News - July 5, 2012

Slogging through the summer

While some of us are living it up on holiday, other students and staff will carry on working their socks off all through the summer. Some because they have no choice, and some because they enjoy the peace and quiet. We looked a few of them up. 'Luckily I'm more of a winter sports type.' Text: Rob Ramaker and Nicolette Meerstadt

When you pick up your copy of Resource, your holiday is just around the corner. Perhaps you are secretly counting down, or perhaps you are in the middle of a caffeine-powered push to meet your last deadlines. But soon you'll be relaxing on the beach or hiking in the mountains without a care in the world, and generally doing exactly as you please with your long weeks of freedom.
It is not like that for everyone, though. An organization such as Wageningen UR never comes to a total standstill. And this year is no exception: a fair number of people will be sweating it out through the summer. Students, for example, despondently slogging away to avoid being the first victims of the new slow students fine. Fanatics who have been given an opportunity to work on a unique project or travel to an exotic country. A few PhD students writing away in order to meet their thesis deadline. And some researchers with the bad luck to have research subjects that don't take a holiday either - cows or fungi, for instance. And then there are also those people who secretly rather enjoy working through the summer. An empty office, no chattering colleagues - a chance to get on with the job in peace.
Six portraits of Wageningen's summer sloggers. What­ever their reasons, spare a thought for those who keep the torch of science ablaze as you lounge on the beach. Have a good holiday.
Tinkering with life
Jeroen Bosman, fifth year Biotechnology
Entering the iGem synthetic biology competition

'This summer is going to be hard work but interesting too. More than eight of us are working on a project we thought up ourselves. We want to use viral envelopes in order to target a medicine at precisely the right place. Since we are aiming to realize as much of our ambitious plan as possible quickly, everyone is being offered a 'generous' one week's holiday. Luckily I am more of a winter sports type anyway. Apart from that week there are no limitations. So sometimes we are in the lab from eight till eleven and we will probably end up giving up our weekends too. Fortunately, there are a few drinks parties on offer to compensate. And the airco in our workspace is good. Because a lot of our work has to be done at 4 degrees Celsius, so you even need a sweater.  We've already had a startup week and it's nice to see how fast a team spirit grows up. iGem really is an adventure: it is very satisfying to have a project of your own for your Master's thesis. You have a lot of freedom and you learn to really work together, and get things done. For example, we have to find our own sponsorship and equipment. For me the project will be a success if we get through the preliminary round in Amsterdam and are allowed to present it in Boston. Win? That would be absolutely fantastic.'
'Five days a week of hard work'
Laurens Ganzeveld, assistant professor of Earth Systems Science
On sabbatical at the Colombian University of los Andes

'My colleagues think I'm hanging out on the beach in the Caribbean for a couple of months, but it's just five days a week of hard work here. I keep in touch with my Wageningen PhD students, write papers and coach students here for their course called System Earth. The students here are academically strong and the university is luxurious. The course is going well and I would love to give it again next year. Most preconceptions about Colombia are wrong. The country is booming and you don't come here to do development work. I had several reasons for taking a sabbatical in Colombia. I wanted to see if there is any scope for projects here, for example getting students over to the Netherlands or arranging internships here for our students. And then, my wife is Colombian and I wanted to experience what it was like to live in her country as a foreigner. Bogota is a hectic megacity but at the same time a perfect place for eating good food with family and friends: an important part of the culture. The city is at 2700 metres so it is usually 20 to 22 degrees Celsius. Just like the Netherlands. In August we are going to go to the Caribbean, which is only an hour and half's flight away. Those are the plusses of an international relationship.'
Getting on with your work in peace
Tim Thoden, nematologist and soil ecologist at PPO in Lelystad
Working on through the holiday to avoid the holiday crowds

'For years I have worked on in the summer period; I like it. It is a quiet period in which you can finish off reports without being disturbed by phone calls and meetings. I need that peace so I can delve into a subject for three days, for example, and write an article. I don't need to stay here in the summer for the field trials, as they are mainly in the spring and autumn. Oh yes, and I am also going to two conferences this summer: one in Italy, the other in Turkey. Nice venues, lovely weather - so that feels a bit like a holiday too.
The reason I work on in the summer is that I don't have a family. For years my girlfriend and I have gone on holiday in the autumn, to avoid the holiday crowds. This autumn we are going to New Zealand for four weeks.'
'Good that Holland was knocked out early'
Marjolein Helder, PhD researcher in Environmental Technology
Must finish her thesis in August

'Why am I so brown? That comes from a weekend of beach rugby on Ameland island. I didn't leave the beach all weekend. Now I am still reasonably relaxed, but I am afraid it will be a bit different in two or three weeks' time. My thesis has to reach the examiners on Friday 10 August and my graduation is on 23 November. The draft of the last article is just finished. Then I still have to write the introduction and the discussion. And the propositions of course. Actually I still want to write a piece about a mathematical model, but I am afraid I won't manage that now.
My thesis is about the development of a plant-microbial fuel. Generating electricity from plants. I am not sweating yet. I've made a good plan. That's not very typical of me - I never usually plan so far ahead. In theory I will have weekends off - at least, if I have got enough done. That is a sort of reward for myself. Necessary too, otherwise it gets too stressful. It is quite hard work. Sometimes I work ten hour days. When I'm wrapped up in my writing I don't hear what's going on around me. It helps that Holland was knocked out of the European Cup at an early stage. I know myself: I would have been down the pub for every match.'
'I see it as a more efficient use of my time'
Marina Sanders, fifth year Environmental Sciences
Needs more time for her thesis, due to dyslexia.

'I am now finishing my last Master's course: Bioprocess Design. Then classes will be over and I am going to finish things off. First I have to write a 1500 word essay about interdisciplinarity and then I am going to work on my thesis. I have already written a proposal and now I want to do the literature study. I am dyslectic so I read very slowly and it takes me a long time to sort things out. Writing is a slower process too. So it's nice to know you've got enough time. Working on through the holidays is not a sacrifice. I don't see it like that. I see it more as an efficient use of my time. You can just rest on your laurels for nine weeks or take a holiday job. But then you get totally out of the rhythm of things and you have to start up everything all over again. Working on now helps me more than going on holiday. And anyway, you can do nice things in between, in the evenings and at weekends.
What is more, I went to America as an exchange student from August to December. At the end I travelled for a month. So working on now is also to compensate for that, a bit. I think it will require more discipline than normal. It is very quiet in the department; everyone is away. I did try it once before, and then it was a flop. So why will it work this time? I hadn't got into the writing yet then. I just didn't know how to tackle it systematically. I do now.'
'I need at least 3000 euros'
Anouk de Groot, fourth year student of Animal Management
Needs to work through the summer to pay for her trip to Australia.

'I'll be graduating in November and I'm going to use this summer to earn and save as much money as I can. Once I've graduated I want to make a big trip to Australia and New Zealand. To get into Australia I have to have at least 3000 euros in my account so I need to work a lot.
I've got two jobs this summer, one at Beekse Bergen Safari Park and one at Sealife. I started at the safari park two years ago as an intern. Then I did a ten day training to be a ranger: driving around the park and telling people all about the animals. This summer I can work there full time for nearly four weeks. I am allowed to lead the ranger camps for the first time. People taking part sleep in tented camps in the park.
At Sealife I have a completely different kind of job: I dress up as a pirate and take photos of visitors. They stand in front of a green screen on which we put a beautiful background. Although this work has less to do with my field, it is still an interesting job. I love sea creatures and my colleagues there are great.'