Working for science and scholarship

Kahliya Ronde (NIAS-KNAW)

For the Working for Science section we have interviewed Theo Mulder, director (read his interview), and Kahliya Ronde, communication officer of the NIAS-KNAW this time. Each year, NIAS invites about fifty scholars to devote themselves entirely to research. The focus on research and the interaction with top international researchers produces new ideas and high-quality output.

Drs. Kahliya Ronde

Communication officer for NIAS-KNAW.

How did you get your job?
'Previously, I worked as a science editor at NEMO Kennislink, so I was frequently in touch with the various Academy institutes. Working at NIAS-KNAW was a great opportunity for me to follow the research process at close quarters. It allowed me to observe the work-in-progress of renowned researchers from a wide range of disciplines and to communicate about it.'

What’s nice about working at NIAS-KNAW?
'I like the fact that I’m working for researchers who view their fellowship as something really worthwhile. They get the opportunity to spend some time doing what they’re good at, namely researching, thinking, getting new ideas, discussing.... For a while, they don’t have to teach, carry out management tasks, or attend meetings. I work at an institute where the fellows think they’re really fortunate – that’s nice to see.'

What recent discovery do you consider important?
'The discovery of CRISPR (part of the bacterial defence mechanism against viruses) and the opportunities it opens up for tinkering with DNA – that’s fascinating. It’s a bit scary too, of course. There’s a marvellous poster: "Science can tell you how to clone a T-Rex; humanities can tell you why this might be a bad idea". I think the discussion about the ethics of ‘tweaking humans’ is very important. There’s a neuroscientist at NIAS-KNAW who’s working on a device to counteract stress. It starts to vibrate if your stress level gets too high. It’s been proved to be effective and very useful for people who suffer from stress. But there’s also an ongoing discussion at the institute about the social impact of such a device: what about the privacy aspect, and what consequences does it have for society if the boss makes employees wear it?'

What’s the biggest misunderstanding about your work?
'That if your job is communication, then you spend the entire day talking! The biggest misunderstanding about NIAS-KNAW is that the people there are all historians and art historians. They’re not. We also have a lot of fellows from psychology and sociology, and even from the life sciences.'

Is there something that the Academy really needs to do, or do more?
'It needs to do something about the entrance to its headquarters, the Trippenhuis Building. The Trippenhuis is the symbol of the Academy – it’s even its logo. But the building gives the impression of a closed fortress. I don’t exactly know what the plans are for renovating the Trippenhuis, but it would be nice if the building became somewhere accessible, where everyone would feel welcome.'

Amongst other things, the Academy is the conscience of science and scholarship in the Netherlands. Tell us something you think is really vital.
'Guaranteeing academic freedom! Not just in the Netherlands, but also of course in the US and Hungary, for example, where our sister institute is threatened with being closed down. Some of the fellows working at NIAS are in fact ‘scholars-at-risk’ from countries like Egypt and Cameroon. The freedom to think and to do research is a precious thing. I think the Academy could make even stronger pronouncements if that academic freedom is under threat.'

Read the interview with Theo Mulder, director at NIAS.