The first online PhD ceremony concludes with a Zoom party

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The first online PhD ceremony concludes with a Zoom party

The corona crisis has put a stop to all regular PhD ceremonies, which meant the UG had to come up with an alternative. On Monday, the first online PhD ceremony was held for medical toxicologist Danial Afsharzadeh.

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René Hoogschagen

Door René Hoogschagen

7 April om 17:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 7 April 2020
om 17:44 uur.
René Hoogschagen

By René Hoogschagen

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René Hoogschagen

René Hoogschagen

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‘It’s weird’, says Danial Afsharzadeh. ‘I’ve been to various PhD ceremonies over the years, and they always involved all these people in the auditorium of the Academy building.’ But he found himself in an empty room, apart from the beadle and the UG rector. Everyone else attended the ceremony at home, in front of a computer screen. Even his girlfriend. ‘My family was supposed to come over from Canada as a surprise, but that didn’t happen.’

The ceremony itself, where he defended his research into potential treatment for liver damage, went fine, he says. ‘The sound was good, the connection was great, and every time someone said something, they were clearly visible on screen.’ He was in the usual spot PhD candidates are in, facing the screen. ‘There’s no need to worry about the official part’, he says when asked if he has any tips for others. ‘It’s all taken care of.’

Congratulations over livestream

But it’s not much of a party. While the PhD candidates are usually accompanied by their paranymphs when the committee retreats to the senate room to confer, Afsharzadeh had to leave the room on his own. He didn’t have any friends with him to help calm his nerves. 

He did graduate. From a distance, his supervisor Klaas Nico Faber gave a speech about his days in Groningen. His friends, colleagues, and family congratulated him from their respective houses during the livestream. He posed for pictures on the stairs with the rector. ‘Don’t worry, we were five feet away from each other.’ 

Shock

‘It was a bit of a shock at the end’, he says. ‘Leaving the building with the degree under my arm, all alone.’ At home, his paranymphs and his supervisor had organised a Zoom party to celebrate. ‘I’ll definitely have a real party once the corona crisis is over.’

Right now, he needs to go visit the reason he couldn’t postpone his graduation: his prematurely born son Oscar, who will hopefully be able to leave the hospital soon. On the afternoon that his father defended his PhD, Oscar was taken off ventilation.

Ten tips to survive quarantine

From Netflix to studying

Ten tips to survive quarantine

Maybe you’re not ill, but your brother or your girlfriend or that weird student that sat next to you in class last week has corona and now you have to quarantine yourself in your room for two weeks. How will you spend the time? Here are ten time killers.
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March 13 at 17:16 PM.
Last modified on March 14, 2020
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1. Get cookin’

You might be in quarantine, but you still need to eat. And if your neighbour doesn’t show up every day with soup and a sandwich, it’s tempting to just order in. Unfortunately, that’s unhealthy and expensive, so why not try your hand at some recipes yourself? Order your groceries online at the supermarket, Ekonoom, or Groentebroer, and they’ll deliver your vegetables straight to your door.

There are plenty of recipes online, ranging from simple to complicated. Try the historical recipes at The Historical Cookery Page

2. Binge something

Eight seasons of Game of Thrones will tide you over nicely.

The easiest way to get through the day is to watch the shows that everyone’s always talking about and you never got around to, like Game of Thrones, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Wire, Westworld, or House.

If you’re looking for something more current: Ziggo/HBO will start airing The Plot Against America on Tuesday, which centres around the question: what if the US hadn’t done anything to stop Hitler? The six-hour miniseries should keep you entertained for a while.

If you’ve got Netflix, here’s a tip: the German detective series Babylon Berlin, about Nazis, communists, and prostitutes, set in 1929. Season three has just come out; there are a total of twenty-eight episodes, each forty-five minutes long. You can do your own maths on how many hours that is in total. It’s not like you’ve got anything better to do.

If you’re a real nerd, you need to watch all 279 episodes of The Big Bang Theory. That’ll keep you occupied for two weeks.

3. Declutter your room

Turn on Marie Kondo on Netflix, or better yet, read her books, and get rid of all your old crap. Don’t forget to thank whatever you throw away.

Since you won’t be able to leave your house, literally getting rid of your stuff will have to wait, but as long as you’re not throwing out anything perishable you can just leave it in the hallway.

Larger stuff does pose a problem, unfortunately. While taking it to the dump yourself is free in Groningen, the city does charge for coming to get it: at least 47.30 euros. You could hire someone through voordeligvervoerd, which would cost you forty bucks. Maybe it’s a better idea to keep your old couch around for a while.

Kondo’s latest book could prove helpful for UG employees whose desks are overflowing: Joy at Work. It’ll help you continue your decluttering journey when you get back to work.

4. A thousand pieces

That’ll keep you busy.

