Three more Vici grants!

Photo: Lena Balk via Unsplash

Subsidies for archaeologist and medical scientists

Three more Vici grants!

The UG has been awarded a total of four prestigious Vici grants by research financier NWO. In addition to geneticist Lude Franke, archaeologist Lidewijde de Jong and medical scientists Jingyuan Fu and Inge Zuhorn will also receive grants worth 1.5 million euros.
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14 April om 11:34 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 April 2021
om 12:18 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

April 14 at 11:34 AM.
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at 12:18 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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It took a while before the Vici grants were announced. The NWO’s computer systems were hacked on February 8, freezing the research financier’s network. The only grant that could be announced was the one for geneticist Lude Franke, because it was handled by ZonMw.

But now it’s been announced that Lidewijde de Jong will receive a grant to study how trends in epitaphs, portraits, and decorated memorials changed after the Romans went to the Middle East. 

Brain tumours and intestinal bacteria

Inge Zuhorn will focus on new treatments for brain tumours. These are currently difficult to treat because medication can’t penetrate the brain. Nanoparticles could help, but only if they change in size and shape after they’ve been administered. Zuhorn is trying to make this work. 

Finally, Jingyuan Fu is getting a grant to study variations in the genome of intestinal bacteria. This should help determine the role they play in the risk of cardiometabolic illnesses. 

Thirteen women and seven men

NWO received a total of 287 Vici applications. 33 percent had been submitted by women, and 67 percent by men. In the end, thirteen women and seven men were awarded grants. 

The hack at NWO has since been dealt with, although it’s left its mark. Many Veni grants won’t be announced until April 2022. The only grants that will still be announced in 2021 are those in the science and health domains. They’re scheduled for December of this year. 

After five years, biologist gets permission for animal test

A young jackdaw being measured. Photo by Reyer Boxem

After five years, biologist gets permission for animal test

UG biologist Simon Verhulst has won his case against the Central Committee on Animal Testing. On Tuesday, he finally received the permit the CCD had been refusing him for years.
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Door Christien Boomsma

7 April om 11:46 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 April 2021
om 11:46 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

April 7 at 11:46 AM.
Last modified on April 7, 2021
at 11:46 AM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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He wasn’t sure he would win, says Verhulst. When he was first denied, he felt this was more a case of principles that wasn’t based on any real arguments. ‘I thought they were just looking for excuses. I wasn’t convinced, and neither was the judge.’

Five years ago, Verhulst submitted his application for an experiment involving sixty wild jackdaws. He wants to inject the animals with the IGF-1 growth hormone and see if the increased growth rate negatively affects the birds’ health. He would check this by measuring their telomeres, which are a kind of protective cap on the end of chromosomes. These telomeres get shorter as you age. 

The CCD rejected his application, because they felt the research should be done in a laboratory and not on wild animals. 

Simulate

However, Verhulst says the circumstances cannot be simulated in a lab setting. Because the CCD’s rejection was putting an end to an entire study into ageing, Verhulst took them to court. It was a matter of principles for him, too. ‘Perhaps they realised we were ready to take it all the way to the Council of State’, he says.

He’s happy with the outcome. The fact that he now has his permit does not mean he can immediately resume his research, though. The post-doctoral student who was going to do it has left for Estonia. ‘He was here for three years, but it wasn’t enough time to get the permit.’

Verhulst hopes he’ll still be able to do the research. ‘Perhaps we could do some of it in Estonia and some of it here. We’re working on figuring it out.’

PhD supervisors will receive more training

PhD supervisors will receive more training

The UG will provide more training on how to supervise PhD candidates. Once there are enough workshops, it’s possible they will become mandatory.
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22 March om 13:51 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 March 2021
om 13:51 uur.

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March 22 at 13:51 PM.
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at 13:51 PM.

Christien Boomsma

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Right now, only supervisors who are just starting out receive training on how to coach students. The current number of workshops is also limited to approximately forty a year. Over the next few months, intervision sessions and workshops for more experienced supervisors will be added to the roster.

‘We want to eventually make sure that everyone who’s starting out as a supervisor can take one of these workshops’, says dean of Graduate Studies Petra Rudolf.

Cultural differences

The university intends to incorporate cultural differences as well as the insights from ‘Recognition and rewards’, a project that aims to alleviate the pressure to perform in science, into this ‘new way of supervising’.

They will also set up a digital version of the workshop for new supervisors. ‘There are currently supervisors who aren’t able to free up two or four days in a row to attend a workshop’, says Rudolf. ‘Then, we might consider making these workshops mandatory. But we have to make sure the workshops are in place first.’

