Organisation - September 10, 2009

What should the new head of Plant Sciences be tackling?

The Plant Sciences Group (PSG) has a new director, Ernst van den Ende. What should his priorities be for the next few years?

A meeting on Radix, the home of the Plant Sciences Group on Wageningen Campus
Chris Cuperus, the chairman of PSG's OR [workers' council]
"PSG's financial situation is healthy. That's important, but the emphasis on money is threatening to go too far in some places. There's nothing wrong with being enterprising and business-like - but don't forget the human aspect. It's grown into an accountability culture with monitoring systems. That takes some getting used to for university staff. Everyone has to meet the target for their chargeable hours; if not, they'll be put under pressure. That's OK, but it's also management's responsibility to help staff to find a solution. Management tends to focus on the short term, but it's a fact that the number of research projects can vary from year to year. It's important for the new director to be able to keep people motivated. After all, in a knowledge institution your employees are your capital. My priority: better collaboration between the three sections and better use of each other's knowledge."
Arjan de Visser, a researcher in the Genetics department
"We need more emphasis on basic research in Wageningen. At the moment top management seems remarkably focused on applied research. It's important to apply your knowledge but we're still an academic institution. You need a healthy mix. University staff aren't there to earn money, they're there to provide high-quality teaching and research. Now that there's less money for basic research, we too have to present our research attractively and exploit opportunities. I'm all for that. We need basic research to maintain our position among the Dutch universities and to encourage an academic climate here in Wageningen. Our managers should point that out more often."
Freek Bakker, BioSystematics Group
"We have just moved to Radix. That's positive - it's a good environment for improving collaboration - but we are now paying more money for less space. On the other hand, the number of students is increasing. How are we going to cope with all those extra students? More students means more final year students, each with their own specialist subject, and therefore more intensive use of the labs. That could become a problem. We're a relatively small group. I hope we will still have enough room for curiosity-driven research and basic research questions. I assume the new director shares that view. Apart from that, I hope he manages to keep in touch with staff on the work floor."
Jan-Eelco Jansma, Applied Plant Research, Lelystad
"Show staff the human side. PSG's management has been a bit negligent on that front over the past few years. Ernst van den Ende can make a difference there. I know him well - he's a people manager. He's more one for engagement and facing the changing times together. It won't be easy, because our budget from the Ministry of Agriculture is getting smaller. Big cuts are being made in some programmes. We need to look for new research commissions and make better use of our network. I expect Ernst to communicate openly about this and mobilize his staff."
Harro Bouwmeester, Professor of Plant Physiology
"The Centre for BioSystems Genomics (CBSG), the Green Genetics top institute (TTI GG), the centre for photosynthesis we recently got money for: large-scale initiatives like these are really important for plant sciences in Wageningen. I hope Ernst van den Ende will also be able to initiate these kinds of programmes. That requires a vision of where plant science should be heading and what the policymakers who allocate the money are looking for. Bino managed that, and I hope his successor can too. Secondly, Dr. van den Ende will rapidly need to get fully acquainted with the teaching side - how should plant science develop further and what commitments will that involve? Professors and course coordinators can fill him in on that."
Prem Bindraban, the director of ISRIC and a researcher at Plant Research International
"There's a world to be won by PSG; we could play a bigger role in the international research market. Hot topics there are 'food, feed or fuel' and photosynthesis research. The new director needs to promote our work, talk to the World Bank and other financers and feed them ideas. At the international soil institute ISRIC, where I've been the director since 1 April, we are working on the same topics, drawing on our knowledge of soil science. We could collaborate and support each other in the international research market."

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