Puzzles. Apparently, they’re hip again. Before you go on lockdown, drop by the Mamamini for an extra large box, or order some online. It’ll keep you busy for hours and it’s nice and zen. Add in a little podcast (see next tip), and doing nothing has never been more fun.

Once your quarantine is over, you can join the old people in the nearest care home. Don’t forget to disinfect your hands before you enter, though.

5. Podcasts

Put on a podcast to help you get through cleaning or doing that puzzle. Like Radiolab, which focuses on scientific and philosophical questions. If you’re more into crime, you can try Serial, which has been called the best podcast in the world.

If you want something a little juicy, we recommend Thirst Aid Kit, a podcast about celebrity lust and sexual desire. In their season one finale, they interview Chris Evans himself.

It may seem a little old-fashioned, but radio plays are still popular. Try the British radio play Home Front: the 617 episodes, each lasting fifteen minutes, will make the two weeks fly by. Finally, an oldie but a goodie: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

6. Stay fit

You obviously stocked up on snack foods before going into quarantine. Yeah, you can’t keep a secret from us. Restrain yourself! Try to stay fit. It’s not easy, but you can do it in the confines of your student room, through a thing called convict conditioning.

It was developed by a prisoner, which is apt, since you’re currently a prisoner in your own home.

The idea is to use your own bodyweight. You need no weights or dumbbells. Just yourself, two chairs, and a table. If you want to get everything out of the training, you’d need to lock yourself away for six years or more, but at the end you’d be able to do a one-arm handstand push up!

There’s also plenty of cardio to do at home. Check out Chris Heria’s cardio video. You do need a bit of space, as well as an open window to get rid of the smell of your sweat.

You could also connect your old Wii and play a round of Wii Sports.

7. Use your imagination

Bingeing a show is well and good, but using your own imagination is even better. That’s right, we’re talking about reading. We know all that mandatory reading has turned you off it, but trust us, there is a lot of good stuff out there.

If you don’t have an e-reader and prefer to read paper books, there are other solutions. You can also read e-books on your laptop.

But what to read? Tip: ask your local booksellers. That’s currently a bit tricky, but Goodreads has done the work for you. Here are their lists for the best books of 2019.

8. Be a smartypants

You know a lot. After all, you’re a university student. This is the ideal moment to share your knowledge with the world. You can do so on Wikipedia. It’s super easy and your audience is much larger than the people who read anything you wrote or will write in uni.

The only problem is that no one will ever quote you, since your work ends up in a heap with everyone else’s. Think of it like academic volunteering.

9. Study

You’ll be all caught up when classes start again.

Our most sensible tip: study. If you have a hard time studying by yourself, just get an online study buddy. Take a gander at the Study with Me livestream on YouTube and you’ll find one in no time. Or click here.

10. Call someone

It’s old-fashioned, but that fancy smartphone actually has a function that allows you to talk to people. Live. So give your parents a ring. Or maybe your aunt? I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

If you enjoy talking to people and you want put some love out into the world: call an elderly person. A great uncle, your elderly neighbour, or a random person in a nursing home. No one is visiting them because of this darned virus, and there are plenty of people who need someone to talk to. They’ll be able to patch you through at reception.

Tip: have them tell you about the diseases of yore. Now those were scary.

Law students want online classes

Fear of coronavirus: law students want online classes

A group of international law students is worried about getting the coronavirus at the university. They’re asking the faculty board to make classes available online.
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René Hoogschagen

Door René Hoogschagen

4 March om 10:56 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 March 2020
om 11:35 uur.
René Hoogschagen

By René Hoogschagen

March 4 at 10:56 AM.
Last modified on March 4, 2020
at 11:35 AM.
René Hoogschagen

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The fifteen students, who for the most part attend the Honours College, sent the International Office an e-mail on Monday asking for access to online classes for everyone. 

Vindicat

The students are worried they could catch the virus at the RUG from anyone who travelled to infected areas, like the Vindicat members who are currently on a skiing trip in northern Italy. They also think that sick students would be more likely to come to class if there’s no alternative where they can stay home.

The initiators say putting the videos online wouldn’t be much trouble, since ‘most classes are being recorded anyway’. Michaela Stavridou, one of the students, says the law faculty has been promising to put the videos online since the first academic year. ‘We’ve been told this in various classes, but we never got access. Only European law gave us access, but their videos were wrong.’

No recordings

Kirsten Wolkotte, the law faculty’s International Office coordinator, has not seen the e-mail yet, but can answer the question: ‘We never recorded any of the classes in the English-language programme, so there’s nothing to be put online.’ Only the part-time programme records classes.

Wolkotte also says it’s not as easy to arrange as the students think. ‘It would take an immense amount of work. I don’t even know if any of the classes are in rooms with recording equipment. We could find out of course, but there have been no infections in Groningen yet.’ 

She therefore sees no need to start recording classes, or to cancel any. ‘If the situation changes, we’ll reassess.’