The online course should be available by next year at the latest.

Academic ethics

UKrant recently published a three-part series about the difficult situation many PhD candidates are in. A significant number was dealing with supervisors who wouldn’t leave them alone, humiliated them, or flaunted academic ethics.

The UG advises these PhD candidates to get help if they’re in a situation like that. However, many candidates stay quiet. When someone does speak up, it doesn’t always turn out the way they’d hoped, the series showed.

If you want to study in Groningen, you have to be in Groningen

Photo: Alex Waltner / Swedishnomad.com

Uni hopes to deter students

If you want to study in Groningen, you have to be there

The UG is taking drastic measures to prevent too many people enrolling at the university: anyone who wants to study in Groningen has to actually be in Groningen during classes.
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om 15:29 uur.
March 22 at 13:46 PM.
Last modified on March 23, 2021
at 15:29 PM.


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22 March om 13:46 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 March 2021
om 15:29 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

March 22 at 13:46 PM.
Last modified on March 23, 2021
at 15:29 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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The current number of pre-enrolments at the UG exceed last year’s by 25 percent. The university will not be able to handle that many students, rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga said last Thursday during a university council committee meeting. ‘We’re heading for disaster.’

The UG will be putting an end to distance learning next year. Students who study in Groningen have to actually be here. It’s one of the ways the board of directors hopes to limit the increase in the number of students.

Back against the wall

The university can’t do much to limit the number of enrolments. They have to admit every single student who registers, unless a programme has a cap on the number of students allowed in. But the effect of a numerus clausus usually takes at least eighteen months before it’s noticeable. ‘We have our backs against the wall’, said Wijmenga.

The university has decided to switch to blended learning. This means big lectures will only be available online, while the more in-depth seminars will take place on campus. Information sessions will make it clear to prospective students that there will be no alternatives available for the on-campus classes. ‘We hope that will deter some of them’, said Wijmenga.

Attendance

However, this rule will not be legally enforceable. Some faculties offer classes where attendance isn’t mandatory, says Lorenzo Squintani with the university council’s Science Faction. Without making changes to the testing and exam regulations, attendance cannot be enforced.

Ivi Kussmaul, with student party DAG, fears the change will lead to another instance of housing shortage. But that’s exactly why, rector Wijmenga said, students should be told that they should make sure they have a place to live before they come to Groningen.

Brexit and corona

It’s not clear whether the actual number of students coming to Groningen will match the prediction. Many students who had initially decided to attend a British university are now diverting to Groningen because of Brexit. How many students will actually attend university will always be a guess.

It’s also unclear how many students might go for a gap year instead, should the corona restrictions be relaxed and people be allowed to travel again.

Court: Animal experiment needs to be reassessed

A young jackdaw being measured. Photo by Reyer Boxem

Court: Animal experiment needs to be reassessed

The Central Committee on Animal Testing (CCD) was wrong to forbid UG biologist from doing an experiment on wild jackdaws, the court has determined. The decision will have to be reassessed.
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om 11:22 uur.
March 10 at 11:09 AM.
Last modified on March 10, 2021
at 11:22 AM.


Door Christien Boomsma

10 March om 11:09 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 10 March 2021
om 11:22 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

March 10 at 11:09 AM.
Last modified on March 10, 2021
at 11:22 AM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Verhulst has been in conflict with the CCD for nearly five years. Back in 2016, the committee forbade the biologist, who specialised in ageing processes, from injecting young wild jackdaws with the IGF-1 growth hormone. 

He wants to see if the increased growth rate negatively affects the birds’ health. He would check this by measuring their telomeres, which are a kind of protective cap on the end of chromosomes. These telomeres get shorter as you age.

In the lab

However, the CCD banned the experiment on wild animals. The committee said the research should be done in the lab, if necessary on animals that were caught in the wild. According to Verhulst, that is impossible. ‘This research only works if the birds are also being threatened by food shortage, cold, or parasites. None of those circumstances exist in the lab’, he said earlier. He decided to take his case to court.

For Verhulst, the issue has become a matter of principle. He mainly dislikes that the CCD’s reasoning threatens to undo an entire line of research. ‘I know the Animal Experiments Committee at the UG has already rejected several experiments because they’re worried the CCD will block them.’

New arguments

The CCD will be forced to reassess the application. Verhulst’s application might still be denied, but only if the CCD presents new arguments to do so. 

The CCD could not be reached for comment.

