Nieuws - 9 februari 2012

An academic climate starts from below

When Nutrition professor Martijn Katan and Plant Sciences director Raoul Bino left for the big cities (in 2006 and 2009 respectively; Bino soon came back), one of the push factors was the lack of academic culture and intellectual debate. But with three new initiatives recently - Impulse, the Science Café and the Young Academy - it seems as though Wageningen's academic culture is getting richer by the day.

Let's start with Impulse, the new venue on campus for business and social get-togethers. The meeting point will open in April. Impulse is partly based on ideas raised in biologist Marten Scheffer's speech at the academic year opening of 2010, when he argued passionately for creating space for shared out-of-the-box thinking.
And then there's Wageningen's Science Café, launched last year to provide a forum for discussing the rise of China or the value of climate models. All the first four sessions at the Loburg Café were packed out. The Science Café was started by researchers and students (together with Resource) and is now being supported financially by Wageningen UR.
The newest contribution to the academic atmosphere is the Jong College (Young Academy). The first meeting in January was promising: 17 ambitious young scientists seem quite determined to attract top researchers and editors to come and speak at Wageningen. The idea came from two highfliers, David Lentink and Dolf Weijers, and was quickly embraced by rector Martin Kropff and supported by dean Johan van Arendonk, Wageningen Spinoza Prize winners and Dutch Academy professors.
Strikingly, this kind of initiative always seems to come from below, and subsequently to be welcomed at the top. Researchers are the ones who have had first-hand experience of the dynamism of institutes such as Caltech or MIT, and who are now trying to inject the key ingredients of it into Wageningen life. During a round table discussion on the academic climate (see page 12), Dolf Weijers mentions Wageningen's evolution from an agricultural college to a university and research centre. This institution is still developing apace and an appropriate slogan might be: a better academic climate starts with you.