Wolkotte pointed to the ‘need-to-know’ messages on Nestor, saying the students should read them. They contain information about the measures taken against the virus, and what people can do to protect themselves.

TopDutch solar team is recruiting RUG students for 2021

TopDutch solar team is recruiting RUG students for 2021

After the surprising results last year (fourth place, best Dutch team), the TopDutch solar team wants to recruit more RUG students to participate in the World Solar Challenge in Australia.
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René Hoogschagen

Door René Hoogschagen

4 February om 15:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 February 2020
om 15:05 uur.
René Hoogschagen

By René Hoogschagen

February 4 at 15:05 PM.
Last modified on February 4, 2020
at 15:05 PM.
René Hoogschagen

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Last year, the team only had one RUG student: Friso Resink. The third-year student of engineering physics served as a strategist for the northern solar team; he made sure the solar car’s energy was used in the most optimal way.

The other students hailed from the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, the Noorderpoort college, and the Friesland college. ‘We want a more equal distribution’, says Resink.

The students don’t necessarily have to study anything technical. The team is also looking for media or business studies students. ‘They could act as press contact, focus on logistics, finances, or the contact with project partners like Fokker.’

Full-time

He’d advise the new batch of students to use the project to write their thesis on. Last year, he had already picked a different topic. ‘That was my greatest mistake.’ Anyone on the solar team is expected to do it full time.

‘We’re trying to get the university to see it as a year of board work, so the students can have their tuition fees reimbursed. But we’re still working on that’, says Resink. 

Hardy

What is expected of the new participants? You have to be a team player, says Resink, because you’ll end up being friends. ‘You have to be ambitious, adventurous, and hardy.’

Don’t expect the trip to be a vacation, though. ‘It’s a year of really hard work, with its ups and downs. Australia isn’t easy, either. There are times when you’ll get little sleep and it can be really stressful to get the car ready on time.’

You can sign up for the TopDutch Solar Racing team until March 22, through become@solarracing.nl.

14,000 couldn’t log on: system malfunction fixed (UPDATE)

14,000 couldn’t log on: system malfunction fixed

A technical malfunction meant that 14,000 people at the RUG were having trouble logging on to their RUG accounts on Tuesday.
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René Hoogschagen

Door René Hoogschagen

14 January om 12:27 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 January 2020
om 11:26 uur.
René Hoogschagen

By René Hoogschagen

January 14 at 12:27 PM.
Last modified on January 15, 2020
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The malfunction took place on Monday night and continued into Tuesday morning, when mainly staff accounts were still affected, which meant staff members had trouble logging in.

The CIT had initially hoped to fix the problem over the course of the morning , but later said the problems would likely persist throughout the day.

They have since found the cause of the system malfunction, but they can’t comment on it.

RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker has nothing to do with the implementation of the new university-wide software program.

No data has been lost, says Bakker. ‘The problem only pertains to the login system.’

‘I always tell them good morning’

Sjoerd Veenstra has been an animal handler for fifty years

‘I always tell them good morning’

Animal handler Sjoerd Veenstra has been working with mice, tarantulas, and zebra finches for fifty years. He’s never wanted to do anything else. ‘I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a basement somewhere.’
By René Hoogschagen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen / Photo Reyer Boxem
21 October om 15:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 October 2019
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‘Oh my God, I’m going home’, Sjoerd Veenstra said in his thick Groningen accent when he spotted the decorations on his desk. ‘Is that today? Is it my fiftieth anniversary working here?’

Absolutely. It’s been fifty years. He started on October 14, 1969, when he was just fifteen years old. Imagine that: working for the same company for fifty years. Doing the same work every day, for fifty years. He is now sixty-five years old. He won’t retire for another year.

There’s no way he would escape the celebrations. His fellow animal handlers at the RUG put an inflatable gate near the entrance with an Abraham doll, streamers, and balloons. The number fifty was everywhere, from the main entrance to the aquarium rooms. All his colleagues dropped by, even the ones that weren’t working that day.

Gratitude

It was a great gesture, he says, making a face. ‘Much better than a party in a big room with lots of speeches.’ Everyone singing his praises? No, thank you. His wife and colleague Roelie Wiegman nods. ‘We’d rather have a little bit of gratitude every day than everything at the end.’

Sjoerd, a grey-haired man with a deep voice and a single silver earring, isn’t lacking in gratitude, though. His name is mentioned in numerous PhD theses. The academics thank him for taking care of their research animals, for his company, for the great conversations they’ve had. They even visited him at home. ‘It’s too bad I have to say goodbye to them every four years’, says Veenstra.

We only discuss work on the way home, and that’s it

One person he never said goodbye to was his fellow animal handler Roelie Wiegman. Veenstra had been working at the RUG for twenty years at the Biological Centra in Haren, when Wegman joined in 1989. ‘We gave it a lot of thought’, Veenstra says, serious. Wiegman nods. A relationship with a colleague can be a risky venture. What do you do if it all goes wrong?