UG investigation: privacy issues with Google G Suite for Education

UG investigation shows:

Privacy issues with Google G Suite for Education

An investigation into Google G Suite for Education by the UG and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences shows that Google might not be treating our data as securely as initially thought. Educational IT organisations SURF and SIVON are in talks with Google to solve the issues.
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March 3 at 11:27 AM.
Last modified on March 3, 2021
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Door Christien Boomsma

3 March om 11:27 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 March 2021
om 11:27 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

March 3 at 11:27 AM.
Last modified on March 3, 2021
at 11:27 AM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Back 2013, the UG forewent its own software and email client in favour of the cheaper Google G Suite for Education. Even then, many researchers warned of privacy issues, fearing that their data would not be secure. Even the UG’s legal department warned the board of directors about the Patriot Act, which forces American corporations to provide the government access to their servers.

It now turns out they were right. The investigation in question was a so-called Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA). It assesses how a corporation collects data, what it does with that data, and what kind of risks this involves. The ministry of Justice and Security conducted a DPIA of Google’s Enterprise version. The educational institutes investigated their own G Suite for Education.  

Metadata

The assessment showed that especially the way in which the tech giant collects metadata poses a problem. Google tracks the time people are logged into its systems, the pages they visit, and the search terms they use. In its privacy terms, Google says that only they are allowed to change the terms for how to use this data. 

‘Educational institutes that use Google G Suite for Education [have] no or insufficient control over what happens to this data’, education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven wrote in a letter to the Lower House on Monday.

In talks

The government went to the Dutch Data Protection Authority for a ‘preliminary consult’ about its own package. Educational institutes don’t have this luxury, as they’ve been working with Google G Suite for Education for much longer. SIVON and SURF are in talks with Google to tackle the issue. The government will also talk to the corporation on behalf of the educational institutes.

1.8 million action plan should lower work stress

1.8 million action plan should lower work stress

A new action plan should help lower the stress that UG lecturers experience as quickly as possible. The university has budgeted 1.8 million for it.
22 February om 14:00 uur.
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om 15:23 uur.
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at 15:23 PM.


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22 February om 14:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 February 2021
om 15:23 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

February 22 at 14:00 PM.
Last modified on February 22, 2021
at 15:23 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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The board of directors at the UG knows people need help now. ‘We can’t wait any longer’, rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga said earlier during a university council committee meeting. ‘People are desperate. We have to help them, as soon as possible.’

Last Thursday, the board presented the Action Plan Education 2 to the university council. The board wants to utilise more student assistants in an effort to unburden lecturers. They also want to increase the number of ‘embedded experts’: professionals that act as educational support at faculties.

Until late 2021

The university wants to add lecturers from the Teaching Academy Groningen and experts from Educational Support and Innovation to that group. The plan should get underway as quickly as possible and will last until late 2021.

The university is allocating 1.6 million euros to the student assistants, and 130,000 for the embedded experts. The remaining 70,000 euros will be spent on training.

The plan is intended to mitigate the worst effects of the stress. The board is also working on a transition plan that should structurally add more educational support after 2021.

The university council unanimously voted in favour of the Action Plan on Thursday.

Explosive increase in advance registration

Causes: Covid and Brexit

Explosive increase in advance registration

The number of students at the UG might just get out of hand next year. At some faculties, the number of advance registrations has even doubled.
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om 17:28 uur.
February 15 at 13:20 PM.
Last modified on February 15, 2021
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Door Christien Boomsma

15 February om 13:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 February 2021
om 17:28 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

February 15 at 13:20 PM.
Last modified on February 15, 2021
at 17:28 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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‘It’s worrisome’, rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga said during the university council committee meeting last Thursday. ‘We wouldn’t really be able to handle this many students.’

In comparison to last year, the number of advance registrations has increased by 25 percentage points. At several faculties, like the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Economics and Business, the number of advance registrations has nearly doubled. 

‘British variant’

During the committee meeting on education and research, Wijmenga referred to the situation as ‘the British variant’. The increase is partially due to Brexit, which means students who were originally planning to attend a British university are now registering at the UG instead, and the corona pandemic, which has led to students immediately going to university after high school rather than taking a gap year.

‘These numbers change every day of course, and it’s difficult to say what’s going to happen as long as they’re not definitive’, said the rector. Students often register at several universities at once, and it’s impossible to predict which institute they’ll ultimately pick. 

In spite of that, the growth is certain, says Rutger Klein-Nagelvoort, director of education at the Office of the University. ‘Even if only half of these students end up enrolling, it’s still too many.’

