Working for science and scholarship

Marit Bijlsma and Hanno Brand (Fryske Akademy)

This time in Working for Science, Hanno Brand and Marit Bijlsma of the Fryske Akademy, where Hanno is director and Marit is grant officer. The Fryske Akademy is dedicated to basic and applied research into the Frisian language, history and culture. 

Marit Bijlsma

Grant officer at the Fryske Akademy and the Academy (four days per week at the Fryske Akademy and one day in Amsterdam. Marit supports researchers applying for grants from Dutch organizations like NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) and at the European level. Born in 1989 in Burgum, Friesland.

What’s so wonderful about working for the Fryske Akademy, or for the Academy?
'Working here is very special to me. It’s really one big family, because Fryske Akademy is so strongly rooted in society, with approximately 300 members and 1,700 donors. I also work one day a week for KNAW as a whole, based in Amsterdam. There I deal with all the institutes. It’s very exciting, and it broadens your horizon.'

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
'I was really one of those girls just in love with horses, so I wanted to be a veterinarian. But as I got older, I realized I could never operate on animals. When Neelie Kroes went to the European Commission, that was really the inspiration for me to get involved in European Politics and the European grant funding landscape. I went to Maastricht to study European Studies. And, after that the job at Fryske Academy came up. It was an extraordinary opportunity, not just the job itself but that it meant coming home, to Friesland! And by the way, I’m still very much into horses. Just this past August, I competed in the Friesland dressage championships.'

The Akademy is in Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, which is going to be European Capital of Culture in 2018. The core theme is going to be: Iepen Mienskip (open community). What are you going to see at the Fryske Akademy of this Iepen Mienskip?
'At the Akademy, we are very in touch with what’s going on in society. One example is an initiative by one of our staff, Kobe Flapper, who organised a big clothing drive for refugees in Greece. On 25 January, we had a big freight truck full of donated clothes.'

Can you tell us about any recent research or results that have surprised you?
'Something that concerns me greatly is climate change. So a recent study at Leiden University really caught my attention. In the future, large parts of Europe will probably suffer power outages much more frequently because of climate change. It seems that climate change-driven water shortages are going to have an impact on electricity production. That’s an issue that’s going to be very interesting to find solutions for.'

It’s becoming harder and harder to find funding for basic research. What do you think can be done better?
'Let institutions decide where they want to excel. One idea would be to increase the government funding. When an institute has to attract external funding, it often has to pony up funding of its own, which takes funding away from basic research. Contract funding should be something extra that comes on top of basic research. That’s something you could use to nudge researchers towards application, internationalisation, and things like that. That’s where the competition should be.'

If your institute got a million euros, what would be the first thing you would spend it on?
'I wouldn’t spend it on anything specific, but instead I’d create a matching fund for research projects that you’ve already partially funded with external funding. Then you could have any financial revenues that come from those projects go back into the fund. Academics don’t always even realize how much their research results are worth. Really, you should always be looking at research results and asking: ‘so who can use this?''

Can you name another Academy institute where you’d like to take a look around?
'I’ve been to all the institutes, and I really have a hard time choosing a favourite. But I’d definitely like to visit NIOO again. It’s so big, and there’s so much I didn’t see.'

The Academy is the voice of science in the Netherlands. And advocate of basic research. What would you like to see the Academy do, or do much more of?
'I really believe academic education is incredibly important. Because things you learn early stay with you for life. There was an initiative at The Young Academy, for primary school teacher training students, about developing classes on academia and critical thinking, that I thought was wonderful. Or the Westerdijk Institute’s citizen science project that they called ‘World fame, a fungus with your name!’ What a fantastic idea!'