‘But our love was stronger’, he says. And it’s still going strong. Although they’re not obvious about it. Wiegman is still using her maiden name, she works with different animals, and they keep their work and private lives separate. ‘We don’t want to bother our other co-workers’, says Wiegman. What about at home? Do they ever discuss work there? ‘No’, Veenstra says resolutely. ‘For a little bit on the way home’, Wiegman adds, ‘but that’s it.’

When work got hard because of a personnel shortage in the nineties it was nice to have a partner for a colleague, says Veenstra. They’d come home exhausted, fall asleep on the couch, and then still had to make dinner. They had a hard time keeping the house clean. ‘I don’t think anyone else would have put up with that.’

Hard work

Has he ever considered changing careers? He shrugs? ‘I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a basement somewhere…’ He’s content taking care of the animals and the researchers. These days, fish are his only charges. It’s a good job, and ‘the fish team is great’. As long as he doesn’t have to kneel. ‘I can’t get back up anymore.’

After fifty years of hard work, he physically no longer at his peak. He’s been declared partially unfit to work and only works in the mornings. ‘We didn’t have labour laws when I was young’, Sjoerd says as an explanation for why his limbs are so stiff. Taking care of the animals was much harder work than it is now. ‘I carried all these heavy buckets, walked through that came up to my ankles, on uneven ground. Now they check everything, like if you’re lifting stuff right.’

The students used to come by for a chat. Now they don’t have the time

Another thing that’s changed is the social contacts he has. Before, when he was still working in Haren, people would simply stop by and chat to the animal handlers. ‘They knew the coffee was always hot and they actually had time for a chat. These days, the students don’t have as much time.’ Today, the animals are at Zernike, and Sjoerd doesn’t know half the people working in the same hallway. ‘We’re at the very end of the hallway and everyone just passes us by.’  

While Veenstra currently takes care of the fish, he used to take care of gulls, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, oystercatchers, and zebra finches. The tarantulas were the trickiest. The round jars they live in sometimes had to be cleaned. ‘I’d hold the jar they were in at the bottom and put a clean one on upside down.’ He holds his muscular arms aloft, as though he’s holding two jars. ‘The spider would have to go into the other jar. But sometimes I’d drop the jar and then the spider was on the ground.’ And then what? ‘You’d better get a jar over that spider real quick.’

Animal testing

He used to be able to take animals home after a study was done, but that’s no longer allowed, Veenstra says as he walks through the aquarium room. Machinery hums, air bubbles rise up, the fish swim. Some of them are alone, others in groups. ‘If they get aggressive, I separate them’, Veenstra explains. They’re not the kind of animals you can pet, but he likes them. ‘I always tell them good morning’, he says, laughing, ‘but they never answer me.’

Animal testing is still a sore subject. One of Wiegman’s friends is opposed to the whole thing. ‘So we just don’t talk about it anymore’, says Wiegman, resigned. They don’t perform any of the animal tests. They only take care of the animals, make sure they get fed every day, that they’re happy. 

Animal testing will probably always be necessary

These days, it’s not that easy to just do research that involves animal testing. First, a committee has to decide whether it’s truly necessary. The animal handlers themselves keep an eye on things as well; if they see something that’s not right, they speak up. ‘But I think we’ll always need animal testing’, says Veenstra.

In the photo for this article, he’s looking at the fish that will be used for research. Some people can get really angry at that. Veenstra shrugs. ‘I’m almost done anyway.’ Just one more year until retirement.

Groningen solar car nabs third place in World Solar Challenge

Team RUG/Hanze does surprisingly well

Groningen solar car nabs third place in World Solar Challenge

After 635 kilometres under the scorching Australian sun, the TopDutch solar team consisting of RUG and Hanze students has surprisingly reached third place during the World Solar Challenge. They have more than two thousand kilometres still to go.
By René Hoogschagen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
14 October om 13:51 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 14 October 2019
om 16:34 uur.
October 14 at 13:51 PM.
Last modified on October 14, 2019
at 16:34 PM.

‘It went really well’, says RUG student Friso Resink when he talks about TopDutch solar team’s first day of the World Solar Challenge in Australia. It was ‘super hot’, though; temperatures reached 41 degrees Celsius. Their current position: third place, with a time right behind the team in second.

‘We’ve driven 635 kilometres’, says Friso over the static in his satellite phone. TopDutch was only thirty seconds behind the Delft team and just ahead of Belgian team Agoria from KU Leuven.

Currently in the lead is a team from Twente, who managed to drive an extra fifty kilometres. ‘It was a great day. And the mood is good’, says Friso.

Monitoring

Friso doesn’t drive Green Lightning, which is what TopDutch named their solar car. He’s in the ‘chase’, a car decked out with equipment which monitors whether Green Lightning is doing everything it should and keeps an eye on the weather.