Financing

Other Dutch universities have seen a similar increase in the number of advance registrations. That’s an issue, because if the UG’s share of students remains the same, the university will not receive extra financing. In the meantime, work stress is is increasing exponentially due to a combination of the corona pandemic and the unexpected increase in student numbers from last year.

Wijmenga called the situation ‘truly terrible’. ‘Our minister isn’t making any moves on this. We don’t know what the government will look like next year either, but I’ve got no hopes for the short term. I don’t think we’ll be getting any compensation for this. It’s a wicked problem.’

Holy femur does not belong to apostle James, carbon dating shows

Saint James the greater, painting by Guido Reni.

Carbon dating shows:

Holy femur does not belong to apostle James

For more than fifteen hundred years, pilgrims have been travelling to the Santi XII Apostili basilica in Rome to worship the apostle James’s femur. But alas, research has just shown that the relic is someone else’s.

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om 16:17 uur.
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Laatst gewijzigd op 3 February 2021
om 16:17 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

February 1 at 17:09 PM.
Last modified on February 3, 2021
at 16:17 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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An international team of experts, including carbon-14 expert Hans van der Plicht and religious scientist Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta, both from the UG, have figured out the true provenance of the ancient relics. 

James was supposedly a brother or a cousin to Jesus, and his femur has been at the Santi XII Apostoli basilica since the sixth century, next to the shin bone and foot that supposedly belong to another apostle: Philip. However, Van der Plicht’s carbon dating shows the femur dates back to a time period between 214 and 340 A.D. That’s 160 to 240 years after James. That means the femur cannot possibly be his.

No malicious intent

The researchers don’t think anyone had any malicious intent. In the early years of Christianity, many people were looking for saints’ bodies, mainly at old Christian cemeteries. It’s likely that the person who dug up James’s and Philip’s bones genuinely believed they belonged to the apostles.

Saint Philip’s foot.

Researchers also took a sample of Philip’s shin bone. Unfortunately, it was unsuitable for analysis. A sample of oil, found in a little channel in the reliquary, dated back to the sixth century, as did a pottery shard. This corresponds to the time period the bones arrived in Rome.

Ban on sales

Transporting the bodies of saints became popular in the second half of the fourth century. Saint Babylas of Antioc was moved in 354, to a church that emperor Constantius Gallus had built just for him. A year later, the remains of saints Timothy, Andrew, and Luke were transported to Constantinople. 

Believers started to worship the relics, in spite of the criticism from church authorities. It became so popular that digging up bodies and selling relics was banned. At the same time, relics were sold all over Europe to improve the reputation of churches.

Tenure track will no longer automatically lead to professorship

Tenure track will no longer guarantee professorship

The university no longer wants people on a tenure track to automatically become professors. The UG wants to prevent becoming too ‘bloated’; a situation in which too many academic employees are professors.
15 December om 14:11 uur.
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om 15:53 uur.
December 15 at 14:11 PM.
Last modified on December 15, 2020
at 15:53 PM.


Door Christien Boomsma

15 December om 14:11 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 December 2020
om 15:53 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

December 15 at 14:11 PM.
Last modified on December 15, 2020
at 15:53 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Scientific employees who start out as assistant professor on a tenure track always end up as professors, as long as they meet publishing requirements and bring in sufficient grant money.

Back when the university only had regular professorships and new people were hired only when professors died or retired, this system worked perfectly. But it’s led to some unintended consequences: there are too many professors.

Leiden

Not all professors make good managers. ‘Some people simply don’t have the skills to be a group leader’, rector Cisca Wijmenga said during a recent university council meeting. ‘It requires both hard and soft skills. So we’re seeing things happening as a result of people lacking those skills that we don’t want.’

The process needs to be customised. Right now, they only have a research track in place, but the board of directors envisions tracks for education, impact, leadership, and clinical work, with the latter applying only to the UMCG.

The Faculties of Science and Engineering and Economics and Business want to set up pilots for tenure tracks that can end in the position of associate professor.

Criticism

The plan has been met with criticism. Simon van der Pol with the council’s personnel faction is worried this will create a ceiling that young researchers won’t be able to break through. Lorenzo Squintani with the science faction doesn’t think the new plans will solve much.

According to Squintani, the people lacking leadership skills are already professors. ‘Things are already out of whack. Several faculties lack the room to promote staff to higher positions.’

Wijmenga acknowledges the problem, but still feels that the process of appointing professors should be scrutinised. She hopes other faculties will follow the FEB and FSE example. ‘Other faculties have said that they’re interested in doing a pilot.’

