News - January 28, 2016

Does science keep office hours?

Albert Sikkema,Rob Ramaker

Plants, animals and bacteria do not have a nine-to-five mentality. And yet not all Wageningen UR’s buildings are open at all hours. Researchers in Radix complained recently that this made it harder for them to do their work. Can the pursuit of science be reconciled with opening times?

Illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek

Arjan de Visser, Personal professor at the Laboratory of Genetics (Radix)

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‘I think the opening times in Wageningen are extremely limited. When I was working as a postdoc in the United States, I could go into the building day and night. Sometimes I needed to make growth curves for bacterial cultures over a longer period, and then I took my sleeping bag into the lab: these were exceptions that were occasionally necessary. This type of work is important for some people in our group too. But even for us, it was the subject of a discussion over coffee. Some people are against longer opening hours because they will mean you will be expected to be on call all the time. That’s nonsense, I think. You create possibilities, not obligations. Anyway even with limited opening hours people just work on at home. And the idea that it will be more dangerous strikes me as nonsense, but I wouldn’t want to be too insistent on that point. Accidents in the lab are rare. Especially accidents where you are safer with two people than alone, such as when you are rendered unconscious. But people are aware of the dangers and use their common sense.’

Constant Onstenk, Lab assistant at Rikilt (Vitae)


‘As far as I’m concerned there’s no need for longer opening hours at Rikilt. I like to keep to normal office hours and I am happy there’s a limit. Rikilt is open from 7.00 to 20.00 hours on weekdays. And on Saturday morning until 13.00 hours, in case our experiments run on and because the NVWA needs to take measurements in our building on Saturdays. Occasionally there is a pressing reason to stay open at the weekend, in a food crisis. In those incidental cases I work at the weekend too. But not usually: my lab work is geared to an eight-hour working day. The opening times are fine, I think. Sometimes you have to protect researchers from themselves because their sense of duty can go too far.’

Michel Handgraaf, Associate professor of the Economics of Consumers and Households (Leeuwenborch)

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‘You need the option to decide how to use your time, I think. But I think there is enough scope for that already. During the week the building is open between 7 and 22.30 and on Saturdays between 8 and 17.30. So I don’t think opening times are much of an issue here. I have never heard colleagues complaining and I’ve never felt restricted myself. Perhaps some people would like to work on Sundays. That could be an option, although I am not sure whether people here would make use of it. In the social sciences we don’t have to consider things like bacteria in our planning. When you do experiments, you use using human test subjects and you plan the work during office hours. Of course you sometimes need to finish something off. It is nice if you can do that at the office but you can actually also do it at home or somewhere else.’

Lisa Becking, Assistant Professor at Marine Animal Ecology and researcher at Imares (Zodiac and Den Helder)

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‘If I look at it from a self-centred point of view as a scientist, buildings should be open 24 hours a day. That’s without looking at drawbacks like organizing insurance. This is crucial for people studying diurnal rhythms, for instance. But when I was doing my PhD I noticed that it was important for your drive as well. If you are on a roll, you want to work 12 hour days. And some scientists have unusual routines – they might not be morning people, for instance - and you would like them to be free to work when their drive is strongest. Anyway there are not that many restrictions in Wageningen. In Zodiac I can always work in the evening and at weekends if necessary. When I was working on my PhD – at Naturalis in Leiden – 18.15 hours was the absolute max. I could understand that: the collection is national heritage and there had to be security all the time.’

Renko de Vries, Associate Professor of Physical Chemistry and Colloid Science (Chemistry building at the Dreijen)

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‘The opening times here are quite long – until 23.00 or 24.00 hours – and  I’ve usually gone home before that. But I am happy that it’s possible. Sometimes it is necessary for the tests we do. You can’t automatize everything and if something runs overnight you have to check how it’s going in the evening or the weekend. If the building closed at 20.00 hours the work would suffer. For deadlines too, for proposals for instance, it is useful to have a lot of time outside office hours. You can work on those kinds of things at home as well but that isn’t always appreciated by the family. And you can concentrate better here. I think that within reason, it’s true that science doesn’t have opening hours. Personally I usually stop around midnight. I don’t work all through the night but there are people who do. Many of them are PhD candidates who are still in another stage of life.’

Sander Gussekloo, Assistant professor of Experimental Zoology (Zodiac)

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‘In the life sciences you can’t do all your research between 9 and 5. You have to look after animals and water plants and for that you need to be able to get into the building in the evenings and at weekends too. Even in Zodiac the opening times at the weekend are too limited. For example, we are doing an experiment with Ichneumon wasps. They need looking after over the weekend as well. And you never know when they will hatch out so you have to keep an eye on them all the time. It is not necessary to stay open 24/7. In molecular biology you sometimes have to do experiments that can go on for 18 hours. Allowing longer access needn’t take up staff time. As long as you have good locks and a pass that gives you access.’