Friso, a physics student, worked together with another team member to design a program that calculates how fast or slow the driver has to go to make the best time.

‘I’m just staring at screens that display data all the time. I’m not even looking at the car itself.’ Was he nervous? Only at the start of the day, he says. ‘We didn’t have a lot of time to test the models, but after a while, everything just fell into place.’

Landslide victory

The real start of the race was on Saturday, when the qualifying rounds were held at the Quorn circuit in south-east Australia. To everyone’s surprise, the Groningen team won in a landslide victory: they had the best time of any solar car ever. This was an especially great feat for a newcomer and earned them the starting spot on Sunday.

‘We’re at the same camp site with the other teams’, says Friso. You’d think all those students would have a great time together. Sitting around a fire with a guitar and a didgeridoo. But no, says the RUG student. ‘It’s seven thirty here right now. After we hang up I’m done, I’m going to bed. We have to get up at five in the morning.’

The Groningen team has another 2092 kilometres to go before they get to Adelaide. Will the stage be Dutch only? ‘If we’ll get to the stage, you mean?’ Friso asks. ‘The way it’s going now…’ But he’s wary to make a real prediction.  ‘We’ll have to wait and see.’

You can follow the solar races on Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.

Companies demand to be hired by the RUG

A consortium of three installation companies has demanded the RUG hire them to outfit the new Feringa Building. The companies took the RUG to court on Tuesday.
By Rob Siebelink / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Special consortium UCE had been in the running to build the vibration-free, biochemical laboratories in the RUG’s fancy new building. It will be a large, complex job that estimates say will cost around eighty million euro. Recently, the university notified the consortium that their services would not be required.

According to UCE lawyer Mark Lim, the three companies were rejected for the ‘wrong reasons’ after spending nine months ‘working hard to acquire the job’. On behalf of the companies, Lim said the RUG has not acted in accordance with European tender regulations.

Fudging the numbers

Peter Hoekstra, council for the RUG, disagrees. The consortium’s proposed price (ninety million euro) is more than the university can or is willing to pay. The RUG originally budgeted the project at fifty-six million euro, which was later bumped up to seventy-five million and then again to eighty million. The job was then privately awarded to a third party.

Hoekstra accuses the consortium of driving up the price by ‘fudging numbers and estimations’. He argued in court that UCE estimates unrealistically high prices to make more profit, aided by the tight construction market.

‘Contractors and construction companies think they can just ask any price they want’, the RUG’s lawyer said. ‘UCE didn’t try hard enough to figure out a cheaper option.’

He named the construction site costs as an example, which the three companies estimated at 2.7 million. ‘With that money, they could buy all new materials and install golden toilets in the Porta-Potties.’

Ten million

The consortium says the ninety million euro they quoted was fair and in line with the market. But the university opted for a company that quoted the job at ten million euro less. Hoekstra: ‘Ten million is a substantial difference.’

The consortium claims the RUG wasn’t allowed to do business with the other party in the first place and acted counter to tender regulations. They say the RUG backed itself into a corner through ‘unrealistic cost estimations and raising the wrong expectations’ and that the three companies are now suffering the consequences.

Damage claims

UCE demands that the judge rule in favour of the consortium and award it the job, or they will submit damage claims of up to seven hundred thousand euro. The RUG is willing to discuss compensation but says the proposed sum is much too high.

The parties didn’t reach an agreement on Tuesday. The case will continue at the Groningen court on Monday, June 3.

64,000 square metres, 1,400 students, 850 employees

The Feringa Building, named for RUG Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa, will be the third new building for the Faculty of Science and Engineering, after the Bernoulliborg and the Linnaeusborg. It’s meant to replace Nijenborgh 4, which is fifty years old.

The new building, which will have 64,000 square metres of floor space and approximately three kilometres of laboratory tables, will be home to 1,400 students and 850 employees. It will be one of the biggest buildings in the Netherlands. The Feringa Building is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2023.

 

Lift accident victims receive 1000 euro

The RUG will pay thirteen of the people involved in the lift accident that occurred in January 2019 one thousand euro each in compensation.
By Giulia Fabrizi / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The amount serves as an advance to the eventual claims settlement. ‘Everyone who’s made a liability claim will receive the amount’, says RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker.

‘The sum is independent of any medical costs or other expenses the students and employees have claimed.’ According to Bakker, thirteen of the fourteen victims have made a liability claim.

The RUG will determine the claims settlement for each individual case.

Lift accident

The lift accident happened in January of 2019 at the medical sciences building at the Antonius Deusinglaan. A lift containing fourteen RUG students and employees, fell from the ninth floor, got stuck between the fifth and six floors because of the emergency brake, and fell all the way down at a speed of approximately thirty kilometres an hour while emergency personnel were trying to rescue people from the lift.

One of the victims was taken to the UMCG after the accident. The university immediately started investigating the possible cause of the accident.