Board forces law faculty to hire scholarship PhDs

‘The faculty is basically being punished’

Board forces law faculty to hire scholarship PhDs

The UG will no longer support faculties who refuse to hire scholarship PhDs with funds for employed PhD positions. The Faculty of Law has caved and will once again start hiring scholarship PhDs in 2021.
14 December om 16:48 uur.
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om 16:48 uur.
December 14 at 16:48 PM.
Last modified on December 14, 2020
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Door Christien Boomsma

14 December om 16:48 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 14 December 2020
om 16:48 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

December 14 at 16:48 PM.
Last modified on December 14, 2020
at 16:48 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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To soften the blow a little, the faculty board suggests hiring the scholarship PhDs for a year in a lecturer position after they finished their promotion track. This would also apply to the current PhDs. The faculty council will discuss the proposal on Friday.

Almost a year ago, the faculty decided to bow out of the national scholarship PhD experiment and to look for alternatives. The decision came after angry scholarship PhDs expressed their dissatisfaction in a manifesto.

Paid less

Scholarship PhDs aren’t paid as much as PhDs on an employment contract. They do not earn a pension, either, and do not receive holiday or end of year bonuses. They don’t have access to accommodations like laptops paid for by the university, either. However, their job is the exact same as that of PhDs on an employment contract.

There are also some ‘really silly things’ that show that the university doesn’t appreciate them, says scholarship PhD Jitske Sijbrandij. One example: everyone at her place of work received a token of thanks for their work during the pandemic, except for the scholarship PhDs. ‘So we’re not just underpaid, we also feel like we’re being excluded.’

No more funds

But the faculty might decide to hire more scholarship PhDs after all, ‘since the board of directors decided to only give the faculty any part of the central co-financing for PhD positions in the Ubbo Emmius programme if the faculty participates in the scholarship PhD experiment’, the faculty board writes in a memo to the faculty council.

Any faculty who refuses will have to pay all the costs of a PhD. In the case of the law faculty, this means they’ll only have the funds to hire two employed PhDs, as opposed to nine scholarship PhDs. This would make the research master less appealing, since there would be fewer chances of a PhD position afterwards.

Law scholarship PhD Wybrand van der Meulen is disappointed. He ‘really appreciated’ his faculty board taking a step back to consider the experiment. ‘They are basically being punished for that.’

Objections

The faculty board says its objections are still ‘valid’ and that it has ‘tried to figure out how to meet these objections’, it writes in the proposal to the council. ‘But with our hands being tied by the experiment, it’s not easy.’

PhDs are a breeding ground for new lecturers, the faculty board also writes. This was one of the arguments clearly in favour of continuing the experiment, says dean Wilbert Kolkman. That is why they want to offer the PhDs an extra year after their promotion to work as lecturer and write research proposals.

At the same time, all faculties had to make it clear that scholarship PhDs were not expected to teach. ‘Expectation management’, Kolkman calls it. ‘We have to make the situation extremely clear, right from the start of the track. Not just to the students, but also to their supervisors and the department board.’

Other requirements

Van der Meulen knew when he started that his job had other requirements. That he could refuse to teach. He did so, and his decision was respected. But he also knows that scholarship PhDs are still being made to teach. He understands that. ‘Teaching is an important part of getting your PhD.’

He expected to get a separate position for his teaching work, as a student-assistant. But this was impossible, as it would lead to issues with taxes. ‘But it’s an experiment, isn’t it? Why couldn’t they figure it out?’

Faculty council member Matthijs van Wolferen says the breeding ground isn’t a valid reason. ‘The whole system is overloaded. We’re delivering way more PhDs than we have room for. It’s not like there’s a job waiting for every single person who gets their PhD.’

Complicated process

Anyone who is unable to find a job then has to deal with a complicated process at the UWV, the Employee Insurance Agency, says Sijbrandij. ‘The system doesn’t have the correct data on us. So the first thing we have to do is apply for a correction.’ That’s not just complicated, but also time-consuming, she says.

If the council ends up voting on the issue, Van Wolferen will vote against it. ‘Who cares if we only have two PhD positions. Maybe we can free up some funds or find some external means to help us. But I don’t understand why we should exploit people just to keep the research master going.’

UG wants to speed test at Zernike

Potential tent in front of Jacobs hall

UG wants to speed test at Zernike

The UG wants to do a pilot speed testing students and staff. The university is considering erecting a tent in front of the Aletta Jacobs hall, or handing out tests to students.
4 December om 9:28 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 December 2020
om 13:04 uur.
December 4 at 9:28 AM.
Last modified on December 4, 2020
at 13:04 PM.


