Stories#073 Sevim’s European ambitions

#073 Sevim’s European ambitions

The story of Maarten’s secured cruisin’ is a story of Sevim’s European ambitions

In her work at the European Commission, UT alumna Sevim Aktas often recalls the lessons she learned from Maarten van Steen. When Sevim was a student, the two of them regularly had coffee together. Today, Maarten wants to learn from Sevim. How can UT get closer to the European decision-making process? ‘It’s not as slow as you think.’

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Monday 11 april 2022 

Creating engagement

Sevim: ‘Hi Maarten, it’s been a while since we had our last cup of coffee. This interview appointment also made me think about the first time we met, at a lunch meeting in De Waaier…’

Maarten: ‘Wow, your memory is better than mine, Sevim. What did we talk about?’

Sevim: ‘Back then, I was doing my bachelor’s in Advanced Technology at UT. Among other things, I asked you if you had any advice for me as a student. Professional copycatting, you said. Well, I took that advice seriously. It’s still my mantra right now!’

Maarten: ‘I’m glad you remember that. For our readers: professional copycatting means you look closely at what other people are doing. If you like how they’re doing something, you 'copy’ that part and make it your own. I still think this is a great way to learn.

But hey, Sevim. Formally, you left UT a while ago. So why are you here, in this chain of interviews?’

Sevim: ‘Well, you were the one telling me I had to explore the world, right? That’s what I did! I got my master’s degree at Oxford and I now work at the European Commission in Brussels, as a policy advisor. Although I’m not officially part of UT anymore, I still feel a strong connection to the campus. I just became a member of the Young Twente Board. And I often talk to my friends, mentors and other dear people in Enschede. In this way, I try to contribute by sharing ideas. So I think that’s why the UT invited me here!’

“I use my knowledge and skills as an engineer to improve EU policy and politics”
Sevim Aktas

Maarten: ‘You’re totally right – I was teasing you. What exactly are you doing in Brussels?’

Sevim: ‘Multiple things, actually. In short: I use my knowledge and skills as an engineer to improve EU policy and politics. My background is in energy and climate. That’s the policy area that I focus on, but I’m working for various teams. For example, I’m in the team that is figuring out a strategy for the rising energy prices.

Recently, I also joined the digital department, where I’m working on data services. And for a few months now, I’ve been part of the communications department. I help them in their mission to create authentic EU content. Ever since I’ve started working in Brussels, I’ve been sharing stories about European energy and climate policy on my personal Instagram account. I make infographics and try to share stuff in such a way that it’s interesting for my friends, too. So far, it’s going pretty well. I get messages like: hey, I’ve never been a big fan of the EU, but I like your content. That’s the biggest compliment I can get.’

Maarten: ‘I know you’re not a very patient person – and I mean that as a compliment. You have an inherent speed in life. But now you’re working in one of the slowest organizations that I can think of. How do you manage that?’

Sevim: ‘First of all: it’s not as slow as you’d think. Mind you, there’s 27 countries trying to make an agreement! When my friends and I go on a ski-trip together, it’s often a big discussion: where do we go, where do we stay, et cetera. And that’s only six people. In the EU, we have different cultures, different languages, different national interests… In that context, reaching consensus is a masterpiece.’

Maarten: ‘Hmm, I understand. Nevertheless, even when things are necessarily slow, that can be frustrating, right?’

Sevim: ‘I’ve noticed that it really depends on the team you’re working with. Sometimes it’s frustrating, I cannot deny that. But you need to find experienced people who want to work with young talents. The communications team I’m in, for example, is very young and fast-paced. Sometimes I’m the one who is challenged by its speed!’

“You can create engagement by asking questions instead of giving statements”
Sevim Aktas

Maarten: ‘Talking about communications: I’d also like to ask you about your activities on Instagram and LinkedIn. You know I’m personally not a fan of social media. I think it’s a one-way street. People are mostly yelling at each other, instead of having real discussions. In Dutch, we call that ‘roeptoeteren’. I know you favour the discussion above the message, so how do you see this?’

Sevim: ‘You’re basically talking about creating engagement. One way to do that, is by asking questions instead of giving statements. For example, I say: hey guys, this happened, what do you think?

The best example I can give, is about smoking. Personally, I’m totally anti-smoking. So if I talk to a smoker, I could be like: “You shouldn’t smoke, it’s bad for you.” But who knows whether this person cares about health! So instead, I ask: “Hey, have you ever considered quitting? Why did you consider it, and why didn’t you quit?”

Getting to the motivation of why that person is smoking, helps me to know from which perspective I can understand them – and give the best arguments. Otherwise, it’s just… roeptoeteren, ha ha.’

“Getting to the motivation of why somebody is smoking, helps me to know from which perspective I can understand them”
Sevim Aktas

Maarten: ‘At UT, we want to be more engaged at the EU stage. Do you have any tips for UT people who want to get closer to the European policy making process? How can they become more engaged?’

Sevim: ‘First of all, it’s good to know which departments the European Commission has. Just google ‘European Commission departments’, it will get you there. As soon as you find one that’s related to your own field of research, subscribe to their newsletter. These newsletters are monthly, and they’re amazing summaries of what is going on. They tell you about all opportunities coming ahead, from research to business.’

Maarten: ‘That’s a good one. I’d like to add something: people should also follow your posts on LinkedIn, because they’re very interesting. Well, thank you Sevim. Let me know when you’re in Enschede – we can have another coffee.’

Sevim: ‘For sure! And then I’ll be the one to ask the questions. Be prepared!’

PROF. DR. IR. MAARTEN VAN STEEN (1959)

studied Applied Mathematics at UT and obtained his PhD in computer science from Leiden University. He spent five years with TNO research, before returning to academia. After working at Erasmus University Rotterdam and VU Amsterdam he rejoined UT to become the Scientific Director the Digital Society Institute. As part of his work at UT, Maarten is member of the AiNed advisory board and member of the NWO Science board.

Sevim Aktas

is a policy officer at the European Commsision in Brussels. Her main expertise is climate and energy. Sevim studied Advanced Technology at UT and Energy Systems at Oxford University. Since October 2021, she’s a member of the Young Twente Board, an organization where young talents help to enhance the international position of the region. You can follow Sevim on Instagram: @sevimaktaseu.