Board president Jouke de Vries said that the victims, in addition to slight physical injuries, had mainly suffered psychological complaints. ’You can imagine what it’s like being in an accident like that. Some people don’t really know whether they can trust this kind of machinery again. They’re not sure whether they can still safely use lifts’, said De Vries when the investigation’s results were announced.

Investigation

The investigation showed that neither the lift’s balance nor its breaks had been properly calibrated. The defect in the brakes had been discovered earlier, but the maintenance company hadn’t fixed it properly, if at all. The balance hadn’t been tested correctly, an independent certification agency determined, which meant the lift cage was heavier than the counterweight.

The eleven other lifts in the building were subsequently checked as well, but they were all in fine working order.

RUG scores 2.4 million in research grants

Three RUG researchers will each receive an 800,000 euro Vidi grant from research financier NWO. NWO has granted 84 out of 443 requests this year.
By Christien Boomsma / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

All three Vidi grants will go to researchers at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Experienced scientists can use the Vidi grant to develop their own line of research. The grant is intended to reward innovative research projects with real impact.

Researchers

Anastasia Borchevsky, with the Groningen Van Swinderen Institute, will develop new calculation methods as support for experiments on the fundamental characteristics of atoms and molecules.

Giulia Mancini with the Zernike Institute for Advanced Mathematics will be making new, extremely powerful microscopes see how certain materials react to light. This would allow for the creation of new materials for opto-electrics, switches, and sensors.

Mathematician Steffen Müller at the Bernoulli Institute will try to solve an old number theory problem.

Leiden

A fourth Vidi grant was awarded to Sander Wezenberg, who wants to apply the way living organisms communicate to the communication between synthetic molecular systems. But Wezenberg has since left for the University of Leiden, which means they will be the institution to benefit from the research money. Leiden received eight other Vidi grants.

Personnel faction: statement on zero tolerance should be more specific

Casper Albers with the personnel faction on the university council says that the RUG’s statement on zero tolerance should be more specific and defined.
By Rob Siebelink / Photo by Piter Siebenga / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

‘Any allegation of harassment, hate crime, bullying or victimization will be treated seriously, regardless of the seniority of those involved. Anyone found to have behaved unacceptably may be the subject of disciplinary action’, the statement says.

The personnel faction was happy with the statement, but it’s not specific enough, says Albers. He then referred to the case of a professor at the UvA, who has been accused of abuse of power and misconduct, but who was able to keep working while his colleagues and superiors were aware of his behaviour.

‘The statement mentions sanctions. Do these only apply to the perpetrators, or can we also sanction the people who neglected to act when they should have?’ Albers asked.

Victim

The only really specific thing in the statement, the faction says, is the request toward victims to take action. But Albers says that it wouldn’t be fair to put the ball only in victims’ courts.

‘Thanks to many brave women and their #MeToo stories in academia, people have finally realised that something should be done. But it’s the academic community that should step up: we should all make sure that the university is a safe work environment, and not only ask the victims to speak up.’

Preventative

According the Albers, the policy focuses too much on what should be done after transgressive behaviours have taken place. He thinks the university should also focus on preventative action.

‘If something like this happens as much as it does – and the things we know about are only the tip of the iceberg, really – it’s no longer an incidental issue, it’s structural. Over the past few years, we’ve already discussed the cultural change needed at student associations due to the many issues during the hazing period.’

That cultural change is important for the RUG as well, says Albers. ‘We are a team, and this is our joint responsibility. We have to ensure a safe work environment. Inclusivity isn’t just a choice; it’s a requirement.’

Ombudsman

The board of directors say they’re still working on ‘making the statement more specific’. Board president Jouke de Vries says it’s too early to instate an ombudsman, something the personnel faction suggested as well.

The RUG has a confidential adviser and that’s working for people, although De Vries does acknowledge they have less power than an ombudsman would. De Vries wants to wait and see what happens with pilot programmes at other universities. ‘After that, we’ll thoroughly explore the option.’

The full statement can be read here.

Deadly stabbing doesn’t deter RUG people

The deadly stabbing at the Jaagpad near the Zernike campus last week Tuesday doesn’t appear to have scared many RUG staff or students.
By Giulia Fabrizi / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Both the RUG and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences issued a warning on Monday advising people not to walk or bike alone on or near the Zernike campus. But on Tuesday afternoon around lunch time, many of the people near the ACLO were still walking on the Jaagpad alone.

Warning

International relations student Rachel Koehoorn (20) did hear the warning, but it didn’t scare her. ‘We don’t really know what happened’, she says. ‘For all we know these people knew each other and were having a fight.’ Besides, she says, it’s daylight. ‘It feels safer. I might not walk alone once it gets dark. Not because of what happened, though. I wouldn’t walk alone anyway.’