Door Christien Boomsma

4 December om 9:28 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 December 2020
om 13:04 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

December 4 at 9:28 AM.
Last modified on December 4, 2020
at 13:04 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
Volledig bio
Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
Full bio

The university has discussed the possibilities with the ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. Now, they have to wait for their response, rector magnificus Cisca Wijmenga said during a university council committee meeting.

Earlier plans by the UG to set up its own speed-testing lane were thwarted by the XL testing location at MartiniPlaza, which appeared to render the university facilities redundant.

Nowhere near capacity

However, the MartiniPlaza location only tests people who work in elementary or secondary education and who have a specific code from their employer. The testing facility is not even near its capacity.

‘We’re talking to the GGD about this issue’, says Wijmenga. ‘But for some reason, they’re being kind of rigid about this. I’m not sure why.’

Closer to campus

The situation might change now that people who aren’t suffering any symptoms can get tested as well, Wijmenga admitted. ‘But they would still have to go all the way to the MartiniPlaza. It would be nice to have a testing facility that’s closer to campus.’

On top of that, people often have to wait quite a while for their test results at MartiniPlaza, even though it should only take fifteen minutes. ‘Some people have to wait up to two hours’, says Wijmenga. ‘If you’re testing people ahead of a big exam, you can’t have waiting times like that.’

UG biologist goes to court to enforce animal testing

A young jackdaw being measured. Photo by Reyer Boxem

UG biologist goes to court to enforce animal testing

By banning an experiment with wild jackdaws, the Central Committee on Animal Testing is blocking an important line of research, says UG biologist Simon Verhulst. On Tuesday, he went to court to resolve the issue.
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25 November om 11:47 uur.
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November 25 at 11:47 AM.
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Verhulst submitted his application for an experiment involving sixty wild jackdaws back in 2016. He wants to inject young birds with the IGF-1 growth hormone. He would then check if the increased growth rate negatively affects the birds’ health, by measuring their telomeres. ‘But the Central Committee on Animal Testing says this isn’t allowed on wild animals.’

Telomeres serve as a kind of ‘protective cap’ on the end of chromosomes. Verhulst has been studying them for years. Telomeres grow shorter as an organism ages, and people and birds with short telomeres are more likely to die. ‘This research is increasingly important’, says Verhulst. ‘We just submitted a paper that proves that short telomeres correlate to more severe corona symptoms. Jackdaws are the best animal to use for research like this.’

Simulate

By banning experiments like this, the Central Committee on Animal Testing (CCD) is blocking an entire line of research, says Verhulst. And he’s yet to hear a good reason for the ban. ‘I want to know it there’s a trade-off between health and an increased growth rate’, he says. ‘But I can only do that if the birds are also being challenged by food shortage, cold, or parasites. Those circumstances don’t exist in a lab, and we can’t simulate them.’

The CCD’s assessors, he says, have a background in biomedical research, which has a different research culture. The CCD representative even mentioned two different ‘schools of thought’, Verhulst says. ‘She suggested that she, or perhaps even the entire CCD, represented one of those schools.’ They want research environments to be as consistent as possible. ‘But that means you can’t generalise research results. I can’t make them understand that.’

Capture

 The CCD is also against doing tests on wild animals. Interestingly enough, they are fine with capturing wild animals, running experiments in the lab, and then killing them. ‘A colleague of mine recently did that.’

Verhulst also says that jackdaws aren’t so important that they should be left alone. ‘A jackdaw’s intrinsic value to society is less than zero. It’s considered a pest and people are always allowed to shoot it.’

He expects a judge to agree with his reasoning, which means the CCD would have to re-evaluate his application. But he’s not sure that will be the end of it. ‘I’m ready to take this all the way to the Council of State.’

UG refuses to cooperate on national ‘sloppy science’ survey

UG refuses to cooperate on’sloppy science’ survey

Many universities are declining to participate in a national survey on scientific integrity. The UG has also refused to cooperate on what was supposed to be the biggest study on sloppy science ever.

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18 November om 12:08 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 November 2020
om 17:21 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

November 18 at 12:08 PM.
Last modified on November 23, 2020
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All universities and university medical centres were supposed to participate in the National Survey on Research Integrity (NSRI). Research financier ZonMW invested 3.8 million euros and five years to study not just what goes wrong in scientific research, but also everything that’s done right. They planned to disseminate the survey to all researchers from all scientific fields to establish a baseline. 

‘But sadly enough, when we were starting the research, the universities changed their minds’, says principal scientist Gowri Gopalakrishna, who works at the Amsterdam UMC.

