen is the closest I get to a laboratory. Cooking is a kind of chemistry, right? Haha!’

Leontien: ‘And do you still have time for that?’

Vinod: ‘Yes, I make time for it. I also recently went cooking in a student house. I want to show everyone at UT that it is all about the community. I think that you and I should make tangible and visible what it means to be a part of UT. Sometimes it’s very easy to do so: just by being among students, talking to colleagues and showing how I believe we should treat each other. This is not about the distant future, we all do things every day that shape UT. What do you think we should do to move the university forward?’

Leontien: ‘Keep in touch with each other. Listen carefully to know what we need to do to become an even more open and inclusive university, for example. Personally, I think I also need a lot from you and your colleagues in the Executive Board. To keep a sharp eye on our focus. So that I can pick up the right signals from the organisation.’

Vinod: ‘Yes, you’re right to point that out. We don’t do this alone. Not as a Board member. Not as the programme manager Shaping2030. And a conversation between you and me is not enough either. There are 12,500 students and 3,500 other colleagues that we need to involve as well.’

Leontien: ‘Absolutely! Our conversations should summarise what we see and hear in the university. Fortunately, I’ve been around for a while.’

Vinod: ‘Yes, that helps me too. Sure things have changed, but I don’t need to rediscover the culture and the people. It helps to know this place a bit.’

Leontien: ‘And to make time for cups of coffee and lunch.’

Vinod: ‘Certainly. If possible on campus. When I’m here, I’m often away from my office. I prefer to meet people in their environment, where they ‘live’. And when I walk on campus, I always take a detour. I go and say ‘hi!’ to the people in the old faculty office or at my old department. Or to anyone I come across on my way. I like to just ask them: ‘How are you doing?’ I think these spontaneous contacts are extremely important.’


studied Applied Communication Sciences at UT. After obtaining her bachelor's and master's degrees, she also started working at UT as a communications officer. After a few years, she made the transition to Strategic Business Development, where she took on the role of programme manager of the Centre for Energy Innovation, among other things. She has been programme manager for Shaping2030 since June 2021.

Prof. Dr. Vinod Subramaniam (1967)

studied Electrical Engineering at Cornell University and Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at the University of Michigan. He obtained his PhD there in 1996. He worked as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and at AstraZeneca in Loughborough. Between 2004 and 2013, Vinod was professor of nanobiophysics at UT, until he became director of AMOLF. In 2015 he became rector of the VU University in Amsterdam. Since September 2021, Vinod has returned to UT as president of the Executive Board.