Some people apparently didn’t even see the universities’ warning. ‘I had no idea’, says a RUG employee who’d like to remain anonymous and who spends her lunch break walking along the Jaagpad alone. She isn’t worried. ‘A lot of people are talking about the incident, but I don’t feel like I’m in danger.’

Fastest route

Cycling along the Jaagpad, student David Staar (22) is distracted by the essay he has to hand in tomorrow. ‘I heard about it, but I didn’t realise that the stabbing took place here until you asked me about it just now’, he says. ‘They haven’t caught the guy yet, right? It would be great if they did sometime soon, but I’m not going to be avoiding this place either. It’s still the fastest route to class.’

On Tuesday evening, May 14, an as yet unknown assailant stabbed and killed 27-year-old Hidde Bergman from Midwolda at the Jaagpad near the Zernike campus. Bergman was jogging there when he was attacked.

Tips

The police haven’t commented on the motive for the stabbing. On Sunday, they released a composite sketch of the possible perpetrator. This sketch led to 76 tips on top of the one hundred tips the police had already received.

On Tuesday night, television programme Opsporing Verzocht focused on the stabbing.

Is he skipping class? Travelling to conferences? Where is Doerak?!

Professor doctor Doerak won the hearts of students and staff at the Harmonie building this year. But it looks like he’s been skipping class lately. What’s going on?
By Joas de Jong / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

‘Doerak has entered his twilight years’, Ekko Ros, Doerak’s butler, explains. Doerak is a half Persian, half Maine Coon; both breeds are fairly susceptible to diseases. At nine years old, the university cat is no spring chicken. These days he prefers to stay at home sleeping, up to twenty hours a day. When he is awake, he prefers to hang out with his young companion, Tukkie.

Earlier this academic year, Doerak became an actual Instagram influencer. The account @university amassed seven thousand followers. In November, he was given his own RUG card so he could copy his paw prints for free.

Just like his fellow professors, Doerak is now a published author; his book Our campus, Their world, came out in February.

‘I’ll ask him some mornings if he shouldn’t be going to uni, but he just stares at me’, says Ros, laughing. ‘I asked him why he’s not going to class as much, and he responded that he’s retired. He’s learned everything there is to learn, so now he’s teaching Tukkie.’

In his nine years, Doerak has used up about eight of his nine lives: four because he kept falling off the roof. ‘Normal cats can turn around mid-air, but Doerak seems too lazy for that.’ Once he fell asleep under the hood of a car, and the driver didn’t realise until he was halfway to Haren.

Heyday

The poofy professor attended all kinds of classes in his heyday. He learned alongside history students about the adventures of the Persian Persians. In art history class, he got to analyse artwork depicting his fellow felines. He usually just slept through his cat lit classes.

Earlier this year, Doerak found comfort in RUG students after his friend Mickey died. He used to play with Mickey in the parking lot behind the Harmonie building. ‘He’s really relaxed over the past eight months; we’re really grateful to the students for helping him. We unfortunately weren’t able to quit our jobs to take care of him’, says Ros.

But they realised the university cat was in need of a new friend. And since they got Tukkie, Doerak has really rallied. Ros and his wife hope that Doerak occasionally returns to the Harmonie building to say hi to the students who helped his through his period of mourning.

Vegan at the RUG: no cheese or bitterballen, unless you ask for it

Should RUG catering go vegan? The Faculty of Philosophy is already trying it. If it proves successful, other faculties might follow.
By Jelmer Buit / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Cheese sandwiches, satay, soup with meatballs: RUG caterers do not offer a particularly vegan-friendly range of food options. But because meat production is so hard on the environment, the Faculty of Philosophy is now trying to shift the status quo by only offering plant-based foods. If people like it, the other faculties might follow suit.

‘Philosophy currently only offers plant-based foods’, says student Yorick Karseboom. ‘That doesn’t mean meat will disappear. Our basic range will be plant-based food. Anyone who wants meat needs to specifically ask for it.’

Yorick worked with lecturer Andrea Sangiacomo to switch the faculty catering to plant-based food. They organised an informal meeting, he says, and ‘tried to show that plant-based foods are the best option.’

Sustainable food

Sangiacomo points to the online campaign #PlantPoweredCommunity ‘I used it to jumpstart the initiative at the Faculty of Philosophy’, he says. ‘We want to raise awareness of sustainable food in public spaces.’

The pair tried to avoid using the word ‘vegan’ in their campaign. ‘People interpret the term in all kinds of ways’, says Sangiacomo. ‘We prefer the term plant-based, because it signifies that the essential nutrients in the food comes from plants.’

Karseboom agrees. ‘It’s such a controversial topic. But we haven’t made all that many changes. We’re just trying to raise awareness. Veganism can be such a trigger word. People think we’re trying to indoctrinate them and take their food from them.’

Positive

‘We like it’, says professor John Hoeks, was also closely involved in the plant-based plan and liaises with the catering company, Beijk. ‘We talked to Beijk about vegan catering as early as last summer. We put a lot of effort into this. We even organised a vegan sandwich tasting. We’re very positive about the whole thing.’