According to UG spokesperson Jorien Bakker, the reason for this was that the universities’ rectors had questions about how the study was set up. ‘The research question and the impact on researchers also played a role’, she says.

No email addresses

Of the twenty-three universities and UMCs, only eight were willing to share their employees’ email addresses and actively tell their staff to participate. ‘We had to scrape email addresses from open sources, like university websites and PubMed’, says Gopalakrishna. ‘So due to an unclean database, we might not be capturing everyone. That took us a lot of time, but also the response rate is very poor, no more than 8 to 9 percent. People don’t even open the emails.’

Gopalakrishna worries that people think the email, sent by TNS NIPO, is some kind of phishing mail. Another explanation for the low response could be that researchers are inundated by communication from scientific journals. This means the survey runs the risk of not being representative: she needs at least 25 percent of people to respond.

Dirty word

‘I am really disappointed’, she says. ‘We offered the universities the opportunity to take a look at the studies and the questions and give feedback. Within reason we would be happy to try and modify to accommodate that. But they didn’t even want to look at it.’

She fears that ‘integrity’ has become a dirty word and that universities want nothing to do with it. ‘And that is very unfortunate and that is also the reason that we are doing this study. We wanted it to become a common topic to talk about and not one that we feel is a taboo.’

She considers the fact that two thirds of universities refuse to participate in the survey a clear indicator that they fear that ‘something bad is coming out of this’. ‘But we need to be able to discuss these things openly, without being punished.’

Appeal

Ineke Wessel with Behavioural and Social Sciences, a proponent of open science, appealed to the university on Twitter to participate in the survey after all. ‘Why not?’ she asked. ‘Utterly important! Colleagues, please participate. Anonymity guaranteed.’

‘The goal is very ambitious’, she says. ‘A national survey that includes every single academic discipline is unique.’

If the university participates, it’ll send a message that this is important, says Wessels. ‘I was told that universities aren’t participating because people are sick of surveys. But this is telling; it shows they feel this is less important than other things.’

She’s not entirely surprised. After all, universities are part of the system. ‘Universities want to be at the top in the rankings and earn Nobel Prizes and prestigious grants. But all that is part of the system that needs retooling. It makes sense that they don’t want to promote that.’ 

Grey area

She still sees sloppy science happening everywhere. But no one knows how big the issue is, and where the problems actually occur. That hurts the scientific community. ‘It’s clear from the Stapel case that lying isn’t okay’, she says. ‘But there’s a grey area that people don’t know about. Some people don’t even realise that they way they’re handling data isn’t entirely okay. That’s something we need to change.’

If you’d like to participate in the survey after all, check your email for a message from research leader Lex Bouter, sent by TNS NIPO. This is the invitation to the National Survey on Research Integrity.

Unis should do more to reduce air travel, says The Young Academy

The Young Academy in report:

Unis should do more to reduce air travel

Universities are not doing enough to reduce their CO2 emissions caused by flying. The Young Academy says they need to take action to prevent returning to old behaviour after the corona crisis.
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om 16:22 uur.
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18 November om 10:28 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:22 uur.

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November 18 at 10:28 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
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Christien Boomsma

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The universities do mean well, says the report Flying high but flying less, which was published on November 11. In the report, The Young Academy takes a closer look at Dutch universities’ sustainability policies and their efforts to reduce flying. Universities have plenty of green offices, road maps, and policy objectives. But that’s not enough, the Academy says.

Policy makers says they feel there’s a lack of tools and mandate. Any measures in place are informal, which means they’re not very effective. At the same time, it’s clear that flying is responsible for a large part of universities’ CO2 emissions. The Erasmus University estimates theirs is at 27 percent, while the UG says 12 percent of its CO2 emissions are due to flying.

Renewable energy

The universities prefer to focus on making their real estate more sustainable, by using green power, geothermal heating, or energy-efficient buildings, and don’t pay much attention to the impact flying has. The Young Academy says the universities’ policies on the issue are ‘fragmented, powerless, and ineffective’.

Central policies are often ineffective on a faculty level, and while universities try to offset their CO2 emissions, this doesn’t change anything about how often people fly. Most universities’ policies involve discouraging or banning short flights, when in fact most damage is done by intercontinental flying.

Wageningen estimates that 60 percent of people flying for the university leave Europe. The UG counts the number of kilometres people fly. Eighty-four percent of the total number of kilometres flown in 2019 was intercontinental. A study done last year by UKrant showed that 70 percent of flights from 2017 to 2019 where within Europe.

Conditions

The Young Academy says universities should aim for a culture change by, for example, setting conditions when they award research grants and by sharing best practices.