There’s no proper plan for the rest of the university to turn to only plant-based foods, says RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker. ‘But our catering company offers a broad range. They have meat, fish, and vegan products. That’s important to us. The Faculty of Philosophy is a pioneer. We’re interested to see how it works out, and based on that we’ll re-evaluate. We have to wait and see.’

SOG, Calimero, win council elections

SOG and Lijst Calimero were the clear student winners of the university council elections last week. Both parties won five seats. As for the staff section of the council: the science faction stole a seat from the personnel faction.
By Giulia Fabrizi / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The announcement was made on Monday afternoon in Restaurant Academia in the Academy building, where students – mainly from the student faction – showed up to hear the results and, in some cases, celebrate them.

The Democratic Academy Groningen (DAG) lost a seat, going from two to one. De Vrije Student (DVS) retained its single seat. International Platform, Matej Pop-Duchev’s one-man party that came on the scene about a week before the elections, did not secure a seat. One Man Gang, currently on the council with one seat, didn’t participate in the elections.

This is what the student section in the university council will look like:

Turnout

The staff section of the council changed as well. The science faction won an extra seat, to the detriment of the personnel faction. This means next year, the personnel section will have eight seats, while the science faction will have four.

Turnout for the election was up this year from last year: from 30.7 percent to 36.1 percent. Unfortunately, fewer students voted: the percentage dropped from 26 to 24.9.

Largest party

‘Calimero is the largest party!’ Calimero member Matthias Luijks says. Like SOG, the party went from four seats to five. ‘How do I feel? Happy and joyful’, Luijks said on Monday afternoon after the results were announced.

De Vrije Student was moderately happy. ‘I’m glad we managed to retain our seat’, said Jasper van der Aa. ‘Although I was hoping we’d win one. But in the end I’m glad we still have a say in the council.’

Faculty turnout

The RUG also announced the results from the elections for the faculty and employee councils. After a steady decline in voting turnout across faculties over the past several years, this year saw finally saw that downward trend start to rise.

25 percent dip in Vidi applications? Check.

In 2018, research financier NWO received more than 25 percent fewer applications for a Vidi grant (for experienced researchers). And that’s exactly what they wanted.
By Christien Boomsma / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

In 2017, NWO received 589 applications, but only 443 in 2018. This means they reached the objective of their embedding guarantee. NWO wanted to reduce the number of applications to give researchers a better chance of their applications being approved. To that end, NWO instated a new condition: researchers would have to include an embedding guarantee from their institute in their application. That is, the institution would have to guarantee the winner of a Vidi a permanent contract.

Some people feared this would exclude certain research institutes, but this fear turned out to be unfounded. But there have been more applications from researchers with a permanent contract: 42 percent in 2017 versus 54 percent in 2018. But, NWO says, ‘the 22 percent of applicants who don’t have a permanent position now have a shot at it because of the embedding guarantee’.

‘Insiders’

The Young Academy, the association of young talented scientists at the KNAW criticised the measure. They feared the embedding guarantee will mean that only ‘insiders’ with a permanent contract will get grants. They also worried that young researchers from abroad wouldn’t stand a chance anymore.

NWO wouldn’t say whether this is true. The Vidi applications have been submitted, but there is no news yet on how they will be divided.

The embedding guarantee also applies to 2019.  Next year, NWO will appraise the measure to see if it stays in place.

Redistribution of government funding will cost the RUG 9 million euro

The RUG’s budget will be cut by nine million euro, which will be redistributed to other Dutch universities, according to the Van Rijn committee report published on Wednesday morning.
By Giulia Fabrizi / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

In October 2018, education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) instructed the Van Rijn committee to investigate the funding of Dutch higher education. There was one condition: no extra funding would be made available, so universities had to make do with their existing budgets.

The committee’s final advice is clear: if we want Dutch higher education to survive, the money has to be redistributed.

Advice

According to the committee, the government has consider four pillars when redistributing the money:

The committee proposes changing the remuneration per student to lessen the incentive to attract as many students as possible. They also want to spend more on the science and technical faculties to bridge the gap with the labour market.

‘Unacceptable’

To make the redistribution possible, the RUG will have to return 2.22 percent of their annual government earnings over a period of two years. On Wednesday morning, the RUG said this proposal is ‘unacceptable’. ‘This proposed shift to benefit science and technology is to the detriment of the arts, gamma sciences, and medical sciences.’

‘If we follow the committee’s advice exactly, we’d have a dramatic inter-faculty shift of funds in 2020’, says rector magnificus Elmer Sterken. ‘Should she decide to follow the committee’s advice, the RUG calls upon the minister to make extra funds available to compensate for the damage the proposed measures would cause.’

The Lower House will discuss the report and how to implement a definitive proposal on July 1.