The informal nature of the actions also needs to change. ‘Opt for reducing flights, not carbon offsetting’, the Academy writes. ‘Ban air travel for journeys that can be made within eight hours by alternative means of transport and consider introducing CO2 quota for research projects/groups to force researchers to prioritise.’

Last year, the UG introduced a directive to limit flying. People were no longer allowed to fly to a European destination if the destination could also be reached by alternative means within six hours or if the distance was less than five hundred kilometres.

Young UG researchers awarded fourteen VENI grants

Young UG researchers awarded fourteen VENI grants

Fourteen talented young UG researchers were each awarded a VENI grant worth 250,000 euros by research financier NWO. The financier handed out 162 grants this year, for a total of 41.5 million euros.
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9 November om 13:27 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:22 uur.

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November 9 at 13:27 PM.
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More than 1,100 researchers applied for funding from the NWO talent programme. The financier awarded 14 percent of all applications with a grant. More women had their application accepted than men (17 and 12 percent, respectively).

At the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), Veronica Allen will study how the molecules that led to life on earth arrived here. She will track these molecules as they exist in young star systems, using radio telescopes. Nichole Barry studies the faint glow of interstellar hydrogen by combining software from the Netherlands, Australia, and the United States in order to catch a glimpse of the earliest galaxies. 

Networks

Elise Marie Jerschabek Laetz studies sea slugs. They can do without food for extended periods of time, switching to photosynthesis to avoid starvation, stealing functional chloroplasts from algae. Zoe Christoff at the department of artificial intelligence looks at the impact of social networks on democracy.

Eelco Tromer, who currently works at Cambridge, will return to the UG for his project, focusing on developing new malaria therapies in Cambridge. Ivana Drienovská is starting a project in unnatural amino acids.  

At the arts faculty, Jana Declerq’s research focuses on the communication concerning chronic pain.

Forecasts

The Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) did well, too. Tom Boot will study econometric models that will help with accurate forecasting in times of crisis. Christiaan van der Kwaak also studies financial crises: he wants to know if policies developed to mitigate crises can actually generate new ones.

Their FEB colleague Björn Mitzinneck looks at how municipalities, companies, and citizens can work together to help in the energy transition.

At religious sciences, Brenda Mathijssen wants to know how various cultures deal with ‘green’ death practices like natural burial.

Depression

The UMCG got three VENI grants. Claudia van Borkulo studies depression. She wants to develop an improved method to measure its symptoms. Geneticist Patrick Deelen wants to use genetic information about common diseases to predict which genes cause rare diseases. Finally, Anouk van der Hoorn wants to improve proton therapy for brain tumours to ensure it causes less damage to the surrounding healthy brain tissue.

Five VIDI grants for UG researchers

Five VIDI grants for UG researchers

Five UG researchers will receive a VIDI grant from research financier NWO this year. They’ll get 800,000 euros to set up their own, independent line of research.
4 November om 10:49 uur.
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4 November om 10:49 uur.
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Kerstin Bunte with the Faculty of Science and Engineering is going to set up a project within Artificial Intelligence. She wants to develop systems that link the predictive power of AI to the explanations that computer models can provide. This can lead to – for example – individually adjusted medication.

Else Starkenburg and Lingyu Wang, also with FSE, are both trying to unravel the secrets of the universe. Starkenburg is doing that by tracking down the oldest stars in the Milky Way to get a better view of the early years of our galaxy. Lingyu Wang will be using artificial intelligence to measure the impact of mergers on how galaxies and black holes grow.

Peace strategies

The arts faculty wins a VIDI with David van der Linden’s research. He’ll examine how France managed to restore peace after the religious wars of the sixteenth century. He hopes to gain more insight into the long-term effects of peace strategies.

Finally, Sebastiaan Mathôt of Behavioural and Social Sciences will research to what extent we can influence our senses with our brains.

More applicants

NWO received 503 applications in this funding round. 261 of them were submitted by men, 252 by women. They awarded 16 percent of the total number of applications; 15 percent of men’s submissions, and 17 percent of those by women.

That means the number of applications has increased again. Since 2017, NWO has required an ’embedding guarantee’. Researchers must demonstrate that the institute they are conducting research for supports them. As a result, the number of applications initially fell from 589 (2017) to 443 (2018) and the percentage of awarded applications went from nineteen to fifteen percent.

Spokesperson Poppy Savenije of NWO acknowledges that the embedding guarantee has not had a ‘dampening effect’ yet. The data will be evaluated. ‘But at this point it is still too early to predict the consequences of theses results for the next round.’